Profiles in Black: Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914-2005)
Kenneth Bancroft Clark was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1914 and immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister. After graduating high school in New York, he headed to Howard University. There he took a class from Francis Sumner, known as the Father of Black Psychology, and it changed the trajectory of Clark’s education. He had been determined to become a medical doctor, but after taking Sumner’s class decided psychology was in his future. Clark completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at Howard alongside Sumner, who would become his mentor.
In 1942 Clark became the first black tenured full professor at the City College of New York, and also started the psychology department at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). He would also become the first black president of the American Psychological Association.
Along with his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, Kenneth Clark also became known for The Doll Experiment, a test that grew out of Mamie Clark’s master’s thesis and focused on children’s self-perception related to race. The results were used to show the damaging effect of segregated schools, and the Clarks testified at three of the trials preceding the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case, which ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
Kenneth Clark helped write a summary of all five trials’ social science testimony that was used in the historic case. Later, Clark would help develop policies on integration for schools and he remained active in the integration movement throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Clark died in Hastings-on-Hudson in 2005.