Interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark
Interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark


Production Team: A

Interview Date: November 4, 1985

Camera Rolls: 146-148
Sound Roll: 1122

Interview gathered as part of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965).
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 4, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.

INTERVIEW
FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

THIS IS EYES ON THE PRIZE, BLACKSIDE, 11/3 Y85. WE'RE ON SOUND ROLL 1122, AND CAMERA ROLL 146. WE'RE ABOUT TO START THE INTERVIEW WITH DR. KENNETH CLARK.

QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT, I WONDER IF WE COULD START BY HAVING YOU GLANCE FOR US THIS SE—WHAT SEGREGATION WAS IN THE EARLY 1950'S. IN PARTICULAR, HOW IT AFFECTED THE CHILDREN THAT YOU WERE TESTING?

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Well, segregation was and is a way in which a society tells a group of human beings that they are inferior to other groups of human beings in the society—and it really is internalized—that children learning that they cannot go to the same schools as other children, and the schools that they are required to attend are always clearly inferior to the schools that others are permitted to attend. It influences the child's view of himself, his being inferior to the others, is as reinforced by other things in the society such as restrictions in public accommodations, transportation. When a whole society is organized to establish the inferior, reinforce the inferior status of these individuals, it lowers their self esteem. It makes them feel that they're not as worthy as the non-segregated groups of human beings, and this continues pretty much through the rest of their lives.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

STOP FOR A MOMENT. MAKE SURE EVERYONE'S HAPPY. SPEED—

QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

BEFORE WE GET TO THE SPECIFICS—THE BROWN CASE—COULD YOU JUST DESCRIBE WHAT THE DOLLS TEST WAS. WHAT WAS IT DESIGNED TO SHOW?

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

The dolls test was an attempt on the part of my wife and me to try to understand how children, black children, saw themselves—whether they viewed themselves as equal to others. In fact, what we were trying to do is to see how children develop a sense of their own being, their own person. We did this study before we had any idea that it was going to have any relevance to public policy, before we knew—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

STOP PLEASE, SOUND, SOUND THREE. THANK YOU.

QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

AGAIN, THE DOLLS TEST.

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

The Dolls Test was an attempt on the part of my wife and me to study the development of the sense of self, self esteem in children. We worked with Negro children—I'll call black children—to see the extent to which their color, their sense of their own race and status, influenced their judgment about themselves, self esteem. We've now—this research, by the way, was done long before we had any notion that the NAACP or that the public officials would be concerned with our results. In fact, we did the study fourteen years before Brown, and the lawyers of the NAACP learned about it and came and asked us if we thought it was relevant to what they were planning to do in terms of the Brown decision cases. And we told them it was up to them to make that decision and we did not do it for litigation. We did it to communicate to our colleagues in psychology the influence of race and color and status on the self esteem of children.

QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

NOW, WHEN YOU GOT INVOLVED WITH CLARENDON COUNTY, WHEN THEY ASKED YOU TO GET INVOLVED, DID YOU SEE IT AS ANY DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER TESTING SITUATION?

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Did we? Well. we got involved with the Clarendon County case, we got involved because the lawyers initiated the communication with us. We could not talk about the results of our research in terms of the litigation, because the litigation came, as I said earlier, after we did the study, and the dolls test and the other techniques that we used to study the development of the sense of self in these children, was done purely in terms of attempting to understand the psychological process—how do people develop from childhood a sense of their own person?

QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

COULD YOU TALK US THROUGH A TYPICAL TEST. THE QUESTIONS, THE RESPONSES OF THE CHILD?

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Well, in the, in the test—everyone calls this, by the way, the dolls test, but in trying to answer our basic problem of how do people develop a sense of their own being, we used a number of techniques, partly the dolls technique was the most dramatic. But we had pictures of children, black and white, and we asked the children to indicate which one was like themselves, which one they liked, which ones they didn't like. We had a coloring test which I found more fascinating than the dolls test even, although nobody ever talks about it. We had drawings of such things as a leaf, an apple, a mouse, and a girl, and a boy, and we had a lot of crayons and we asked—this test was particularly concerned with trying to determine the child's sense of color, starting with three years of age and going up. And we had them to color the leaf, the apple, the mouse. And if they did that correctly, then we would say, "Here is a little boy," and if it were a little girl we would say to them, "Color this little boy the color you like little boys to be," which would indicate preference. And if it were a boy, we would say, "Color this little girl the color you would like little girls to be." And then we—the final question we asked them on the coloring test, "Now color yourself the color you are." Well, one of the reasons I found that the most interesting and disturbing [sound fades] method that we used before the doll test was that we found a number of the children who would color—when we'd say, "Color this little boy if it were a boy, the color you are,"—a child three, four or five, who could color all the other things, the apple and the leaf and the mouse, an appropriate color, would take a totally inappropriate color to color himself. For example, would take vermillion, or a color that no human being was, and do that. That, to me, indicated a sense of disturbance about his own color. Then finally we came to the dolls test in the same situation. And the questions were very simple, you know, "Show me a white doll." We had two white dolls and two brown dolls. "Show me the doll that's a white doll. Show me the doll that's a brown doll." We had a series of about three or four questions that were concerned with knowledge of the difference, and we had questions that were concerned with preference, "Show me the doll that you like to play with. Show me the doll that's a nice doll. Show we the doll that's a bad doll." And after we asked these preference questions in which a majority of these children disturbingly rejected the black or brown doll, and described positive characteristics to the white doll—not all, but the majority did. Then the most disturbing question, and one that really made me, even as a scientist, upset, was we then asked as the final question, "Now show me the doll that's most like you." And it was disturbing because many of the children were emotionally upset at having to identify with the doll that they had rejected. Some of them would walk out the room or refuse to answer that question. And this we interpreted as indicating that color, in a racist society, was a very disturbing and traumatic component of an individual's sense of his own self esteem and worth.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

JUST RUNNING OUT. I WAS IN CAMERA ROLL 146.

QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT THE TESTING AS A GENERAL TOPIC. DO YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING, ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR ABOUT THE CLARENDON COUNTY QUESTION, ANY OF THE RESPONSES THERE?

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

The responses in the Clarendon. County testing, again was something which was requested by the lawyers who had read the material that we had published, before we knew that there was any litigation. And then the lawyers wanted to know if their plaintiffs, the children in Clarendon County, the black children, would have the same results as those that we had tested ten years earlier. So they asked me to, to go into Clarendon County and I wasn't all that happy about it 'cause there was a lot of violence, and threats of violence, in there and would say, "Well, you have to go there anyway." So, and my wife, by the way, didn't want me to go. She had been from the south and she was aware—more aware of violence than I. But anyway, I went, and sent someone in—the head of the NAACP in South Carolina went with me. By the way, he was threatened in my presence there, but we had to test those children. And I went and used the same methods as I think that I do in the earlier studies, and the results were the same. These children saw themselves as inferior and they accepted the inferiority as part of reality. I mean they—they were separated from life. They—they went to segregated schools, and these realities were reflected in the results of our, of our tests. [sound fades].

QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

No, that was in our original study. It was in Arkansas. A little boy, when I asked him, now show me the doll that's like you, he looked up and smiled and laughed, and pointed to the brown doll and—"That's a nigger. I'm a nigger," and that was as disturbing, if not more disturbing, to me than the children, some of the children in Massachusetts who would refuse to answer that question or would cry and [coughs], and run out of the room. The children in the South did not—[cough] disturbing. The children in the south did not reject the inferior that, which that, that question required. In fact, they sort of accepted this as part of the realities in life that they were living, as indicated by that little boy's statement, "I'm a nigger. It's a nigger," and smiled about it. The children in the north were more overtly emotionally rejecting of that thing.

QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

No, the only thing that will help me is for—is to—get this over with.

QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

I didn't test any of the children, the plaintiffs, in Kansas with the Brown decision, but the children in South Carolina, all of the plaintiffs, I tested there. I tested some, if not all, of the children in Prince Edward County Station in Virginia. And I don't remember exactly whether I tested the children in the Delaware State, but I know I didn't test any of the children in Kansas.

[unintelligible]

QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Oh, of course, I saw the warnings even before I knew there was going to be a case against segregation. My wife and I saw them as fairly indicative of the dehumanizing effects of racism, of which segregation is the most concrete manifestation of racism, no question about that. In fact, we saw that so clearly that we were reluctant to publish the results.

QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Because they would, some—the results of our studies were indicative of the dehumanizing, cruel impact of racism in our allegedly democratic society and, you know, these children were internalizing, they were seeing themselves in terms of the society's definition of their inferior status. That's not a pretty thing to—and it was hard for us to pretend to be objective about it.

QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Well, some of the lawyers felt that the case should not be contaminated by psychological evidence of the lawyers in order to overcome the—that stick to the law. The, some other lawyers, particularly Robert Carter, who is presently a federal judge in New York, he argued that you couldn't overthrow by just sticking to the law. But in order to show damage and a violation of equal protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, you have to show that being segregated actually damaged the children. And according to Judge Carter, who was not a judge then, and others who were part of Marshall's, they said that you need it as evidence of the damaging effect of segregation on children. Well, that was up to them, I mean I couldn't play any part in their discussion, but Marshall made the decision—accepted it as part of these cases.

QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

Of course, how could I forget it? I was very, very happy when Berger called me at the college and told me not only that the decision came down but that Justice Barnes had specifically mentioned the psychological testimony as a key, a revealing—sure I was happy. Goodness, I would have to be a block of ice not to be, and we celebrated for quite a while.

QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

The resistance? Of course, we had to have expected resistance. What I didn't anticipate was how long the resistance was going to last. I thought, you know, that we would have resistance for a few years, and the white public and public officials who were black would adjust to changes in the segregation matter, and accept desegregation. I must confess, I published articles making that kind of prediction. I wish I could get them back now because obviously the resistance not only persists, continuing up to the present, but seems to be much more effective than the early forms of resistance. The northern type of resistance to me, is more insidious and more effective than the barbarous, blatant type of resistance—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

I'M GOING TO CAMERA ROLL 148 NOW. I'M GOING TO CAMERA ROLL 148 NOW.

QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

I've often thought of that, and I suppose closely related to that question is the question of—what were the people who were persecuting afraid of? What were the Nazis afraid of? As a psychologist, I suppose I should have some clue to the answer to those disturbing questions, but I must confess, I do not have the answer. It would seem to me that type of cruel—there, and sometimes cruel to the point of destruction of human beings, is evident of deep-seated ignorance and superstition among human beings, which they can rationalize by such things as, you know, pointing out the inferiority of the people whom they are destroying, actually or psychologically. They can give you all sorts of good reasons, but when you examine those reasons what you really see is ignorance and superstition which is rather pervasive, unfortunately, very common among human beings. Ad they, they destroy each other, or go out of their way to hurt their fellow human beings. And the question there, there must be something deep down that they fear—that it doesn't—whatever it is, it doesn't seem to me to be rational, and obviously not moral, or human.

QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

I'M INTERESTED IN THE SORT OF GENERAL QUESTION OF YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE LEGACY OF THE PERIOD THAT WE'RE COVERING. LET ME EXPLAIN THIS—THIS IS A PERIOD OF COVERING THE FIRST TEN OR ELEVEN YEARS AFTER THE BROWN DECISION [sound fades], SO WE HAVE A [unintelligible] AND THE PUBLIC IS [unintelligible] AN [unintelligible] VIOLENCE, AND THE YOUNG ACTIVISM, WE COVER THE MARCHES, WE COVER—

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

I have to ask you a question, who is "we"?

QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]—THINK ABOUT, I'M WONDERING WHAT YOU WOULD SAY WAS THE LEGACY OF THAT FIRST PERIOD?

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

I'm not sure I understand your question—"legacy of that first period"? What do, what do you mean by that?

QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

That period after the 1954 Brown decision was clearly one in which major changes in regulations were occurring on the surface. The flagrant forms of segregation—of segregation in public accommodation and transportation—the Brown decision certainly stimulated the Martin Luther King [unintelligible] beauty [unintelligible] approach was had terrific impact in removing the more stupid manifestations of racism and segregation. And that excited the civil rights movement. It certainly, and the media, television, brought the—this film—Montgomery, the Connor type of thing into the living rooms of Americans, and the conscience of, I think, the majority of American people, was aroused being by the leadership of Martin Luther King. And one could have thought during that period that there would be continued progress towards racial justice, and there was, there was some progress. I mean one can't say that nothing happened because some things happen so, there were so many changes that younger people can't[unintelligible] the quality of stupidity, that characterized American [unintelligible] before they were born. But some things happened in the, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. We [unintelligible] backlashed and there's certainly lots of frustration on the part of black Americans that manifested itself in nepotism by blacks. And the problems that they run into today are much more insidious than the problems that we faced in the ‘5Os and the '60s that we think we have gotten over and solved. I mean, in solving the flagrant segregation signs we left the insidious segregation. The fact of segregation is we don't need signs, and we now have a kind of pervasive, deep-seated racism that's sometimes supported by liberals.

QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

[unintelligible]

Dr. Kenneth Clark:

It is. It's terrible.