American Girl Adds A Civil Rights-Era African American Doll To Its Collection

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Some great news for American Girl doll fans, the popular toy manufacturer has announced it is releasing a new doll in its BeForever historic line to mark the Civil Rights era in the early 196os here in the US. The doll’s name is Melody Ellison, and her story is specifically placed between 1963 and 1964, the height of the Civil Rights movement and modern racial uprising around the country.

It is a much welcome addition for the brand, who has been criticized in the past for discontinuing 4 dolls, 2 of which were girls of color (one African American, the other Asian American). The BeForever line is specifically geared toward sharing important stories of women throughout the history of America, and also includes a Native American doll called Kaya.

In an interview with CBS News, VP of Marketing, Julia Prohaska was faced with the question from reporter Jericka Duncan, about why, over 30 years and amongst 20 character dolls, only 3 have been African American.

Julia answered that from a company stand point, it was important for them to address black history in the right way, starting with the confronting reality of slavery, with their slavery-era doll Addy. Now with Melody representing the Civil Rights era, it seems they are at least continuing to implement diversity into the line in order to start accurately representing the colorful history of this country.

“I think it’s that we stayed true to our mission and purpose and while it’s easy to call us a doll company, we’ve always seen ourselves as storytellers,” said Julia.

Each doll, including Melody, comes with an accompanying story and personality traits that can spark the imaginations of the girls who buy them. Melody comes from Detroit, is a singer and likes to use her voice to make a difference.

“I think the doll industry has a very heavy responsibility in reflecting what is true about our society,” added Julia when asked what role a company like American Girl has in a young girl’s life.

American Girl had a panel of experts to consult with on every detail of the Melody Dolls, including the late civil rights activist Julian Bond, from her outfits choices to the representation of a young woman as a Civil Rights activist.

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Mark Speltz was the senior historian who said someone like Melody was an integral part of the movement.

“When we learn about the civil rights movement, we learn about a handful of really important people. But the movement was… driven by average, ordinary Americans, like Melody,” he said.

Author Denise Lewis Patrick wrote the two Melody books and said in a video interview that the issues of fairness and equality are a huge part of Melody’s story.

“A message I hope readers take away from [her] story is to think about themselves in terms of their community and what they can do to be a part of their community…I would like readers to understand there is always something we can do help change our world for the better,” she said.

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The news of the release came just as Black History Month wrapped up for another year, during a time when racial tensions are at an all time high in the US. With the increased amount of attention on police brutality toward black men and women (a large number of whom are unarmed and shot dead in horrific ways), the systemic oppression of black communities in terms of housing, voting districts and education opportunities, and of course the high rate of black men being incarcerated in a country which happens to have the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

If there is anything we have learned under the Presidency of Barack Obama, the first black president, it is that racism is far from over. Legislation does not change hearts and minds. The underlying issues and continual oppressions need to be unearthed and discussed openly, especially among political leaders, we ever hope to move forward.

The importance of the first Civil Rights era American Girl doll allows young women to understand an important part of American’s fraught racial history, rather than ignoring it in favor of more easily digestible imagery. American Girl have made a huge push for female empowerment with their sisterhood-driven ‘Pledge’ campaign, and we are happy to see some intersectionality feminism becoming part of their messaging in a way that younger audiences can connect with.

Melody Ellison will be available for purchase later in the summer, and will set buyers back $115 USD. To buy her recording studio and full accessory set, it will cost nearly $900. Yikes! Nevertheless, it’s a great start in a long road to inclusion and diversity in an industry that is still dominated by Barbie.


 

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