Thursday, February 7, 2019

Simple Justice 1993

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 reenactsBrown 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.)

Related Links:
  • 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 Play
    Tests 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

There is always something to collect and write about. Black dolls chose me.

Thank you for following, commenting, and sharing using the share button below.

Check out what I am selling here
Check out my eBay listings here.
Please follow my sister blog Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black.
Donate here to support this blog. Thank you!


  1. Hi Debbie, I remember you writing a while ago trying to identify the original manufacturer of those 4 dolls. Did you ever source the information? I’ve always believed ‘The American Experience’ series of documentaries have to some of my favourites as they cover a wide series of topics and always well researched so thank you for the link I’ll definitely watch. Amazing to think that something as simple as a child’s toy can clarify social inequity and goes a long way to remaining a touchstone as we continue to discuss diversity and media representation so that all people see themselves represented and as equal. And what a shock...a woman’s research sidelined...never! πŸ™„

    1. I never did find out the manufacturer of the original dolls used in the Clarks' Dolls Test. According to his obituary, the original dolls were purchased for 50 cents from a Woolworth's store in Harlem, New York. "The F. W. Woolworth Company was a retail company and one of the original pioneers of the five-and-dime store. It was arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime business, setting trends and creating the modern retail model that stores follow worldwide today." Wikipedia

      Woolworth stores were located throughout the US and were known for selling inexpensive items. I would imagine that the original dolls were very inexpensive no-name dolls. The ones that were donated and are currently on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture were made by Effanbee and appear to be a version of their Dydee Baby. I didn't take the time to look them up in my Effanbee reference book at the time this post was written, but I'm sure that's who those dolls are. You can see the full display of those dolls here. I'll check my Effanbee doll reference now to confirm that these dolls are Dydee Baby.

    2. I checked my Effanbee reference book. The dolls in the museum are not Dydee Baby. They are by Effanbee, however. I'll narrow their IDs down to the actual name given by Effanbee eventually. :-)


    3. The dolls on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and culture as seen at the links under Related Links in this post are Effanbee's Twinkie. A black version can be seen at the following URL:



Your comments are appreciated. To eliminate spam, all comments are being moderated and will be published upon approval. Thank you!