Raising Esteem for Children – Part 2

Kenneth Clark was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1914. When his parents divorced, he returned to the U.S. with his mother. It wasn’t until he started living in Harlem that he became aware of race. He was being trained for a trade until his mother had him transfer to a high school which prepared students for college.

He attended Howard University where he obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Psychology. He then went to Columbia for a Ph.D.  While at Howard he married his wife Mamie, and they became collaborators.

Kenneth had a fast track career in academia. Within two years of getting his Ph.D., he became the first tenured full professor at the City College of New York. He started the psychology program at Hampton Institute.

Kenneth and Mamie conducted research on the effect of segregation on African American students’ self-perception. This study became a key factor in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs Board of Education decision.

While schools were being integrated, Kenneth was not happy with desegregation efforts in New York City. He didn’t see that desegregation alone would be successful without addressing social welfare issues.

He was one of the founders of the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU) which worked to establish preschool programs, set up tutoring, and create job opportunities for students.

The collaborative work that he and his wife did that led to the integration of schools was both the crowning achievement in his career and his biggest frustration. While schools became integrated by law, they really weren’t in reality. Kenneth was not a fan of busing to achieve integration. He was also discouraged by the inherent bias in how African Americans were pigeon-holed in the estimate of their academic abilities.

Kenneth was the first African American to be the President of the American Psychological Association. He passed away at the age of 90. Both of the children of Kenneth and Mamie have continued their parents’ advocacy for the education of children.                                                                                                                *   *   *

“A racist system inevitably destroys and damages human beings; it brutalizes and dehumanizes them, blacks and whites alike.”  – Kenneth Clark


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