TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic site will display a black doll used in a series of famous race studies to mark the 59th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended legal segregation in public schools.
In the years before the May, 17, 1954, ruling, husband-and-wife psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark presented children with a black doll and a white doll as part of a series of social science experiments. The black couple then asked the children which doll was the nicest, smartest and prettiest. The Clarks said the system of racial segregation at the time was the reason most chose the white doll.
The doll, which was donated to the historic site last year, will be on display from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Eventually, the National Park Service plans to place the doll on permanent display after securing funding for an exhibit that will safeguard it and educate the public about the research, superintendent David Smith said.
The Clarks testified about their research in a South Carolina school desegregation case. That case was combined with other desegregation cases from Topeka, Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., which were argued collectively before the Supreme Court.
The doll research influenced the court, with Chief Justice Earl Warren writing that separating children “solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone.”
Even today, the doll studies have remained relevant. In 2005, teen filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the experiment in Harlem, N.Y., as part of the short documentary “A Girl Like Me,” finding the preference for the white doll persisted. After Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president, ABC’s “Good Morning America” tried another version of the experiment.
“If we could pick one object to symbolize the essence of Brown v. Board of Education, we would choose this doll,” Smith said in a news release. “Tangible artifacts such as this doll make the story real and believable.”
Also Friday, the Brown site will highlight several initiatives it’s undertaking to teach the public about the case and the civil rights movement. Those efforts include bus tours of Topeka sites tied to the Bleeding Kansas era and the civil rights movement.
The Brown site is located in the former all-black Topeka school where the lead plaintiff’s daughter and another plaintiff’s child were students.