|Dolls Test Dolls from American Experience Simple Justice|
On January 18, 1993, episode 8, series 5 of PBS's American Experience was titled Simple Justice. The documentary starred Peter Francis James as Thurgood Marshall during his 1930s Howard University law school attendance and law practice that followed. The late James Avery played the role of Charles Hamilton Houston, who was Howard University's Dean of Law at the time Marshall attended. The documentary is based on the book, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. The book was written by Richard Kluger, first published in 1975.
After graduating Howard Law School in 1933, Marshall along with Houston and other lawyers began challenging the 1896-established "separate but equal" ruling in higher education because facilities and institutions of learning designated for blacks were separate but never equal to those available to whites. Their work led to overturning the Plessy v. Ferguson case* and the 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools in the United States. By 1971, all schools in the US were desegregated. (It took almost 20 years, however!)
In Simple Justice, Giancarlo Esposito plays the role of Psychologist Kenneth Clark whose Dolls Test was used in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Clark's test concluded that segregation caused black children to feel racially inferior to whites.
In Simple Justice Dr. Clark's Dolls Test used four dolls that cost him 50 cents at a Harlem Five and Dime store. Because African American boys and girls were the subjects of the test, two of the dolls used were dressed as males (one black and one white) and two were dressed as females (one black and one white). Except for gender and race, the dolls were the same brand. In the original 1940s test, four dolls dressed only in diapers were used, two white dolls with yellow hair and two black dolls with brown hair.
|Still shot from American Experience Simple Justice of Dr. Clark's character, Giancarlo Esposito, conducting the Dolls Test|
Dr. Clark's role in the film begins at the 50-minute timestamp and leads to the reenactment of the actual Dolls Test. You may skip to the second video to view the 55-minute 10-second location where the Dolls Test begins, but the argument to support the need for the test is worth viewing.
The argument to support the need for social science (the use of the Dolls Test) to prove segregated schools were damaging to Black children begins in the following video. Press the Play arrow to begin and the Pause button after the argument concludes at 52 minutes and 16 seconds.
The Dolls Test -- Press the play arrow to begin and the pause button after the Dolls Test segment. A link to the full documentary is at the bottom of this post.
*"Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court issued in 1896. It upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality – a doctrine that came to be known as 'separate but equal'." [Wikipedia]
|Library of Congress photo of Dr. Kenneth Clark [reenacting] the Dolls Test with a young male child. This photo was taken by Gordon Parks, published in the July 1947 issue of Ebony magazine wherein the child is referred to as "Peter."|
As Simple Justice also reenacts, Brown v. Board of education proved that separate but equal schools were damaging to the psyche of black children and was ruled unconstitutional in 1954. Dolls were used to prove this.
While the documentary does not give credit to Dr. Clark's wife, Mamie Phipps, Clark, "It was an extension of her Master’s thesis on racial identification of Negro students. That was the thing that came to be known as the 'Dolls Test' that the Supreme Court cited. The record should show that was Mamie’s primary project that I crashed. I sort of piggybacked on it." (K. B. Clark, as cited in Documenting history: An interview with Kenneth Bancroft Clark. History of Psychology, 13, p. 76 by L. Nyman, 2010.)
- The full documentary, American Experience Simple Justice can be viewed here.
- Learn more about Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas here.
- Dr. Clark's eulogy, which mentions the dolls used in the Dolls Test, their cost, and where they were purchased, can be read here.
- Read a PDF of the original Dolls Test here.
- Profile Mamie Phipps Clark
- Marked 1968 identical black and white dolls by Effanbee were donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) by the Clark's daughter, Kate Clark-Harris. (Based on the 1968 date, these are not the original dolls used by the Clarks but are possibly one of the last, if not the last pair used in one of their later doll studies.)
- See the 1968 Effanbee dolls as they appear on exhibit in the NMAAHC here and here. The museum label for the dolls reads: Segregation and Child’s PlayTests performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark using these and other dolls helped convince the justices that segregation had negative psychological effects on black children. Gift of Kate Clark-Harris in memory of her parents Kenneth and Mamie Clark in cooperation with the Northside Center for Child Development
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