April 20, 2021

Loretta Whitfield, Whose Black Doll Was ‘Ahead of Its Time,’ Dies at 79

Loretta Mae Thomas was born on Feb. 17, 1941, in Wellington, Kan. Her family moved to Washington after her father, Jesse, got a job as a clerk at the Pentagon. Her mother, Verna Mae (Hayden) Thomas, also worked for the federal government.

Loretta entered Eastern High School in 1954, the same year the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. Dolls played an important part in that case: Thurgood Marshall, the lead lawyer, relied on research by the psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark that showed Black children had a preference for white dolls — evidence that segregation taught them that being Black meant being inferior.

She graduated magna cum laude from Howard University in 1962 and later received a master’s in psychology from American University in Washington.

The Whitfields were not the only people in the mid-1980s thinking about Black dolls, said Fath Davis Ruffins, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution and an expert in Black consumer culture.

In 1968 Mattel began selling Christie, marketed as a Black friend to Barbie. In 1980 Kitty Black Perkins, one of the company’s few Black product designers, created the first Black Barbie, complete with an Afro.

And in the late 1970s, Ms. Ruffins said, Black artists had already begun selling handmade Black dolls with realistic features at markets and art fairs. A few other entrepreneurs had even sold mass-produced dolls like Baby Whitney.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/25/business/loretta-whitfield-dead.html

Speak Your Mind