Kenneth Bancroft Clark was born in 1914 in the Panama Canal Zone. He grew up in Harlem in the midst of the Renaissance. He graduated from Howard University where he participated in civil rights demonstrations and met his future wife and collaborator Mamie Phipps. Kenneth and Mamie went on to graduate study in psychology at Columbia University, where Kenneth was the first Black person to receive a PhD from the university.
Kenneth Clark became the first Black professor at City College in 1942. Clark and his wife are most known for the “doll studies”, where he presented Black children with black and white dolls to measure their racial preferences and beliefs. The studies were used to show that segregation, with Black students in inferior schools, was detrimental to their self-esteem.
Clark published several books on Black people and racial integration. He was involved in community development programs and served as an advisor on racial issues. In 1946 he and his wife founded the Northside Child Development Center in Harlem. Clark also served as president of the American Psychological Association. He died in 2005.
Clark’s work was groundbreaking. Today, versions of the doll study are still used to measure children’s racial attitudes. Though the studies show that Black children tend to have as high or higher self-esteem than children of other races, representations of Blacks in the media and school materials can lead them to have a negative view of their own race.
Gates, H.L., & Appiah, K.A. (Eds). (1999). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. New York: Basic Civitas Books.