70th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board Decision

May 17, 2024, marked the seventieth anniversary of the milestone decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. The 1954 Brown decision unanimously ruled that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Brown decision declared that separate educational facilities for white and Black students were inherently unequal.

In addition to sparking the desegregation of the state’s schools, this decision and the figures behind it have many connections to Arkansas. The attorney for the plaintiffs was Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice, who later worked with Daisy Bates during the 1957 desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock. Mamie Phipps Clark from Hot Springs and her husband Kenneth Clark provided the psychological research that the Supreme Court justices used as a basis for their decision. The Clarks conducted research known as the Doll Study to demonstrate the psychological effect of segregation on African American children. This was the first time psychological research was used as the basis for a Supreme Court decision. The Clarks concluded that prejudice, discrimination, and segregation created feelings of inferiority and damaged the self-esteem of Black children.

magazine page with photos of Black children across the top and a front and side view of a dark skinned doll
Ad for the Ideal Toy Company’s Saralee Doll, designed by Florida resident Sara Lee Creech partly in response to Mamie Phipps Clark’s research involving Black children’s preference for white dolls. The dolls were manufactured in the early 1950s.

On April 19, 2024, the Arkansas Association of Black Psychology Professionals sponsored a historical commemoration of this milestone in American history. This was a community event, open to the public, with a cross-section of the public in attendance. The event was held on the campus of Philander Smith University in Little Rock. The event covered a comprehensive historical overview of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the psychological research that served as the basis for the ruling, the state of affairs in public education racially in 1954 versus 2024, and the ties of the psychological research to Arkansas, including the fact that Mamie Phipps Clark was born in Hot Springs.

The program format included:

“Arkansas and the Brown Decision,” presented by Dr. John Kirk, professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.





Dr. Loretta McGregor, professor of psychology at Arkansas State University, presented the life and legacy of Mamie Phipps Clark and detailed the Doll Study research.





Attorney Austin Porter Jr. presented “The State of Education Seventy Years Post Brown v. Board of Education.”





The desegregation of Central High School was addressed in a panel discussion with Dr. Sybil Hampton, the first African American student to complete all three years at Central, and Dr. Terrence J. Roberts, psychologist and one of the Little Rock Nine.




Two Central High students, Miriam Abochale and Symone Bishop, discussed the current landscape at Central High seventy years later.





Dr. Darshon A. Reed, associate professor of psychology and associate dean of the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Central Arkansas, presented “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Education.”




Dr. Sherman James (pictured here), an epidemiologist, and Dr. Susan B. King, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Duke University, presented “Race and Education: Persistent U.S. Racial/Ethnic Health Inequities and the Correlation between Education and Health.”




Dr. Harriette Richard, associate professor of psychology at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, presented “The Importance of Diversity and BIPOC Presence in the Field of Psychology.”




An open discussion and Q&A followed, with input from the audience. The primary objective of this forum was to educate the audience about this history, raise awareness of the current state of affairs, and issue a call to action. A video of the event is available here.

Guest post by Patricia L. Griffen, PhD, clinical psychologist and project director




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