Attendees of the 2004 Society for Psychological Study of Social Issues Biennial Convention honored former APA president Kenneth B. Clark, PhD, and work by him and his wife, educational psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, informing the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision by viewing a 1992 videotaped interview with Clark, in which he discussed his research on race and its role in Brown.
"I was involved [in the Brown case] because lawyers permitted me to be," Clark said. "They felt it was important to have a social scientific approach to show that separate was not equal."
Clark noted how he shared with the court his "doll studies," in which he and Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, found that black children, when given choices, consistently preferred white dolls over brown ones. The Clarks concluded that these preferences were due to racial segregation. Moreover, psychologists widely interpreted the results as an indication that segregation is psychologically damaging, noted psychologist Henry Tomes, PhD, APA's executive director for Public Interest. Tomes joined psychologist Robert Perloff, PhD, in interviewing Clark for the 1992 video.
Asked to reflect on his experience with the Court, Clark said it was exciting to be a part of such an influential event, especially because it was one of the first times social science research was considered as evidence in a major decision.
"We worked with the lawyers on the Brown decision without regard to color," Clark said. "To me, that was a good example of how science and law cut across racial and ethnic lines."
In the video, Clark also discussed being elected as the first African-American president of APA in 1970, a development he said was pleasing but unexpected because no African-American had been elected before and Clark hadn't actively campaigned.
"I was surprised that psychologists at that time were ready to deal with a presidency of the APA across racial lines," he said in the taped interview. "My election was indicative of a readiness that a whole group of psychologists could move in this direction of social justice. I gave indicators of concern along the way, which I think were held by others, in setting up groups within APA for social justice."
Indeed, during his APA presidency, Clark established the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility in Psychology, which became the current Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest.
Clark, who turned 90 this July, encouraged research into violence, racism and gender differences, and advocated for teaching children values of respect and kindness.
"One can teach children what's cruel and hostile and what's not," he said. "The stability of the human species and the stability of the society care whether we accept or reject the values of kindness."Henry Tomes described Clark's research and legacy in his column in the JuneMonitor.