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A distinguished social scientist and lifelong opponent of segregation died yesterday. Dr. Kenneth Clark was 90 years old. The US Supreme Court cited his controversial doll studies in its 1954 decision on school desegregation. He also wrote a classic study of the inner cities called "Dark Ghetto." NPR's Margot Adler has this remembrance.
MARGOT ADLER reporting:
Kenneth Clark was one of the architects of America's understanding of racism and its legacy, and he was, until the very end, a fervent fighter for integration. It was a battle he often felt was lost, and he watched sadly as many in the black community turned away from integration as an ideal.
An educator, a psychologist and a social scientist, Clark worked on almost all his projects with his wife and total partner, Mamie Clark, also a psychologist. The Clarks are best known for their doll experiments, studies that showed that black children would choose white dolls over black ones when given a choice. Ellen Fehrer(ph) worked with Kenneth Clark for many years at the Joint Center for Political Studies. She said that pictures of those children and of Dr. Clark watching them are riveting.
Ms. ELLEN FEHRER (Clark Colleague): And you can see that he almost had tears in his eyes just watching them because it was so clear that they identified with the black dolls but, really, didn't think that they were any good.
ADLER: Today some social scientists reject the doll studies. And many legal theorists say that the Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education, was based on constitutional grounds, not social science.
Kenneth Clark grew up in Harlem in the 1920s. He attended Howard University and studied under a brilliant faculty that included Ralph Bunche, Francis Cecil Sumner and Alain Locke. Sumner influenced Clark to go into psychology and to study the impact of race. After Brown vs. Board of Education, Kenneth Clark was given honorary degrees by more than a dozen universities. For a while, he said, he believed that the United States would become an integrated society.
Today Kenneth Clark's focus on integration would be seen as conservative by some. He believed that children should be taught basic English. He believed children of the ghettos should and could perform and test at normal levels. He clashed with black separatists in the late '60s and early '70s and left the board of Antioch College over the question of all-black dorms and separate programs, which he opposed. He believed that art and culture were universal. But David Rosner, director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University, says racism prevented Clark from being judged by those same universal standards. The society narrowly defined him as a black educator, a black psychologist, a black intellectual.
Mr. DAVID ROSNER (Director, Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health, Columbia University): And often he was written off by the larger white society. His work was never meant to be specifically identified with only the black community. He was really concerned with the larger culture.
ADLER: By the end of his life, Kenneth Clark was pessimistic. Here he is in 1981 at a conference on the city at New York's Riverside Church.
(Soundbite of 1981 speech)
Dr. KENNETH CLARK: The horror is that America does have the resources to make its cities worthy of human beings. America will not develop concentration camps to destroy human beings. America will only permit its ghettos to prolong the destruction of human beings. In that way, it can maintain its democratic ideals as it destroys those whom it cannot accept.
Professor JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN (Duke University): One of the things about the Clarks was that they were uncompromising.
ADLER: John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus of history at Duke University and a lifelong friend.
Prof. FRANKLIN: They made no concessions; they gave no quarters.
ADLER: Many of Clark's projects were undermined by political opponents. For example, he was given a chance to test his educational theories in Washington, DC, but the superintendent of schools opposed his methods. In the end, Clark became embittered and frustrated, but he never wavered from his beliefs and principles. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.
SIEGEL: You can read an excerpt from Kenneth Clark's influential work, "Dark Ghetto," and hear previous coverage of his role in Brown vs. Board of Education at npr.org.
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