Clark, Kenneth Bancroft 1914-2005
Kenneth Bancroft Clark was born in 1914 in the Republic of Panama. Jones and Pettigrew note that he earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree from Howard University. In 1940 Clark became the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University. Through-out his career, Clark received honorary degrees from several colleges and universities, including Oberlin, Amherst, Haver-ford, Tuskegee, Columbia, and Princeton. Clark was the first African American president of the American Psychological Association (APA), a position he held from 1970 to 1971. According to Pickren and Tomes, Clark was instrumental in the establishment of the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility of Psychology, which was charged with a number of tasks, including monitoring discrimination by APA vendors, researching social problems, and developing ethical guidelines for research and assessment. He was the president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues from 1959 to 1960. Clark was also the director of Metropolitan Applied Research, Inc., and president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues from 1959 to 1960. In 1978 Clark received the first annual Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest Award from APA.
Clark taught psychology at Howard University from 1937 to 1938 and Hampton University from 1940 to 1941. Clark joined the faculty of City College of New York in 1942, becoming an assistant professor seven years later and, by 1960, a full professor—the first African American academic to be so honored in the history of New York's city colleges. He remained at City College until his retirement in 1975. Clark also served as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of California at Berkeley. In 1962 Clark helped establish Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, designed to help reduce unemployment, school dropout rates, and to prevent juvenile delinquency in the city. The American Psychologist notes that Clark was the president from its establishment in 1975 until 1986 of Clark, Phipps, Clark, and Harris, Inc., a consulting firm with a focus on affirmative action, human relations, and race relations.
Clark's most notable research collaborator was his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983). Together, Kenneth and Mamie Clark are best known for their focus on race relations and civil rights in education. Much of their work in this area concerned several experimental studies that explored racial identity and racial preferences in African American children. Among these studies are the line drawing tests and the more widely known “doll studies”.
In 1939, for example, Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed a study to investigate the development of self and racial consciousness in African American preschool children. One hundred fifty African American children, ages three to five, were shown different combinations of line drawings of African American boys, Caucasian boys, and irrelevant objects, for example, a lion, a dog, a clown, and a hen. The young male participants were asked, “Show me which one is you. Which one is (name of subject)?” The young female participants were asked to identify a brother, cousin, or African American male playmate. As a whole, the African American participants chose the African American male line drawing more often than the Caucasian male line drawing. As age increased, the African American participants chose the African American male line drawing significantly more often than the Caucasian male line drawing. Also, the majority of participants chose a human line drawing significantly more than the irrelevant objects.
In that same year, Clark and his wife began examining racial preferences in African American children using African American and Caucasian dolls. A total of over 300 African American children between the ages of 3 and 9 were shown an African American and Caucasian doll. The dolls were identical except for skin color. The Clarks served as the primary investigators; they asked the participants a series of questions designed to probe the participants' racial and skin color preferences and, thus, provide insight into their racial identities. In particular, the participants were asked which doll they would like to play with, which doll was good, bad, nice, and which doll looked the most like them.
Over 90% of the children identified the African American doll as resembling themselves. However, over half of the children tested designated the Caucasian doll as the nice doll and the doll they wanted to play with. These same participants regarded the African American doll as the bad doll. Clark concluded that the children had suffered damage to their self-esteem and self-image due to segregation and the pervasive negative perception of African Americans. For the Clarks, the participants' choices were reactions to the pressures associated with being African American in the racially segregated South.
Clark's doll study results were integral to school desegregation during the 1950s. His testimony during the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, outlined the detrimental psychological effects of segregation on both African American and Caucasian children. While heralded for his significant contribution to the study of racial identity among African Americans, Phillips notes that Clark later was criticized for his advocacy for mainstream integration and for criticizing the Black Power movement. Kenneth Clark died May 1, 2005, at the age of 90.
Clark, K. B. (1954). Some principles related to the problem of desegregation. Journal of Negro Education, 23, 339–347.
Clark, K. B. (1965). Dark Ghetto. New York: Harper & Row.
Clark, K. B. & Clark, M.P (1939). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, SPSSI Bulletin, 10, 591–599.
Clark, K. B., & Clark M. P. (1939). Segregation as a factor in racial identification in Negro preschool children, a preliminary report. Journal of Experimental Education, 8, 161–163.
Clark, K. B. & Clark, M. P (1940). Skin color as a factor in racial identification of Negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, SPSSI Bulletin, 11, 159–169.
Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. P. (1947). Racial identification preferences in Negro children. In E. Macoby, T. M. Newcomb, & E. H. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology. New York: Hold, Rinehart & Winston.
Distinguished contribution to psychology in the public interest award for 1978 (1979). American Psychologist, 34, 65–68.
Jones, J. M., & Pettigrew, T. F. (2005). Kenneth B. Clark (1914–2005) obituary. American Psychologist, 60, 649–651.
Phillips, L. (2000). Recontextualizing Kenneth B. Clark: An Afro-centric perspective on the paradoxical legacy of a model psychologist-activist. In Pickren, W. E. & Dewsbuury, D. A. (Eds.). Evolving perspectives on the history of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Pickren, W. E. & Tomes, H. (2002). The legacy of Kenneth B. Clark to the APA: The board of social and ethical responsibility for psychology. American Psychologist, 57(1), 51-59.
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