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The Untold Story of the Famous "Doll Test" with Biographer Tim Spofford

Sep 29, 2022 / 6pm - 7 pm

Calendar: Event/Performance
Categories: Literary , History
Age Groups: All

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In 1940, Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie worked in schoolrooms, asking more than 250 Black children whether they preferred white or brown baby dolls. The ensuing psychology study became what is now known as the "doll test"—the experiment which revealed that two-thirds of the children preferred a white doll to a doll of their own race. Word of the doll test brought the Clarks and their insights to New York's City Hall, the White House, and the U.S. Supreme Court, where they ended up playing an historic role in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. "What the Children Told Us" is author Tim Spofford's in-depth new biography of these pioneering Black psychologists, whose work still resonates today. Join us to meet the author on Thursday, September 29th on Zoom!

This event is free and open to all, and we can't wait to see you there! Register for the livestream at the link below, and don't forget to reserve your copy of the book with Hub City!


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About the Book

Does racial discrimination harm Black children's sense of self?

The Doll Test illuminated its devastating toll.

Dr. Kenneth Clark visited rundown and under-resourced segregated schools across America, presenting Black children with two dolls: a white one with hair painted yellow and a brown one with hair painted black. "Give me the doll you like to play with," he said. "Give me the doll that is a nice doll." The psychological experiment Kenneth developed with his wife, Mamie, designed to measure how segregation affected Black children's perception of themselves and other Black people, was enlightening―and horrifying. Over and over again, the young children―some not yet five years old―selected the white doll as preferable, and the brown doll as "bad." Some children even denied their race. "Yes," said brown-skinned Joan W., age six, when questioned about her affection for the light-skinned doll. "I would like to be white."

What the Children Told Us is the story of the towering intellectual and emotional partnership between two Black scholars who highlighted the psychological effects of racial segregation. The Clarks' story is one of courage, love, and an unfailing belief that Black children deserved better than what society was prepared to give them, and their unrelenting activism played a critical role in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The Clarks' decades of impassioned advocacy, their inspiring marriage, and their enduring work shines a light on the power of passion in an unjust world.


About the Author

Tim Spofford has taught writing and journalism in schools and colleges and has a Doctor of Arts in English degree from the State University of New York at Albany. He’s published articles in the New York TimesNewsdayMother Jones, Columbia Journalism Review and other publications. He also worked as a copy editor, most recently at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, where he coached young editors.

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