The husband-and-wife team studied the self-image of Black children, and their psychological experiments performed in the 40s found African American children preferred dolls with white skin.
Their work helped win the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, and the couple opened a non-profit a Harlem that has been helping community for over 70 years.
“The children basically rejected the Black dolls and really said the white doll was the good doll, the Black doll was the bad doll,” Northside Center for Child Development Executive Director Dr. Thelma Dye said.
It showed what was believed to be the impact of segregation on children, leading to a change in the way every American student is educated.
“The Black-white doll study was instrumental to the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision,” Dr. Dye said.
The Clarks wanted to take what they learned from the study and make a difference, leading them to open the Northside Center for Child Development.
“The goal at that time was to enhance the psychological development of children, their self-esteem, and to help children be all that they can be to reach their full potential,” Dr. Dye said.
With their holistic approach, the center now reaches thousands of children every year.
Through therapy, after school, early childhood, and head start programming, they’ve recently moved into a new space on Park Avenue — and the doll test is still shaping their mission to this day.
“We reinforce self-esteem,” Program Director Adrienne Williams-Myers said.
Williams-Myers was hired by Mamie Clark decades ago, and she says their approach reaches beyond the walls of the center.
“The home environment is very welcoming,” she said. “It allows the staff to see what is actually the dynamic of the family, one can’t see that when they’re working in an office.”
After the original doll test was repeated recently, it showed that their important work is still needed.
At Northside, they’re focused on finishing what was started so many years ago.
“The road is long, and we have to be vocal and we have to be advocates,” Dr. Dye said. “We have to continue to be positive about what we can accomplish, what we need to accomplish.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.