For our last day of Black History Month we honor a hidden figure behind the reshaping of our education system in 1954 with the unanimous ruling of Brown v. Board of Education.
Mamie Phipps was the daughter of a physician and grew up in Hot Springs, AR during segregation. After high school graduation she obtained both a B.S. and M.S. from Howard University on a full scholarship and later a Ph.D. from Columbia. During her M.S. in Psychology she met her husband, Kenneth Clark, and the two began a lifelong collaboration researching the effects of racism and segregation on black youth.
With their famous doll studies of the 1940s, the Clarks discovered that both black and white children preferred white dolls to black dolls. Children also associated positive traits with white dolls and negative traits with black dolls. These results showed a deep sense of inferiority and self-hatred in black children. They concluded that segregation was harmful to children and this evidence was a big part of the reason the courts unanimously overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, legally desegregating schools.
Around the same time, Dr. Clark founded the Northside Center for Child Development in the basement of her family’s apartment to support black families in Harlem. Together, Mamie and Kenneth provided nutrition and parenting workshops, tutoring services, and psychological testing for impoverished children and families.
The Clarks continued their community service by creating the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited project (HARYOU). They provided tutoring for children living in poverty who were at risk of failing or dropping out of school. They also helped young black adults with employment training and taught local residents how to apply for government funding and social services.
Mamie worked with many community initiatives and organizations (New York Public Library, New York Mission Society, Phelps Stoke Funds) serving to increase representation of blacks in her community. Even though she is much less famous than her husband and often remained in his shadow (for example, the HARYOU wiki does not mention her name even once), she was recognized with a Candace Award for Humanitarianism in 1983 from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Clark passed away in 1983 at the age of 65 due to cancer, however, her legacy and contributions to education live on.