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WATCH | ‘What the Children Told Us’ draws crowd at GC Library

by Courtney Edwards | March 25, 2023 at 4:05 a.m.
Garland County Historical Society Executive Director Liz Robbins, right, introduces Tim Spofford as the speaker of Tuesday's program covering "What the Children Told Us." – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

More than 100 people registered for a program at the Garland County Library, hosted by the Garland County Historical Society on Tuesday, covering a biography of Hot Springs native Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband, Kenneth Clark, who together conducted the famous "Doll Test."

Tim Spofford, author of "What the Children Told Us," visited Hot Springs from Florida for the event, answering questions about the book from Jean Lacefield, development officer and past president of the Gateway Community Association, who moderated the program, first asking Spofford how he initially became interested in the Clarks.

He said he first heard of the Clarks and their research in a freshman psychology class.

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The professor "talked about this test, the doll test and Kenneth Clark," he said. "And how Kenneth offered two Brown dolls and two white dolls to children and asked them questions like 'Which is the nice one?' 'Which is the bad one?' 'Which is the one you want to play with?' And finally, the last question was always 'Which one looks like you?' ... Two-thirds of the children opted for the white doll. They were all Black children. ... I just thought, 'Wow, that is tragic.'"

Spofford never forgot Kenneth Clark's name after that experience, acquiring the chance to interview him later on as a journalist, he said. After extending his condolences to Kenneth Clark, whose wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, had recently died, Spofford said he'll never forget Kenneth Clark placing his hand on his stomach, saying, "Oh, I feel like I've lost an organ."

"And I knew these were historic figures," Spofford said. "And I said, 'Well, somebody's gotta write that book. Somebody's gotta write a biography on these two."

"A few years later, I asked him if he'd help me out," he said. "He said 'Sure.' He sat for about a dozen interviews, and here we are."

Mamie Phipps Clark was born in Hot Springs to Harold and Katie Phipps. She attended St. Gabriel School and then Langston School, where she graduated as one of two honor students in her class, Spofford said.

She went on to attend Howard University, where she met Kenneth Clark. It was the love story between the two that originally inspired Spofford to write the biography, he said.

Mamie Phipps Clark was very popular in school, being crowned May Queen at Howard University in 1938, Spofford said.

"She and Kenneth married on the sly, made their wedding secret, and that's a big story in the book," he said. "She was voted in May Queen by the student body. At the very time, she had been married about a week and became the May Queen. I think you know something about the May Queen tradition is you're usually a virginal young maid, and that was not the case here.

"Furthermore, if you're a certain age (or) you know anything about colleges back then, including my own, you were not allowed to get married. It was her senior year, and she could have been kicked out."

Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Clark had very different personalities, he said. He was outspoken, yet soft-spoken and aggressive as a New Yorker, while she was a diplomat. They also had much in common, including their love of Jazz and dancing.

They both obtained master's degrees in psychology from Howard University and were the first Black students to obtain doctorates in psychology from Columbia University, Spofford said.

The first doll test was performed in Springfield, Massachusetts, he said. But, the doll test was given to children in Hot Springs, as well. Kenneth Clark wanted to find a "heartland community," Spofford said. Springfield fit the psychologist's criteria as well as Hot Springs.

"I think he was trying to balance a community with integrated schools and a community with segregated schools, which is Hot Springs, and test Black children in both to see if the results might be a little different because of that difference in discrimination and segregation," Spofford said.

However, the test results did not show much difference between the children from segregated and integrated schools, he said.

The Clark's doll test experiment was utilized in the decision to desegregate schools, as the couple testified in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education.

They were widely known as civil rights activists, even vacationing with the Kings, Spofford said. After one of the Little Rock Nine students, Minnijean Brown-Trickey, was expelled from Little Rock Central High School, the Clarks took her in to live with them and attend school in New York.

"Minnijean Brown was the most outspoken of those nine children who endured the incivilities (and) mistreatment (from) white, racist students and their parents," Spofford said.

"She was mocked (by) a student using the N-word. ... And Minnijean shot back with 'white trash,' which was her right in my opinion, but the school authorities saw otherwise and expelled her for doing that. So, Minnijean Brown could not attend any school within the city limits. That meant the end of her education.

"The Clarks, who had met Minnijean and her mother, earlier up in Little Rock during the crisis -- Kenneth called her up and asked Minnijean's mother if she would like to send Minnijean to live with the Clark family in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. ... And her mother agreed, and Minnijean and her mom flew to New York."

Brown-Trickey lived with the Clarks in New York for two years to get her diploma from a private school in Harlem, Spofford said. She is now known as a public speaker and a political figure.

Spofford's biography was released in August 2022. More information can be found by visiting

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