"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kenneth Clark

 It is now generally understood that chronic and remediable social injustices corrode and damage the human personality, thereby robbing it of its effectiveness, of its creativity, if not its actual humanity. ~ Kenneth Clark, Dark Ghetto 

Psychologist Kenneth Clark was born on July 14, 1914 in the Panama Canal Zone where his father worked as a passenger agent for the United Fruit Co.  When he was five his mother moved to Harlem so that he and his sister could attend school in the United States. She found work as a seamstress and became an organizer and steward for the International Ladies' Garmentworkers Union.

Dr. Clark attended Howard University and studied psychology "for the promise of getting some systemic undertanding of the complexities of human behavior and human interactions... in the seemingly intractable nature of racism, for example". He received Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Howard, and in 1940 became the first African American to receive a PhD in psychology from Columbia University. He taught at the City College of New York from 1942 until his retirement in 1975, becoming the school's first African American tenured professor in 1960.

Dr. Clark is best known for his research into children's self-esteem, conducted with his wife Mamie Phipps Clark, also a psychologist. Their study, expanding on Mamie's master's thesis at Howard, found that black children preferred white dolls and connected them with more positive traits than they did black dolls. This finding has been repeated over the years, most notably in Kiri Davis's 2006 documentary A Girl Like Me. It was used by Thurgood Marshall in presenting his case in Brown v. Board of Education, with Chief Justice Earl Warren concluding that segregation of children "solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."

In 1946 the Clarks founded the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem to provide counseling for children and educational support for the community. They also started Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited in 1960 to further educational and job opportunities. This organization, known as HARYOU, worked to reorganize Harlem schools and provided preschool classes and tutoring.

Dr. Clark received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1961 and the Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt Foundation Four Freedoms Award in 1985. He died on May 1, 2005 at the age of 90 in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Read his New York Times obituary here.

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