Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband Dr. Kenneth Clark were American psychologists, civil rights activists, and expert witnesses in several school desegregation cases. Their work and research in childhood psychology would not only impact landmark decision Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka, but also change the way internalized racism was understood and studied.
Their partnership and study of childhood psychology began at the historically black college, Howard University. Although Kenneth and Mamie obtained their undergraduate degrees from Howard, they did not collaborate until Kenneth joined Mamie on her master’s thesis, “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children.” This body of work developed into the infamous “Doll Test” in which four dolls, identical except for color, were used to test children’s racial perceptions.
Together, the Clarks had many firsts. They were the first African-Americans to obtain their doctoral degrees in psychology from Columbia University. They opened the first institution in Harlem to offer psychological and casework services to black children and families. Kenneth Clark was the first African American to hold a permanent professorship at the City College of New York, to join the New York State Board of Regents, and to serve as president of the American Psychological Association.
Over the course of their lifetimes they were awarded numerous of honors and continued conducting experiments on racial biases in education. Mamie Clark passed in 1983 at age 66, and Kenneth Clark, passed in 2005 at age 91.
“Children who are treated as if they are uneducable almost invariably become uneducable.” -Kenneth Clark