Social Scientist For Civil Rights

Social Scientist For Civil Rights

Written on 01/10/2021

Mamie Phipps Clark was born in Hot Springs, Ark., and Kenneth Clark was born and raised in Harlem, N.Y. Both obtained their bachelor's and master's degrees from Howard University. Influenced by her work with children in an all-black nursery school, Mamie decided to conduct her master’s thesis, "The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children". Not long after, she met her soon-to-be husband, Kenneth Clark, who partnered with her to extend her thesis research on self-identification in black children. This work was later developed into the famous doll experiments that exposed internalized racism and the negative effects of segregation for African-American children.

The Clarks were the first African-Americans to obtain their doctoral degrees in psychology from Columbia University. Kenneth Clark was the First African-American tenured full professor at the City College of New York, the first African-American to be president of American Psychological Association and the first African-American appointed to the New York State Board of Regents.

The Clarks opened their own agency in 1946 called the Northside Center for Child Development. This was the first full-time child guidance center offering psychological and casework services to families in the Harlem area. There they also continued conducting experiments on racial biases in education.

The Clarks were influential to the Civil Rights movement and their expertise allowed them to testify as expert witnesses in several school desegregation cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. Outside of their research and applied contributions, they both served in the community and on committees to make a difference. Mamie Clark passed in 1983 at age 66, leaving behind two children and Kenneth Clark, who later passed in 2005 at age 91. Both made significant contributions to the field of psychology and to the social movement of their time and beyond.


"Negroes will not break out of the barriers of the ghetto unless whites transcend the barriers of their own minds, for the ghetto is to the Negro a reflection of the ghetto in which the white lives imprisoned. The poetic irony of American race relations is that the rejected Negro must somehow also find the strength to free the privileged white."

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