In the mid-twentieth century, researchers started examining African American children’s sense of racial identity, including how they perceived themselves relative to white children. Husband and wife psychologists, Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark, conducted what is now known as the landmark “doll test” on students. Their innovative research showed discouraging results, yet it played an influential role in American civil rights legislation.
Journalist Tim Spofford will discuss his new book What the Children Told Us, an account of the life and legacy of the Clarks. In 1940, the Harlem psychologists received a grant to study African American pupils’ dawning sense of racial identity in the nominally integrated North (Springfield, Massachusetts) and in the strictly segregated South (Mamie’s hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas). They used four similar baby dolls in their testing: two brown dolls with hair painted black and two white dolls with hair painted yellow.
The researchers found that two-thirds of the 250+ African American pupils tested preferred a white doll to a brown doll. Some children even denied their race. “I look brown because I got a suntan,” said Edward D., nearly age 8, who preferred a white doll. “I’m a white boy.” To the Clarks, these African American children had internalized the low opinion of their race in a segregated nation.
The shocking test results quickly caught hold throughout America’s scientific and educational community. The doll test eventually played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools in America.
During tomorrow’s presentation at the park visitor center, Spofford will highlight how the Clarks were directly linked to the 1957 desegregation crisis at Little Rock’s Central High School. The researchers first got to know Daisy Bates, one of the nine African American teenagers seeking to attend the formerly all-white school. Later, the couple “adopted” Minnijean Brown, the Black student expelled from Central High during the crisis. That allowed Minnijean to live with them and study for two years in a private school in Harlem and earn her diploma.
The theme of Friday’s concert is Songs of Freedom, Stories from the Civil Rights Movement. It’s fitting that the musicians will be performing these selections at Central High, since it served as the frontline of America’s school desegregation battles in the 1950s.
The 19-member Jazz Ambassadors have received widespread acclaim at home and abroad, earning the ensemble the title “America’s Big Band.” The musicians have performed in all 50 states and overseas. Their stop in Little Rock is part of their Summer 2022 tour. Check out the clip below to hear a snippet of their musical style.
The Songs of Freedom concert will take place outdoors on the park grounds on Friday, June 24 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site at (501) 374-1957.
The National Park Service system currently includes 423 sites throughout the United States and its territories. These range from national monuments and battlefields to national historic sites and recreation areas to national rivers and seashores.
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t visited the majority of these places (most of us haven’t!). But luckily, National Park Week is just around the corner – a perfect time to add to your NPS “life list.”
National Park Week is an annual celebration jointly hosted by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to encourage everyone to discover our nation’s diverse historic, natural, and cultural treasures. This year, the week runs from April 16 through 24. Parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events, and digital experiences, including National Junior Ranger Day for kids on Saturday April 23. You can find out more about programs and themes you might be interested in by going here.
Another bonus for park visitors during National Park Week – entrance fees are waived at all parks on Saturday April 16. (Other 2022 free fee days can be found here). Luckily, there are never entry fees at JNPA’s partner parks but each of them would be glad to see you in April, or any time!
You may not be familiar with the name Elizabeth Eckford, but at age 15 she became an unwitting participant in the historic battle to integrate America’s public schools by seeking to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. We think it is fitting to honor Eckford on this first day of Women’s History Month.
In 1957, several years after the Supreme Court mandated school integration, a group of nine African American teenagers sought to attend school at the formerly all-white Central High. They were met by angry mobs opposing integration who taunted and threatened them.
While eight of the teens tried to enter the school as a group on September 4, Eckford wasn’t among them. She had gotten off the bus alone after a mix-up in the students’ planned meeting place. As a result, she was forced to endure the protesters’ obscenities and chants of “Two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate” all by herself. She made her way to a bench at the end of the block after trying to enter the campus twice.
She and the remaining Little Rock Nine were eventually removed by the police, fearing for their safety. They were only admitted to the school weeks later, after President Dwight Eisenhower mobilized the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort them into the school. Many of the Nine – including Eckford – left Central High School after that first year to attend other schools.
In 2018, a commemorative bench was erected near the Central High School campus as a reminder of Eckford’s struggles in 1957. She has received many other prestigious awards including the Congressional Gold Medal, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, and the Humanitarian Award presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice. Eckford herself remains a strong proponent of tolerance in every aspect of life.
JNPA sells numerous publications that relate the story of the Little Rock Nine at the national park’s bookstore and online, including Remember Little Rock which features Elizabeth Eckford on the cover.