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Black psychologists’ work in HS at center of next GCHS program

by Courtney Edwards | March 19, 2023 at 4:04 a.m.
Mamie Phipps Clark, left, and Kenneth Clark are shown in Hot Springs in 1941 when they were conducting doll experiments at a local elementary school in a photograph provided by the Garland County Historical Society. - Submitted photo

Tim Spofford, the author of "What the Children Told Us," a biography about Black psychologists Kenneth Clark and Hot Springs native Mamie Phipps Clark, will present a program on their legacy at the Garland County Library at noon Tuesday.

The event, sponsored by the Garland County Historical Society, the Gateway Community Association, community partners Hot Springs Chapter of NAACP Unit 6013, the Webb Center Inc., Unlimited Resources and Roanoke Baptist Church, will be followed by a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Hot Springs Convention Center in Room 201, which will include meeting Spofford, and additional photos highlighting Mamie Phipps Clark's connection to Hot Springs, according to a news release.

The Clarks were psychologists who launched the experiment known as the "Doll Test," which asked children which doll they preferred to play with, a white doll or a brown doll, but otherwise the same. The study became so famous the dolls are on exhibit at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington D.C., the release said.

Spofford, who lives in Florida, said he first learned of the Clarks and their accomplishments as a college student in a freshman psychology class.

"The psychology professor, a young, attractive, probably progressive, professor told us about Kenneth Clark and the doll test," he said. "I thought the story was really moving." Spofford said he "never forgot it."

Spofford's experience in the psychology class was not his first experience with racism, however.

"At 3 years old, we moved to this all-white mill town called, Cohoes, New York," he said.

"And in that town, I grew up as a little child, and I mean little, walking about a mile to school, and little, bigger than me, but little kids telling me stories about how Black families that arrived to move into town were driven from town in the middle of the night."

"The daughter of a local Black physician and the granddaughter (on her mother's side) of prominent Black residents, Mamie Phipps Clark was born in Hot Springs and grew up in its segregated school system, attending St. Gabriel's School and Langston High School," the release said.

"The Clarks visited Hot Springs often, and in 1941 they returned to Hot Springs to conduct half of their doll test experiments with students at Douglas School, a segregated elementary school."

The Clark's doll test was utilized in the decision to integrate schools, as it contributed to the Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court case. The Clarks went on to found Northside Center for Child Development, a psychiatric clinic for Harlem children, still in operation, the release said.

Later, as Spofford began working as a journalist, he got the chance to interview Kenneth Clark, whose wife had "fairly recently" died, he said. When he offered his condolences, Kenneth Clark replied, "I feel like I've lost an organ," Spofford said.

"He said it in such an understated way, I just felt like, 'Wow, there's a lot of pain here,'" he said. "And, these are famous people, and there's a great book probably in this story, this love story, this history story, this racial politics story. I should write it someday. And eventually, years later, I asked him if he would agree to working with me, give me intensive interviews for a biography, and he said 'Yeah.' So, that's the story."

Spofford and his wife lived in Hot Springs for a few months while he researched for the biography, talking to people, ransacking the library and attending book talks, he said.

"Published to glowing reviews (such as Booklist's: "Part biography, part history, and part psychological study, this emotionally charged book chronicles the lives and works of two extraordinary individuals who fought for racial justice and equality in one of our nation's darkest hours"), Spofford's book shows how the Clarks' decades of impassioned advocacy, their inspiring marriage, and their enduring work shine a light on the power of passion in an unjust world," the release said.

Registration through the library is required to attend the event. To register for the program, contact the library at 501-623-4161 or email the library at [email protected].

  photo  The cover of "What the Children Told Us" is shown in a photograph provided by the Garland County Historical Society. - Submitted photo

Print Headline: Black psychologists’ work in HS at center of next GCHS program


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