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Kenneth and Mamie Clark: Wikis


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Kenneth Bancroft Clark (July 24, 1914 – May 1, 2005) and Mamie Phipps Clark (October 18, 1917 – August 11, 1983)[1] were African-American psychologists who as a married team conducted important research among children and were active in the Civil Rights Movement. They founded the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem and the organization Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU). Kenneth Clark also was an educator and professor at City College, and first Black president of the American Psychological Association.

They were known for their 1940s experiments using dolls to study children's attitudes about race. The Clarks testified as expert witnesses in Briggs v. Elliott, one of the cases rolled into Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The Clarks' work contributed to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in which it determined that de jure racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the Brown v. Board opinion, “To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications 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”.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Kenneth Clark on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[2]


Mamie Phipps Clark

The daughter of an educated family, Mamie Phipps was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Harold and Katie Phipps. Her father was a doctor, a native of the British West Indies. Her mother helped him in his practice and encouraged both their children in education. Her brother became a dentist.[1][3]

Phipps entered Howard University as a physics and mathematics major, but future husband and partner Kenneth Clark persuaded her to switch; she earned her B.A. magna cum laude in psychology (1938).[3][1][4] They began their lifelong partnership and married in 1937. Both went on for additional study at Columbia University.

In 1943 Mamie Phipps Clark was one of the first African-American women to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.

At the end of World War II, Kenneth and Mamie Clark decided to try to improve social services for troubled youth in Harlem, as there were virtually no mental-health services in the community. Kenneth Clark was then an assistant professor at the City College of New York and Mamie Clark was a psychological consultant doing psychological testing at the Riverdale Children's Association, Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark approached social service agencies in New York City to urge them to expand their programs to provide social work, psychological evaluation, and remediation for youth in Harlem. None of the agencies took up their proposal. The Clarks "realized that we were not going to get a child guidance clinic opened that way. So we decided to open it ourselves."

Together in 1946 the Clarks created the Northside Center for Child Development. It was first called the Northside Testing and Consultation Center. They started it in a one-room basement apartment of the Dunbar Houses on 158th Street (Manhattan)]. Two years later in 1948, Northside moved to 110th Street, across from Central Park, on the sixth floor of what was then the New Lincoln School. In 1974, Northside moved to its current quarters in Schomburg Plaza. It continues to serve Harlem children and their families in the 21st century.

Their goal was to match or surpass the quality of service for poor African Americans. It served as a location for initial experiments on racial biases of education and the intersection of education and varying theories and practices of psychology and social psychology.

The center recently celebrated its 60th anniversary of service to the Harlem community. The clinic provides therapeutic and educational support for children ages 5 to 17 and their families. Services include: diagnostic evaluations; individual, group, and family therapy; crisis intervention; tutoring and homework help; after school recreational and cultural activities; and parent education groups.

Mamie remained the Director of the Northside Center for 33 years. Upon her retirement, Dora Johnson, a staff member at Northside, captured the importance of Mamie Clark to Northside. “Mamie Clark embodied the center. In a very real way, it was her views, philosophy,and her soul that held the center together”. She went on to say that “when an unusual and unique person pursues a dream and realizes that dream and directs that dream, people are drawn not only to the idea of the dream, but to the uniqueness of the person themselves.”[5] Her vision of social,economic, and psychological advancement of African American children resonates far beyond the era of integration.[6]

Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark was born in the Panama Canal Zone to Arthur Bancroft Clark and Miriam Hanson Clark. His father worked as an agent for the United Fruit Company. When he was five, his parents separated and his mother took him and his younger sister Beulah to the U.S. to live in Harlem in New York City. She worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop, where she later organized a union and became a shop steward for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.[7]

Clark attended Howard University, a historically black university (HBCU), where he first studied political science with professors including Ralph J. Bunche. He returned in 1935 for a master's in psychology.[7] Dr. Clark was a distinguished member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

While studying psychology for his doctorate at Columbia University, Clark did research in support of the study of race relations by Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, who wrote An American Dilemma. In 1940, Clark was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.[7]

In 1942 Kenneth Clark became the first African-American tenured full professor at the City College of New York. In 1966 he was the first African American appointed to the New York State Board of Regents and the first African American to be president of the American Psychological Association.[7]

Clark in 1962 was among the founders of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU), an organization devoted to developing educational and job opportunities. It recruited educational experts to help to reorganize Harlem schools, create preschool classes, tutor older students after school, and job opportunities for youth who dropped out. The Johnson administration earmarked more than $100 million for the organization. When it was placed under the administration of a pet project of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1964, the two men clashed over appointment of a director and its direction.[7]

Clark used HARYOU to press for changes to the educational system to help improve black children's performance. While he at first supported decentralization of city schools, after a decade of experience, Clark believed that this option had not been able to make an appreciable difference and described the experiment as a "disaster."[7]

Following race riots in the summer of 1967, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission). The Commission called Clark among the first experts to testify on urban issues.

Clark retired from City College in 1975, but remained an active advocate for integration throughout his life. He opposed separatists and argued for high standards in education, continuing to work for children's benefit. He consulted to city school systems across the country, and argued that all children should learn to use Standard English in school.[7]

Clark died in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York in May 2005, over twenty years after his beloved partner Mamie.



  • Prejudice and Your Child (1955),
  • Dark Ghetto (1965),
  • A Possible Reality (1972), and
  • Pathos of Power (1975).

Doll experiments

The Clarks' doll experiments grew out of Mamie Clark's master's degree thesis. They published three major papers between 1939 and 1940 on children's self perception related to race. Their studies found contrasts among children attending segregated schools in Washington, DC versus those in integrated schools in New York. They found that Black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black; that, asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin, they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate; and that the children gave the color "white" attributes such as good and pretty, but "black" was qualified as bad and ugly.[8] They viewed the results as evidence that the children had internalized racism caused by being discriminated against and stigmatized by segregation.

The Clarks testified as expert witnesses in several school desegregation cases, including Briggs v. Elliott, which was later combined into the famous Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.

In 2006 filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. Despite the many changes in some parts of society, she found the same results as did the Drs. Clark in their study of the late 1930s and early 1940s.


The Clarks had two children: a son Hilton and daughter Kate.

During the Columbia University protests of 1968, Hilton was a leader of the Society of Afro-American Students; his father negotiated between them and the university administration.

Kate Clark Harris directed the Northside Center for Child Development for four years after her mother's death.

A 60 Minutes report in the 1970s noted that Clark, who supported integration and desegregation busing, had moved out of New York City in 1950 to Westchester County because of his concern about failing public schools in the city.[9] Clark said: "My children have only one life and I could not risk that."[7][9]

Legacy and honors


  1. ^ a b c Stephen N. Butler (October 1, 2009). "Mamie Katherine Phipps Clark (1917–1983)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Retrieved 2009-12-27.  
  2. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  3. ^ a b Guthrie, R., "Mamie Phipps Clark", Women in psychology, O'Connell, A. and Russo, N., Eds. (1990), Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press
  4. ^ a b "Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark", Columbia University
  5. ^ Markowitz, G., & Rosner, D. (1996). In Children, power and race (pp 246). Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
  6. ^ Lal, S. (2002). Giving Children Security. American Psychologist Association (57)(1), 20-28.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Richard Severo, "Kenneth Clark, Who Fought Segregation, Dies", The New York Times, 2 May 2005, accessed 20 Jan 2009
  8. ^ "Segregation Ruled Unequal, and Therefore Unconstitutional", Psychology Matters, American Psychological Association. Undated. Accessed 15 July 2006.
  9. ^ a b Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 264. ISBN 0465041957.  
  10. ^ "Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark", Columbia University

Further reading

  • Clark, K.B. The Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1965).
  • Guthrie, R. 1976. Even the rat was white, New York: Harper and Row.
  • Abbott, Shirley. “Mamie Phipps Clark, a Hot Springs Woman Who ‘overcame the odds.’” The Record 47 (2006): 15–22.
  • O’Connell, Agnes N., and Nancy Felipe Russo, eds. Models of Achievement: Reflections of Eminent Women in Psychology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
  • Tussman, Joseph, ed. The Supreme Court on Racial Discrimination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • Warren, Wini. Black Women Scientists in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
  • Barbara A. Chernow and George A. Vallasi, ed (1993). "Clark, Kenneth Bancroft". Columbia Encyclopedia (5th ed.). Columbia University Press. p. 569. ISBN 0-395-62438-X.  

External links

Educational offices
Preceded by
George W. Albee
79th President of the

American Psychological Association

Succeeded by
Anne Anastasi


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