Source: American Experience: "Simple Justice"
In this video segment, African American psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducts his famous "doll test," designed to gather social science evidence of the effects of racial discrimination. That evidence would eventually be presented in Brown v. Board of Education. to argue that racial discrimination in public schools was a violation of the Constitution and psychologically harmful to African American children.
African American psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark was an early civil rights leader who used social science to combat racial segregation. Born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1914, Clark immigrated to Harlem, New York in 1919 with his mother and sister. He received his bachelor of arts and master of science degrees at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1940, Clark became the first African American to graduate from Columbia University with a doctorate in psychology. In 1942, he joined the staff at the City College of New York, where he became the school's first African American permanent professor.
As early as 1939, Clark and his wife, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark, began conducting "doll tests" in an attempt "to try to understand how black children saw themselves." As part of the experiment, young black children in communities throughout the country were shown two black dolls and two white dolls. The children were then asked to name the race of each doll and to choose which doll was nice, which was bad, and which they would prefer to play with. The data from the tests showed that a majority of the black children tested favored the white dolls. Clark and his wife saw the data as "indicative of the dehumanizing effects of racism." They concluded that racial segregation created feelings of inferiority in black children that had adverse effects on both their self-esteem and ability to learn.
In 1952, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) submitted Clark's findings to the Supreme Court in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case to argue that racial segregation in public schools violated African Americans' constitutional rights. In the1954 decision, the Court accepted Clark's findings. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the Court's opinion that racial separation was "implying inferiority in civil society." For African American children, this "feeling of inferiority . . . may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."
Dr. Clark received national recognition when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine that had legalized segregated schools for decades.
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