Tests With Dolls Done To Determine the Affects of Segregated Schools on Young Children

Written by Jae Jones

Did you know 61 years ago test were done on young African-American children with dolls to find out whether or not they had been affected by attending a segregated school? The experiment helped with the case process in Brown v. Board of Education.

“The social psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark sought to challenge the court’s existing opinion that “separate but equal” public schools were constitutional (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896) by testing whether African-American children were psychologically and emotionally damaged by attending a segregated school.”


Psychologists Kenneth Clark would present two dolls to the children, one African-American doll and the other a White doll. Clark would ask the children to show him the doll that they liked to play with, the nice doll and show him the bad doll. According to the New York Times, Clark recalled that the African-American children often rejected the doll. By Dr. Clark’s account, when those boys and girls were then told, “Now show me the doll that’s most like you,” some became “emotionally upset at having to identify with the doll that they had rejected.” Some even stormed out of the room. (New York Times, 2014)

Some people did not like the fact that dolls were being used to plead a case in the high court. Even members of the N.A.A.C.P were against it. They believed that justices and the lawyers would be offended listening to tales about the dolls and crying children. However, Thurgood Marshall dismissed it all and continued on with the case.

“In May 1954, he was proved right. When Brown was decided, the court cited the doll study as a factor in its deliberations. That night, at an exuberant dinner, Mr. Marshall raised a glass to Kenneth Clark and demanded of those once-skeptical colleagues, “Now, apologize!” (New York Times, 2014)




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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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