President's Column

I had the great honor of speaking on behalf of APA at Kenneth Bancroft Clark's funeral at St. Phillips Episcopal Church in Harlem, N.Y., on May 9.

Dr. Clark was APA's first non-Caucasian president. He was also the first African American to earn a PhD from Columbia University.

I am so glad that APA Past- president Diane Halpern chose to honor him and his wife Mamie Phipps Clark at the APA Annual Convention in Hawaii, on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and while he was still alive.

Here is the eulogy:

It is a distinct honor to speak to you this morning about my fellow psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark.

I am also privileged to represent the American Psychological Association and its 150,000 members and to deliver our discipline's tribute to the person who was arguably the 20th century's most influential psychologist--a psychologist who may best embody the precepts of our discipline and the true purpose of our association--to advance psychology as a science and a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

Dr. Kenneth Clark was a giant within the discipline of psychology for two reasons. One, because he applied psychology, and in his day, pioneering research, to literally break down barriers and open doors--schoolhouse doors in this case. Second, he strongly believed in the power of science and was true to the research process, even willing to correct his own earlier beliefs when subsequent research suggested he needed to do so.

Just how did Dr. Clark open schools' doors for a generation of African Americans? Working with his wife and fellow psychologist, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark, he designed a study, which was elegant in its simplicity.

Their study was intended to measure the self-perception of school-age African-American children. To do so, he showed European-American and African-American children black and white dolls and asked their opinion of the dolls.

The dolls, by the way, were purchased for 50 cents apiece at Woolworth's on 125th Street in Harlem. This was in the 1940s, and this Woolworth's store was one of the few places in the city where you could buy black dolls.

The white children overwhelming favored the white dolls--as expected. Most of the black children also preferred the white dolls, saying they looked "nice" and that the black dolls looked "bad." Dr. Clark then asked the black kids which doll looked most like them. Some children responded that the white doll looked most like them. Other children refused to answer, others cried.

Dr. Clark and his doll experiment showed that black children in segregated schools were more likely to see themselves as inferior. Some time later in the landmark decision outlawing school desegregation, Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that separating black children from white 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 to ever be undone."

Kenneth B. Clark was also a towering figure within psychology, beloved by his profession for his research, his teaching and his leadership.

Dr. Clark was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1969. His election to this office came at a time not only of great unrest in our country but at a time when American psychology was struggling to find its voice in an era of social change. Dr. Clark's election signaled movement within APA toward increasing the relevance and influence of psychology on social justice issues. Dr. Clark's trailblazing example of applying psychological research and psychological principles to social change and social justice is a model still followed by APA today.

In closing, I don't mind sharing with you just how intimidating it is to now hold the office once held by Kenneth B. Clark--the psychologist, I think it's fair to say, who had the most profound, dramatic and lasting impact on the 20th century. I ask myself, how can any one person live up to this legacy? How can the American Psychological Association live up to this legacy? The answer is actually quite simple--be dedicated to the research enterprise, be courageous, work to see sound psychological principles applied to all social systems, stay true to your convictions, and never give up.

Thank you.