Clark, Mamie Phipps


(b. Hot Springs, Arkansas, 18 October 1917;

d. Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, 11 August 1983), psychology, child development, social action.

Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark, two African American psychologists, were leaders in the struggle for civil rights in the United States whose joint work was a central piece of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka) to declare school segregation unconstitutional. They studied the effects of segregation on child development.

Early Years . Kenneth Clark was born in 1914 in the Canal Zone of Panama where his father, Arthur, a Jamaican by birth, was a supervisor for the United Fruit Company. His mother, Miriam Hanson Clark, also Jamaican, brought Kenneth and his sister Beulah to New York City when he was four-and-a-half and she was two. Clark grew up in a sequence of apartments in the northern edge of Harlem in the early 1920s, then a predominantly white community.

By the mid-1920s, Clark recalls, “junior high school was the beginning of [his] segregated educational experience.” (All uncited quotations are from oral histories; see note at head of bibliography.) Only when he was considering high schools did he experience the pain of racism in the city’s school system: his guidance counselor urged him to attend one of Harlem’s vocational schools, rather than to pursue an academic track. Clark rejected this advice and entered George Washington High School in Washington Heights, where he was one of ten African Americans in his graduating class.

Upon graduation in 1931, Clark chose to go to Howard University, the elite African American university in Washington, DC. An African American intellectual community that believed in the possibilities of a nonracist America thrived at Howard during the late 1920s and 1930s, and a gifted group of Howard teachers and students helped lay the groundwork for the flowering of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. Scholars including E. Franklin Frazier, Alain LeRoy Locke, Ralph Bunche, Charles Hamilton Houston, Sterling Allen Brown, and the psychologist Francis Cecil Sumner (whom Clark considered his “intellectual father”), inspired and taught a new generation of black leaders, academics, and activists. Convinced that racism could and would be overcome and that an integrated society was both necessary and possible, they held a basically optimistic view of the possibilities of America—that political and legal integration was achievable and that equal opportunity, coupled to an expanding economy, could lessen— even abolish—the virulence of America’s racism.

Mamie Phipps had come from a quite different background. Born in 1917 in the resort spa of Hot Springs, Arkansas, she grew up in a middle-class household, part of a small elite of African Americans in a relatively liberal southern town. Despite her family’s social prominence, Mamie Phipps attended a segregated school and was “always aware of which way you could go, which way you couldn't go, and what you could do and what you couldn't do.” Mamie Phipps entered Howard in 1934 at sixteen, planning to become a mathematics major and teacher, but, in her sophomore year, the intellectual environment at Howard convinced her that the social sciences were more intellectually challenging. By that time she had met Kenneth Clark, then a graduate student and teaching assistant in the psychology master’s program. Clark reinforced her growing interest in the social sciences and, as they started to date, convinced her that psychology had scientific rigor and could satisfy her desire to work with children.

By the end of Mamie Phipps’s junior year, in the summer of 1937, Kenneth Clark had been accepted at Columbia University in the psychology department, the first African American student permitted to enroll in its graduate program. For much of the academic year, Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps corresponded virtually every day. The separation became too painful for them and, during the spring break in 1938, they eloped, to be married by a justice of the peace in Virginia.

After graduation in the spring of 1938 Mamie Phipps Clark began her master’s degree at Howard and became interested in a series of studies by Ruth and Gene Horowitz on “self-identification” in nursery school children, and considered how she might merge her own interest in children with her broadening perspectives on racism and segregation. She could use the data on children for a thesis on “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-school Children.”

In a matter of months in 1939, the Clarks prepared four papers and got them accepted in the prestigious academic journals of that period. The first, written by Mamie Clark, appeared in the Archives of Psychology. The latter three were jointly authored with Kenneth Clark and appeared in the Journal of Social Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Education. They developed a joint proposal, submitted to the Julius Rosenwald Fund, to develop “newer methods of a coloring test and a doll’s test” to continue their research on identity and race. The foundation awarded a fellowship to them just after Mamie Clark graduated in 1940, which meant that Mamie and Kenneth Clark could now work together in New York.

In the same year, 1940, Kenneth Clark was completing his doctoral degree, and Mamie Clark entered Columbia’s psychology department as its second African American student. Mamie had opted to work with Henry Garrett precisely because, as Mamie Clark put it, he was “not by any means a liberal on racial matters” (quoted in O’Connell and Russo, 1983, Vol. 1, p. 268). Kenneth tried to dissuade her, but she told him “I want to work with the man who had these racial attitudes.” In addition, having entered college intending to be a mathematics major, she was quantitatively oriented, and Garrett was the statistician on the faculty, so there was a convergence of interests, racial issues aside. She carried out her dissertation, “The Development of Primary Mental Abilities with Age,” under Garrett’s direction, using schoolchildren from the public school system in New York. Shortly after receiving his degree, Kenneth Clark taught at the Hampton Institute for a semester before becoming, in 1941, the first African American instructor appointed to the City College of New York. Two years later Mamie Clark received her PhD.

Work at the Northside Center . By 1945 Mamie Clark decided to strike out on her own and abandon her plans to work in the white-oriented social service system because of the racism she encountered there. She considered organizing a child guidance clinic that would address an obvious need in the growing Harlem community. That turned out to be the Northside Center for Child Development. Members of the Rosenwald and Stern families, and other leading white, principally Jewish, philanthropists served on its board, along with public figures in African American social service and legal worlds, including Judge Robert Carter and James Dumpson. Although ostensibly a mental health center, its history over the next several decades reflected the continuing controversies not only about racial justice but also community psychiatry, deinstitutionalization, and community action. For the organization’s first forty years, Kenneth Clark used it as a base for his varied activities in education, psychology, and the antipoverty and urban renewal programs. The Northside Center was at the center of virtually every important political and social debate of the post–World War II era: de facto school segregation, juvenile delinquency, community action and the antipoverty programs of the Johnson era, educational reform and community control, urban renewal and housing reform, mental health and community psychiatry, Jewish-black relations, violence, and drug addiction and AIDS.

Mamie Clark, the executive director of Northside from its founding in 1946 to her retirement in 1979, inspired and shaped the center’s structure and clinical program. Kenneth Clark, Northside’s cofounder and research director from 1946 through 1966 and a board member until his death in 2005, advanced a broader social agenda through his wide variety of activities in New York’s contentious political arena. Northside was, in this sense, a laboratory in which both of the Clarks’ ideas and values were put into practice and tested. As Dumpson, a longtime board member and president and close friend of the Clarks, pointed out, Northside was a microcosm of the world the Clarks desired: a world of social equality, humanity, integration, and caring for all children and their families, without regard to race and circumstance. It was a place where black children, in particular, could learn to value their own worth and abilities and believe that they could shape their own future. Kenneth Clark said at the time, “We don't want psychiatry to be a panacea or substitute for social justice; what we conceived of when we started Northside was helping children to develop the kind of strength and belief in themselves, and the kind of personality stability which are necessary for them to contribute to making a better society” (Samuels, 1954). “A more just society” for Harlem’s children was Northside’s core agenda.

To outside observers it may have appeared that Kenneth and Mamie Clark operated in separate spheres—she inside and he outside Northside. Yet, as the Clarks and anyone who knew them well observed, they were essentially partners who depended on each other’s insights, strengths, and values. They provided a source of empowerment for the children served, and their parents, and for the community of which Northside was part. But the full range and depth of their work has not always been apparent. Kenneth Clark said that Northside operated on many levels. It could only meet a tiny fraction of Harlem’s needs, but it could serve as the catalyst for other organizations and activities with a broader impact on the quality of life of the children of Harlem.

School Integration North and South . Reforming education and providing reading and other academic support was a critical part of Northside’s program. Monday, 17 May 1954—the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it had made a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, that “separate education facilities are inherently unequal,” and hence, unconstitutional—marked the culmination of fifteen years’ effort by the Clarks starting with the development of their famous doll tests. In 1951 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDEF) had turned to social scientists in an unorthodox and innovative attempt to marshal expert testimony for a

systematic fight against school segregation. Thurgood Marshall, the general counsel for the NAACP-LDEF, who had led the team of lawyers in arguing the Brown case, and his colleagues were unable to find senior academics willing to publicly testify, and Robert Carter, later a federal judge in New York and board member of Northside, asked Otto Klineberg at Columbia for advice. Klineberg led him to Kenneth Clark, then still in his thirties. Clark recalled the beginning of that story:

Around February or March of 1951 I got a call from Bob Carter of the NAACP ‖ and they wanted help from the psychologists to prove that segregated education could never be equal and that segregation, in itself, was harmful, without regard to whether facilities were equal or not. [Columbia's] Otto [Klineberg] had told him I had this manuscript which I had prepared for the [Mid-Century] White House Conference [on Children, 1950] and whatever help psychologists could give would be found in this manuscript. ‖ So Bob Carter and I met for the first time. He told me the problem they faced; ‖ that segregation, in itself, damaged the personality of the Negro child. They had come upon this question themselves. They had formulated their legal approach and the only thing they didn't know was whether they could get any support for it from psychologists. ‖ So they went back to Otto and he said your man is Kenneth Clark.‖ [But] he took the manuscript and read it and called me about a week later, all excited, I’ll never forget his words. He said, ‘This couldn't have been better if it had been done for us.’”

Clark, then an assistant professor at City College, marshaled other social and behavioral scientists to prepare and support an appendix to the NAACP brief, “summarizing the evidence on the effects of segregation and the consequence of desegregation.” Both he and Mamie Clark testified in NAACP cases in Virginia (Kenneth Clark also testified in South Carolina and Delaware) about the results of the doll test and the negative impact of public school segregation. Mamie Clark said she was asked to testify in the Prince Edward County, Virginia, desegregation case in order to rebut directly the testimony offered in that court in support of inherent racial differences presented by Henry Garrett, her Columbia advisor and former president of the American Psychological Association.

As a result of his testimony during the school desegregation lawsuits in Virginia and elsewhere, Kenneth Clark became involved in New York public school desegregation politics during the mid-1950s. One attorney representing a southern state asked him why he was focusing so much on southern segregation when the schools in his own city were just as segregated. In response, in a speech to the New York Urban League in February 1954, at Harlem’s Hotel Theresa, Kenneth Clark challenged New York’s political leadership to acknowledge its own role in perpetuating a segregated system. He called upon the city’s board of education to cooperate in a “study of the extent and effects of segregation in the public schools of New York City’s Harlem” (Urban League Dinner speech, 1954)

In April 1954, shortly after his speech at the Hotel Theresa and a month before the Court’s decision in Brown, Clark organized a conference at Northside Center called “Children Apart.” More than two hundred representatives of sixty schools, social welfare agencies, religious organizations, unions, parents’ organizations, and Harlem community groups attended. So did B’nai B’rith and the NAACP. The meeting attracted wide media coverage because of its implicit and explicit condemnation of the resistance of the city’s governmental and educational leadership to acknowledging, much less confronting, the “increasing segregation” of the city’s school system and the continued denial of an equal education to its African American and Puerto Rican children. In the conference’s principal address, Kenneth Clark noted the subtle and not-so-subtle impact of educational policies, social theory, and housing patterns on the education of African American children. Segregation was a fact of life no less real in New York than in Mississippi. The following month came the Brown decision.

The ebullient optimism of the first post-Brown years quickly began to dissipate as civil rights leaders and educators ran up against entrenched opposition to change throughout the country. Kenneth Clark continued to believe that segregation would ultimately be defeated, but he began to voice concern about lack of commitment from local and national white leadership in the north and south. He singled out for special criticism “professional educators and their national organizations,” “church organizations,” “Southern labor unions,” and “Northern white liberals.” Educators “have been conspicuous by their silence, ambiguity, or equivocation on this issue” (Clark, 1956).

The next year, 1957, the long-simmering controversy over de facto school segregation in New York City burst onto the pages of local newspapers when Bernice and Stanley Skipworth and four other Harlem parents refused to send their children to JHS 136 at 135th Street and Edgecomb Avenue and JHS 139 at 140 West 140th Street because the schools were segregated, underfunded, and therefore of inferior quality. The nation’s attention was riveted on Little Rock, Arkansas, where state and local authorities had refused to allow nine children to attend Central High School until President Dwight D. Eisenhower was forced to call out the National Guard to protect them. New York’s own school authorities refused to allow black children in segregated elementary schools to move to predominantly white schools in other areas of the city. A comparison with Little Rock was never far from Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s personal consciousness, for they had taken it upon themselves to provide a home and schooling in Hastings-on-Hudson to one of the “Little Rock Nine,” Minnie Jean Brown, who had been expelled in the middle of the school year for throwing some chili onto a white student at Little Rock High School.

For Kenneth Clark, the Skipworth case was “a major development in the struggle of Negroes in northern communities to obtain equal and non-segregated education” (1959, pp. 11–12). Until this time, the New York City board of education, like most northern liberals, rarely acknowledged the impact on children of de facto segregation in northern urban communities. In court, the board of education no longer contested the fact that segregation existed, but did deny the claims of African American parents that de facto segregation was as destructive and harmful as was southern de jure segregation. Kenneth Clark was convinced that Judge Justine Wise Polier’s decision acknowledging the inferiority of segregated schools in New York could provide an opening to attack invidious northern de facto segregation, just as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 had provided the basis for challenging de jure segregation in the South.

Harlem’s youth were even more segregated in school by the early 1960s than they had been in the mid-1950s. The flight of white children to the city’s private and parochial school systems and to the suburbs had heightened the frustration of black parents committed to integration. Because of Kenneth Clark’s own long involvement in the desegregation effort of the 1950s and 1960s, he understood perhaps better than anyone the centrality of education in the broader struggle for equality and political power.

In the years between 1964 and the fall of 1968, the dissipation of school activists’ confidence in integration as the best means of addressing the obvious inequalities in the public schools led to calls for community control. “Most of those in the minority communities who are now fighting for community control have been consistent fighters for integration,” Kenneth Clark pointed out. “Their support for decentralization is not, therefore, to be seen in terms of a desire for separatism or a rejection of integration, but … it is a strategy of despair determined by the broken promises of the white community” (draft of “Introduction” by Dr. Kenneth B. Clark to “Community Control and the Urban School,” 24 March 1970, Kenneth B. Clark MSS). While he himself refused to abandon the long-range goal of integration, he supported “the demand for community control” as “primarily a desperate attempt [by African American parents] to protect their children in the schools they are required to attend.”

Critique of Arthur Jensen . By the late 1960s, in the wake of the social turmoil and disaffection that accompanied the late civil rights movement, a few psychologists and educators had begun to argue that the lack of measurable economic progress by African Americans during the 1960s could be explained by genetic factors. One of the prime pieces of evidence cited in this academic war by authors such as education professor Arthur Jensen at the University of California at Berkeley and Nobel Prize– winning engineer William Shockley of Stanford University, was that average test scores of African American youth were lower than whites. This focus on IQ testing was part of a much wider, scholarly attack against some of the more progressive aspects of the 1960s War on Poverty and Great Society programs. Head Start, the Office of Economic Opportunity, funding for minority college scholarships, affirmative action programs of various sorts, had been rooted in the assumption that differences between African American and white achievement in the country were attributable, in large part, to social, environmental, and historical oppression. By the late 1960s, however, certain academics maintained that African Americans, far from being at a disadvantage, had received too many special privileges. This white backlash seized on evidence offered and theories attributed to perceived differences in IQ between groups as “objective” proof of the fallacy of the environmental argument. Social programs could not, they argued, compensate for what they regarded as essentially innate and genetic inferiority.

The appearance of Jensen’s article “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” in the 1969 Harvard Educational Review seemed to give the cloak of legitimacy to his views on the inherent inferiority of African Americans. It was given further credence by a “scientific” statistical reanalysis of data gathered by other psychologists and educators. Kenneth Clark was greatly concerned about the potential impact on educators, administrators, policy makers, and the broader public, many of whom lacked the training or familiarity with such statistical claims to evaluate Jensen’s work. Clark, then president of the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, decided to “convene a small meeting of authorities to discuss the scientific and policy implications of the resurgence of this point of view,” especially focusing on the view that compensatory programs like Head Start were failing and that investment in education for minority youth was wasted money. “Jensen’s position has been consistent with the reduction of compensatory programs in education, a slowdown in school desegregation and an increase in white attitudes of superiority. In addition,” Clark wrote, “teachers who apply Jensen’s recommendations will abandon their efforts to impart the necessary symbolic skills and will stress only rote learning for minority groups pupils” (Kenneth B. Clark and Lawrence Plotkin to Professor Doxie Wilkerson, 26 September 1969; Kenneth B. Clark MSS).

Clark pointed out that Jensen’s theories were consistent with past theories based on assumptions of racial inferiority, his “statistical apparatus notwithstanding.” “Because the concept of race itself is so elusive for certain distinct physical characteristics.” Clark maintained that “genetic differences identifiable by race have so far proved impossible to determine.” Even if one could determine racial differences, African Americans themselves could not be identified as “a biological or ‘racial’ entity,” but as “a socially defined group with common characteristics generated by social and institutional exclusiveness [which] has existed for too brief a time to develop any meaningful genetic character by inbreeding” (1974, pp. 109–110).

Kenneth Clark and the War on Poverty . By the mid-1960s, the optimism that the white community could recognize the evils of segregation and remove traditional barriers to African Americans’ full participation in American life had eroded. No longer could the Harlem community depend upon the ambivalent and halting actions of even the most enlightened of northern white liberals. Harlem had to turn inward, to its own resources and institutions, and develop new ways to combat the ingrained racism and resistance to change that had left Harlem’s children in segregated schools, poor housing, and economic crisis. The problems of Harlem were understood to have their roots in segregation, the conditions of housing, the lack of job opportunities, the transformation of the city’s economic base from manufacturing to services, the deterioration of the school system, and drugs, among many other things.

The origins of “the war against poverty” and community action programs can be traced back to the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as president and the subsequent appointment of Robert Kennedy as attorney general in 1961. The coming of the “New Frontier” marked heightened federal attention to domestic issues. Just as concern about the unemployed had generated the social programs of the New Deal a generation before, so the growing attention to the problem of youth and juvenile delinquency during the 1950s—a common concern in postwar periods—helped stimulate the programs of the early 1960s to restructure northern cities. Social scientists had long been asking questions about the relationship between youth, social class, and crime.

The President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, established by Attorney General Kennedy in 1961, issued policy guidelines for funding proposals for “demonstration projects for the prevention and control of juvenile delinquency” that emphasized that “the sources of delinquent behavior lie in the individual and in his social situation.” In urban slums, “the sections of our cities frequently populated by Negroes and other low-income minority groups,” it said, “even the healthiest personalities can be overwhelmed by delinquency patterns which are environmentally supported.” Federal and local efforts should be aimed, therefore, at “actions aimed primarily at changes in social arrangements affecting target areas youth rather than changes in the personality of the individual delinquent” (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Administration, 1963). In this approach were the seeds of the broader War on Poverty of the later Lyndon Johnson presidency. In sharp contrast to the earlier delinquency programs that sought to address the problems of youths already in trouble with the law or society, this new federal initiative sought to support programs “whose potential target is all youth in these most vulnerable areas of our cities” through “the prevention of those conditions which are seen as causal to delinquency.” In the policy and academic arenas, social ramifications of poverty had

replaced individual pathology as the paradigm for explaining delinquency.

A host of Harlem organizations joined Kenneth Clark in producing a statement, “A Program for Harlem’s Youth.” Over the course of 1962, Kenneth Clark and others began to develop a “comprehensive youth services program in the Central Harlem community.” Clark wrote the planning grant, and the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency funded it at the end of 1962. The $230,000 established Harlem Youth Opportunities, Inc., known as HARYOU, to become one of the principal federally funded programs in the coming War on Poverty. HARYOU held out the possibility of hope that Harlem might be on the verge of a renaissance and a renewed control of its own destiny.

Rather than start from the answers, HARYOU began with questions. The first tack was a comprehensive survey to determine what facilities were available for youth, how they were being utilized, and to determine what new programs were needed. At the meeting of the Citizens’ Advisory Council of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, Clark announced that “HARYOU is not an agency, not an action program, not a demonstration. It is only planning—thinking, looking, researching to understand the problems of youth in Harlem and to develop a solid, comprehensive program providing opportunities for the maximum adjustment of Harlem youth.”

HARYOU, under Clark’s direction, continued to develop a planning document, citing the enormous discrepancies in social services, educational opportunities, employment opportunities, housing, recreational facilities, and other services directly affecting Harlem’s youth and the social consequences of increased mortality and educational deficiencies. Mamie Clark was chair of a HARYOU committee that assessed the “nature and quality of existing services for youth in the Harlem community,” identifying existing services for adoption, daycare, employment and vocational guidance, family services and financial assistance, hospitals, mental health programs, recreation, group work programs, settlements, neighborhood centers, and vacation services.

Kenneth Clark wrote much of HARYOU’s final report, Youth in the Ghetto, issued in 1964, and his book Dark Ghetto, published the year after, grew out of it. Given Clark’s theories on social power it is no accident that the HARYOU report was subtitled A Study of the Consequences of Powerlessness, for it was born out of his growing frustration with traditional dependence for dealing with problems of poverty in the black “ghettos” of America on the benevolence of the private philanthropy and governmental bureaucracies. His hope for an integrated assault on social pathology was undermined by years of disappointment, and he was now convinced that Harlem would have to turn inward, to its own resources and political base to affect meaningful change. Only through drawing on its own strengths as an African American community with the potential for real political power could the rapidly accelerating problems associated with poverty, social dislocation, drugs, crime, inadequate housing, and disastrous schools be seriously addressed. But he also retained skepticism about this approach. Without a massive infusion of funds and an end to Harlem’s isolation, in the long run no meaningful systemic change could occur. But he saw no way to go except to attempt to meet immediate needs with available resources—to try, as he often said, not to sacrifice another generation of children.

Ironically, HARYOU, and specifically Kenneth Clark, now became the target of a massive and well-coordinated campaign from within the community (or so it appeared) that sought to undermine them as an independent force. Adam Clayton Powell, then the chairman of the House Education and Welfare Committee, was mobilizing federal and local official support to dislodge Clark and take over HARYOU by merging it with his own antipoverty organization, Associated Community Teams (ACT). He sought to portray the Clarks as profiteers who had benefited from public monies that might otherwise go to more worthy antipoverty programs (such as his own).

Privately, Kenneth Clark revealed that Powell offered him an opportunity to share the spoils of federal largess and was offended when Clark turned him down. On 7 July 1964, the newly merged HARYOU-ACT board failed to elect Clark as one of its officers and, three weeks later on 29 July, Clark resigned from the organization he had founded. The impact of Kenneth Clark’s resignation brought to the fore HARYOU’s political importance; it was perhaps the largest source of federal antipoverty money in the nation, and Powell had felt he had a right to direct its use. Clark saw HARYOU as “the last chance available for thousands of young people in Harlem,” and Powell’s political maneuvering endangered that chance. For liberals, white and black, the message was particularly troubling, because Clark represented both the scholarly and professional communities. “Dr. Kenneth Clark was recently crushed by practical politicians when he tried to steer the local anti-poverty program on an independent professional course,” said Woody Klein in the Nation magazine (1964). Klein, a reporter from the New York World-Telegram who had broken the story of the HARYOU-ACT split in the Nation piece, described “the mild-mannered, 50-year-old City College of New York psychology professor [who had] ‖ stepped out of his role as scholar when he publicly accused Powell of trying to make HARYOU a ‘political pork barrel’”(p. 27).

Temporarily stymied on the political stage, Clark turned to writing what became his most noted book, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power, published in 1965, and then laid plans to reenter the fight over Harlem from another direction. With funding from the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, among others, he organized the integrated Metropolitan Applied Research Center (MARC). It was to provide a new base for leadership in the school decentralization struggle, work with national civil rights leaders, undertake major research into racial segregation, accept a request from the school board of Washington, D.C., to propose reform of that system, help organize black elected officials nationally, found the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington, D.C., and so on.

The confluence of internal battles in HARYOU and the outside attack on Mobilization for Youth (a federally funded antipoverty agency on the Lower East Side of New York City) combined to undermine the faith of the Harlem community in federal antipoverty programs that had once seemed so promising. When, in August 1964, President Johnson, with much fanfare and media attention, launched his War on Poverty, many in Harlem reacted with cynicism and anger at first. From Kenneth Clark’s perspective, such cynicism was legitimate. In a study sponsored by the Stern Family Fund, he analyzed the conditions under which antipoverty programs failed or succeeded, including the tactics of participation by the poor on governing boards and in confrontation with white power. In A Relevant War against Poverty, Clark and Jeannette Hopkins—on leave from Harper & Row to work with him as vice president for publications, on a Carnegie–Harper & Row cosponsored urban affairs publications program at MARC—concluded that federally funded antipoverty programs foundered on the inability and unwillingness of the powerful in the society to “share even a modicum of real power with those who have been powerless.” The “poor and the powerless are perceived and treated as if they are objects to be manipulated, taunted, played with, and punished by those with power.” The poor “are required to be grateful for the verbalizations and crumbs of power and are rejected as incorrigibly inferior, childlike, or barbaric if they rebel against and otherwise disturb the convenience of their more powerful benefactor.” Despite the rhetoric of meaningful empowerment, “Antipoverty programs ‖ were doomed to failure because they reflected a total lack of commitment to eliminate poverty, to share power with the powerless.” At root, the antipoverty programs were based on racist assumptions and paternalistic traditions that saw the objects of charity as “inferior human beings” and “did not want to, and would not, operate in terms of the rationale and goals of the potential equality of all human beings. They did not seek to accept and strengthen the humanity of the deprived through compassion, empathy, and a serious sharing of power” (Clark, 1974a, p. 159).

Theoretical Analysis of Inequality . Kenneth Clark was formulating his analysis of the nature of power relationships in the larger city and nation as a whole, leading to his book Pathos of Power(1974). In the mid-1960s, Clark was defining “social power” as “the force or energy required to bring about, to sustain, or to prevent social, political, or economic change” (1974a, p. 75.). To him, it was a neutral force like electricity that could be used positively or negatively. Beginning with the assumption that established politicians and white groups had little interest in upsetting the status quo, he sought to understand the place of Harlem in this power equation. Harlem was first and foremost a ghetto, Clark observed, and as such, was a creation and manifestation of the white system’s intent on maintaining existing power relations by isolating and confining troublesome blacks. Harlem and other segregated communities were evidence and proof of the powerlessness of their African American residents, whether or not at times they were able to appear to transcend the boundaries, as in the Harlem Renaissance of the arts in the 1920s. “The confinement of powerless individuals to restrictive ghettos in the North can be seen as an example of power by control” (1974a, p. 78).

He studied the approaches necessary to confront the oppression of African Americans in the American South and in the North. In the South, the civil rights movement had been able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of black middle-class and working-class people in an alliance with northern and southern liberal whites and an eager generation of young people, white and black, to tear down the citadels of segregation. In the North, without the clearer, more vulnerable, more dramatic targets of de jure segregation, such unity had been elusive, if not impossible, to achieve. What new strategies could work in the North? The antipoverty programs were a revealing and discouraging test.

Later, in his 1971 presidential address to the American Psychological Association (APA), he reviewed the theoretical basis for Northside’s expansionist definition of therapy, developed during the 1960s. He looked at the schism that had developed between professionals there with psychiatrists tending to maintain a strong commitment to Freudian and other traditional forms of psychoanalysis and those who were seeking theoretical legitimacy for community empowerment as part of the therapeutic process. He argued that “Freudian theory does not appear to offer a theoretical basis for a psychology concerned [with] social change or a psychotechnology other than one-to-one psychoanalytic therapy,” indeed, it inhibited “the quest for a more enlightened social policy,” because “morally and rationally determined social change could not proceed from the premise that man is a totally or primarily nonrational organism whose most powerful drives are instinctive and animalistic” (1974a, p. 161).

Clark turned to other interpersonal theorists, specifically to Alfred Adler, who, he felt, showed a “concern with man’s social interaction.” Adler placed a greater “emphasis on the human struggle for self-esteem,” concerns “much more compatible with my main research and action” (1974a, p. 75). In contrast to Sigmund Freud—who, in Clark’s view, saw humans as essentially powerless to alter and shape their social environment—Adler demanded greater personal and social control over one’s fate. The ability to “bring about, to sustain, or to prevent social, political or economic change” had to be at the heart of any successful psychological theory. “The core Adlerian idea which persists in its influence on my thinking concerns the nature of psychological power in understanding human beings and human society.” Clark held that “Bertrand Russell’s assertion that ‘the fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is a fundamental concept in physics’ reinforced the influence of Adlerian theory in my thinking” (1974a, p. 75).

The APA paper stirred up a hornet’s nest of protest in the profession and in the press, ostensibly because of its prescription of medical, specifically drug, intervention in preventing extreme behavior among top political leadership. Commentators all but ignored his theoretical arguments on power and powerlessness in psychotherapy.

Kenneth Clark cautioned the broader mental health community of the dangers professionals faced if they did not reform their own attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions: “We can no longer afford our past rationalizations, our past defenses, for that matter, even our past prejudices.”Psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health workers had “to break down the distinctions between mental health as a personal problem …and mental health as a problem of social stability.…[w]e can no longer afford the luxury of looking at mental health problems in terms of the adjustment of a particular individual [but rather] we must now see the problem of our cities, the problem of equality in nature, the moral substance of our society, and the problem of individual adjustment as one or—at worst—interrelated.”Clark continued,“the goal of mental health, therefore, can no longer be one in which we help individuals to adjust to their environment no matter what the quality of their environment” (transcript of remarks at “The Child, the Family, and the City,”Conference organized by the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, Delmonico Hotel, New York, NY, Kenneth B. Clark MSS). Empowerment of the client, through personal growth or political action, had to be central to any serious therapeutic process: “The individual has to be helped to attain the strength to mobilize his own energies and resources to bring about the changes in the environment which are consistent with human dignity.”

In 1983 Mamie Clark died of cancer; she was sixty-five years old. In 2005 Kenneth Clark died at the age of ninety.

Ironically, Kenneth and Mamie Clark probably had a deeper and broader impact on American society than on the field of psychology. Kenneth, one of the premier public intellectuals of the twentieth century, and Mamie were unswerving advocates of racial integration as being critical to the social and psychological health of both white and black Americans. The Clarks’ research, testimony, and activism were critically important in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown decision, and more broadly, helped to stimulate social scientists to use their research to influence social policy. Due in part to the Clarks’ example, psychologists paid increasing attention to the roles of race and gender in the post–World War II period.


This essay is based primarily on the Kenneth Clark Manuscripts at the Library of Congress, and the Mamie Phipps Clark and the Northside Center for Child Development Manuscripts at the New York Public Library, RG 220 (the Records of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency) at the National Archives, as well as the oral histories of Kenneth and Mamie Clark at the Columbia University Oral History Collection.


“Desegregation: An Appraisal of Evidence.” Journal of Social Issues 9, no. 4 (1953): 2–76.

“The Negro in New York City—The Role of Education.” Speech for Urban League Dinner, Hotel Theresa, 15 February 1954, Kenneth B. Clark MSS.

“The Present Crisis in Race Relations.” Paper delivered at the Annual Dinner of the Unitarian Service Committee, Inc., 19 May 1956, Boston, MA. Northside Center for Child Development MSS, New York Public Library.

“Present Problems in Public School Desegregation in New York City.” In Harlem Works for Better Schools, Pamphlet, New York [c. 1959], Kenneth B. Clark MSS.

The Negro Protest: James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Talk with Kenneth B. Clark. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963. Published as King, Malcolm, Baldwin: Three Interviews. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1985.

Prejudice and Your Child. 2nd ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963.

Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

With Talcott Parsons, eds. The Negro American. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1966.

An Intensive Program for the Attainment of Educational Achievement in Deprived Area Schools of New York City. New York: Metropolitan Applied Research Center, 1968.

With Julian Bond and Richard G. Hatcher, eds. The Black Man in American Politics: Three Views. Washington, DC: Metropolitan Research Center for the Institute for Black Elected Officials, 1969.

As general editor, with Jeannette Hopkins. A Relevant War against Poverty: A Study of Community Action Programs and Observable Social Change. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

With Harold Howe, et al. Racism and American Education: A Dialogue and Agenda for Action. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

A Report to the Parents and Other Citizens of Washington, D.C., on the Status of the Academic Achievement Design at This Stage of the 1970–71 School Year. New York: Metropolitan Applied Research Center, 1971.

The Educationally Deprived: The Potential for Change. New York: Metropolitan Applied Research Center, 1972.

A Possible Reality: A Design for the Attainment of High Academic Achievement for Inner-City Students. New York: Emerson Hall, 1972.

Pathos of Power. New York: Harper & Row, 1974a.

Response to Chancellor’s Report on Programs and Problems Affecting Integration of the New York City Public Schools, February 1974: Report. New York: Metropolitan Applied Research Center, 1974b.

With John Hope Franklin. The Nineteen-Eighties—Prologue and Prospect. Washington, DC: Joint Center for Political Studies, 1981.

Toward Humanity and Justice: The Writings of Kenneth B. Clark, Scholar of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Decision. Edited by Woody Klein. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.


Benjamin, Ludy T., Jr. A History of Psychology in Letters. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

Benjamin, Ludy T., and Ellen M. Crouse. “The American Psychological Association’s Response to Brown v. Board of Education: The Case of Kenneth B. Clark.” American Psychologist57, no. 1 (2002): 38–51.

Black, Sheila R., et. al. “Contributions of African Americans to the Field of Psychology.” Journal of Black Studies35, no. 1 (2004): 40–64.

Bowser, Benjamin P., and Louis Kushnik. Against the Odds: Scholars Who Challenged Racism in the Twentieth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002.

Evans, G. “‘Incorrigible Integrationist’: Kenneth Clark Reflects on a Lifetime of Question-Asking.” Chronicle of Higher Education32 (21 May 1986): 3.

Freeman, Damon. “Not So Simple Justice: Kenneth Clark and the Brown Decision.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Pittsburgh, PA, 2004.

Jackson, John P., Jr. Social Scientists for Social Justice: Making the Case against Segregation. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Jones, James M., and Thomas F. Pettigrew. “Kenneth Clark (1914–2005).” American Psychologist60, no. 6 (2005): 649–51.

Keppel, Ben. The Work of Democracy: Ralph Bunche, Kenneth B. Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, and the Cultural Politics of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

———. “Kenneth B. Clark in the Patterns of American Culture.” American Psychologist57, no. 1 (2002): 29–37.

Klein, Woody. “Defeat in Harlem.” Nation199, no. 2 (1964): 27–29.

Lal, Shafali. “Giving Children Security: Mamie Phipps Clark and the Racialization of Child Psychology.” American Psychologist57, no. 1 (2002): 20–28.

O’Connell, Agnes N., and Nancy Felipe Russo, eds. Models of Achievement: Reflections of Eminent Women in Psychology. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983–2001.

Phillips, Layli.“Recontextualizing Kenneth B. Clark: An Afrocentric Perspective on the Paradoxical Legacy of a Model Psychologist-Activist.” In Evolving Perspectives on the History of Psychology, edited by Wade E. Pickren and Donald A. Dewsbury. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002.

Pickren, Wade E., and Henry Tomes. “The Legacy of Kenneth B. Clark to the APA: The Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology.” American Psychologist57, no. 1 (2002): 51–59.

Samuels, Gertrude. “Where Troubled Children Are Reborn.” New York Times Magazine, 13 June 1954.

U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Administration, Office of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Development. “Policy Guides to the Presentation of Proposals for Funding under Public Law 87-274” (3 September 1963).

Gerald Markowitz

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