~ contributed by CHP student assistant Adam Beckler.
Saturday, May 17th marked the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. This landmark Supreme Court case overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” that was established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The Supreme Court’s unanimous 9-0 decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Brown v. Board of Education was the central starting point for ending segregation in American schools and marked a major victory for the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
The Supreme Court’s decision was influenced by the work of social psychologist Kenneth B. Clark. Clark and his wife Mamie studied the psychological effects of skin color on young black students.
From the Center for the History of Psychology’s exhibit on Psychology and Social Change:
“The Clarks examined the racial preferences of 253 African-American children from segregated nurseries and public schools. The children were presented with four dolls – two black and two white. They were asked which doll they would like to play with or which doll they liked best. More than 65 percent of children chose a white doll.”
“Testimony given by Kenneth Clark and other psychologists was used in Brown v. Board to argue against segregation in the schools…This was the first time that social science research was explicitly cited in a Supreme Court decision. “
Part of the Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. book collection, Racial Identity in Context: The Legacy of Kenneth B. Clark edited by Gina Philogène uses Clark’s work as a foundation to discuss the role of racial identity in the ongoing struggle for equality for African Americans. Racial Identity in Context examines topics including, but not limited to, racial integration today, the role of racial identity in managing daily racial hassles, resilience and self-esteem in African-Americans, and immigration.
The Brown v. board case was significant in the social history of the United States and it was also important in psychology’s history. As Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. and Ellen M. Crouse suggest in the book’s conclusion, the Brown v. Board of Education decision “marks the public validation of psychology as a science.”