Kenneth Clark’s famous “doll tests” shocked the nation in the 1950s when he was able to demonstrate that when given a choice, Black children preferred white dolls to black dolls. Few remember that these tests were performed within the context of the Brown v. Board of Education hearings to show the debilitating psychological effects of racism and segregation. This study and others like it had a powerful influence on the Supreme Court justices and were cited in the historic Brown decision. In many ways, Kenneth Clark and other social scientists helped break the back of Southern segregation.
Jackson discusses this most famous of the social scientific studies in support of Brown but he also focuses on the decades of social science research on race leading up to it to show how social scientists struggled to impact American law and policy on race and poverty. He demonstrates that without these academics, who brought their talents to bear on the most pressing issues of the day, we wouldn’t enjoy the legal protections against discrimination we take for granted.