Education A National Roundup

Obituary: Kenneth B. Clark, Scholar on Race, Dies at 90

May 10, 2005 1 min read
Research on racial attitudes conducted by Kenneth B. Clark, shown here in 1979, helped overturn segregated schools.

The psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, whose groundbreaking experiments with dolls were cited to show the negative impact of segregation on the South’s black students, died May 1 at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., after a battle with cancer. He was 90.

Mr. Clark’s studies were widely credited with influencing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision overturning racially segregated public schooling. Lawyer Thurgood Marshall cited the research in arguments on the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka set of lawsuits.

Mr. Clark interviewed children in Clarendon County, S.C., as part of Briggs v. Elliott, one of four lawsuits that were consolidated as Brown. His experiments suggested that black children felt inferior when restricted to low-quality, segregated schools. He came to be known as “the doll man” for his study, which showed that both black and white children preferred white dolls over black ones.

A longtime professor at City College of New York and the first African-American to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, Mr. Clark served for 20 years on the New York state board of regents, which oversees public schools in the state. With his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, he founded the Northside Center for Child Development in New York City.