Lovers, Researchers and Activists
One day in 1940, young Dr. Kenneth Clark walked into a Harlem Woolworth’s store and bought four baby dolls: two brown, two white, but otherwise the same. They weren’t for the baby that he and his wife, Mamie, were expecting – but for their new psychology experiment in racial identity. Working in schoolrooms, Kenneth asked more than 250 Black children which of the four dolls they preferred. One boy, 7-year-old Edward D., chose a white doll over the brown ones. “I look brown and they always call me a nigger but I’m not – I’m a white boy,” he said. Calculating the test results, Mamie found that two-thirds of the children preferred a white doll to one of their own race.
Word of the doll test quickly spread and helped open doors that led the Clarks to New York’s City Hall, the U.S. Supreme Court and even the White House. They played a historic role in Brown v. the Board of Education, the 1954 court ruling against school segregation. For decades they ran a clinic for emotionally disturbed children in Harlem, home base for their social activism. The Clarks were one of the most celebrated Black couples of their era, and What the Children Told Us is their story.