Raising Esteem for Children – Part 1

Mamie (Phipps) Clark was born to a medical family in Arkansas in 1917. Her family’s status made them accepted even though they were African Americans living in the Jim Crow staff. She was still forced to attend segregated schools. Her experience living between black and white cultures gave her a perspective that formed her career. While an undergraduate at Howard University, she married Kenneth Clark leading to a most productive partnership.

Following graduation, she worked in the law office of a prominent civil rights lawyer. This was when she began to be aware of racial justice issues. She struggled to get a job in her major and this further informed her understanding of racial prejudices.

After several dead-end jobs, she found a position where she was able to work with the psychological needs of African American children. She found that many of the children were thought to be retarded when in fact this was not the case. She also began to realize that segregation was leading to other problems such as poverty and poor expectations for children growing up. She had found her life’s purpose.

After being frustrated by a lack of services for African American youth and being rejected by local agencies to provide services, Mamie and her husband created a service center. The center provided services, but also gave an opportunity to test youth development strategies.

Much of the research that Mamie and her husband conducted focused on young children’s race consciousness. One famous experiment dealt with the selection of dolls (one white/one black). African American children preferred the white doll overwhelmingly due to a sense that white children were favored over black children. The study pointed out how attitudes formed by segregation led to low self-esteem in African American youth.

The work of the Clarks was a contributing factor in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs Board of Education which integrated the schools.

Mamie is not as well-known as her husband because she chose to defer to her husband. She experienced both sexism and racism in what was a white-male field of psychology. Mamie remained dedicated to the center that she and her husband created and was its director for 33 years. She passed away from lung cancer at the age of 66.

Mamie Clark made a lasting contribution to the development of African American youth. Her contributions were downplayed in deference to her husband. That’s a fact that is common to many women and people of color who make important contributions to society.                                                                                                               *   *   *

“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.”  – Tribute to Mamie Clark at her retirement.


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