KENNETH B. CLARK

KENNETH B. CLARK

b. 1914

Kenneth Clark, who developed the psycholog¬ ical arguments that won the influential Brown v. Board of Education (see no. 67) case, was bom in the Panama Canal Zone where his father worked.

In 1919, Kenneth and his mother returned to Harlem in New York City by themselves. Kenneth went to integrated schools and studied under inspira¬ tional mentors like Coun- tee Cullen, who was a teacher at Junior High School 139, and Arthur Schomburg (see no. 40), who was available as the curator of the New York Public Library’s Division of Negro Literature, History & Prints.

Clark went from George Washington High School to Howard University and to Columbia, where he earned a Ph.D. in psy¬ chology. Teaching at City College of New York from 1942 on, Clark began writing about the psychological effects of segrega¬ tion.

Working from the theories and expla¬ nations laid down by E. Franklin Frazier (see no. 53), Clark developed proof that segregated African-American children began at a disadvantage simply because they’d been excluded as a group.

In 1953, Clark published both Desegre¬ gation: An Appraisal of the Evidence and Prejudice and Your Child. In 1954, Thur- good Marshall (see no. 67) used Clark’s research to sway the court in the famous Brown v. Board of Education case that found segregation unconstitutional. He used examples like the experiment in which African-American children were invited to choose from a collection of white, Japanese and black dolls.

In each instance, the chil¬dren preferred the black dolls least. From these results, Marshall was able to illustrate that even from a very young age, African-American chil¬ dren recognized that their segregation from white children was based on a judgement made against them. When the justices of the US Supreme Court agreed that the evidence was sound, they could no longer accept the “sepa¬ rate but equal” argument of Plessy v. Fergusson.

Throughout the 1960s, Clarke added his research and analysis to the debate raging between the pacifist African-American organizers following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (see no. 91) and the more militant followers of Malcolm X (see no. 87). Following E. Franklin Frazier in assert¬ ing that “The natural reactions to injustice, oppression, and humiliation are bitterness and resentment,” Clark defended militancy as a healthy response.

Clark’s ideas, when applied to a histori¬ cal context, ring true in a painful way: “I read that report…of the 1919 riot in Chica¬ go, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of ’35, the report of the investi¬ gating committee on the Harlem riot of ’43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot…”

After the Los Angeles riots of 1992, per¬ haps it is even more important to recognize Clarke’s assertion that racism must con¬ stantly be fought because “injustice, oppression and humiliation” are often fol¬ lowed by acts of “bitterness and resent¬ ment.”