On This Day … 01 April

People (Births)

  • 1851 – Laza Lazarević, Serbian psychiatrist and neurologist (d. 1891).

People (Deaths)

  • 2005 – Kenneth Clark, American psychologist and academic (b. 1914).

Laza Lazarevic

Lazar “Laza” Lazarević (Serbian Cyrillic: Лазаp Лаза Лазаревић, 13 May 1851 to 10 January 1891) was a Serbian physician writer, psychiatrist, and neurologist.

The primary interest of Lazarević throughout his short life was the science of medicine. In that field, he was one of the greatest figures of his time, pre-eminently distinguished and useful as a doctor, teacher, and writer on both medical issues as well as literary themes. To him, literature was an avocation; yet he was talented at it and thought of himself as a man of letters. He translated the works of Nikolay Chernyshevsky and Ivan Turgenev into Serbian.

Few writers have achieved fame with such a small opus as Lazarević, for it rests on nine stories; yet he is considered one of the best Serbian writers of the nineteenth century. He was often referred to as the Serbian Turgenev. During his brief life, “the less than prolific opus” enshrined him in Serbian literature as a writer who introduced the psychological story genre.

Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Bancroft Clark (14 July 1914 to 01 May 2005) and Mamie Phipps Clark (18 April 1917 to August 1983) were American psychologists who as a married team conducted research among children and were active in the Civil Rights Movement. They founded the Northside Centre for Child Development in Harlem and the organization Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU). Kenneth Clark was also an educator and professor at City College of New York, and first Black president of the American Psychological Association.

They were known for their 1940s experiments using dolls to study children’s attitudes about race. The Clarks testified as expert witnesses in Briggs v. Elliott (1952), one of five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The Clarks’ work contributed to the ruling of the US Supreme Court in which it determined that de jure racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the Brown v. Board of Education opinion, “To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone.”

Early Life and Education

Kenneth Clark was born in the Panama Canal Zone to Arthur Bancroft Clark and Miriam Hanson Clark. His father worked as an agent for the United Fruit Company. When he was five, his parents separated and his mother took him and his younger sister Beulah to the US to live in Harlem in New York City. She worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop, where she later organized a union and became a shop steward for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Clark moved to New York City while the ethnic diversity of Harlem was disappearing, and his school was predominantly black. Clark was trained to learn a trade, as were most black students at this time. Miriam wanted more for her son and transferred him to George Washington High School in Upper Manhattan. Clark graduated from high school in 1931 (Jones & Pettigrew, 2005).

Clark attended Howard University, a historically black university, where he first studied political science with professors including Ralph Johnson Bunche. During his years at Howard University, he worked under the influence of mentor Francis Cecil Sumner, the first African American to receive a doctorate in psychology. He returned in 1935 for a master’s in psychology. Clark was a distinguished member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. After earning his master’s degree, Sumner directed Clark to Columbia University to work with another influential mentor, Otto Klineberg (Jones & Pettigrew, 2005).

While studying psychology for his doctorate at Columbia University, Clark did research in support of the study of race relations by Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, who wrote An American Dilemma. In 1940, Clark was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.

Career

During the summer of 1941, after Clark was already asked to teach a summer session at City College of New York, the Dean of Hampton Institute asked Clark to start a department of psychology there. In 1942 Kenneth Clark became the first African-American tenured full professor at the City College of New York. Clark also started a psychology department at Hampton Institute in 1942 and taught a few courses within the department. In 1966 he was the first African American appointed to the New York State Board of Regents and the first African American to be president of the American Psychological Association.

Much of Clark’s work came as a response to his involvement in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme Court desegregation decision. Lawyers Jack Greenberg and Robert L. Carter, with resources and funding from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Topeka Jewish Community Relations Bureau, hired Clark to present his work on the effects of segregation on children. After the Brown v. Board of Education case, Clark was still dissatisfied by the lack of progress in school desegregation in New York City. In a 1964 interview with Robert Penn Warren for the book Who Speaks for the Negro?, Clark expressed his doubts about the efficacy of certain busing programs in desegregating the public schools. Clark also felt very discouraged by the lack of social welfare organizations to address race and poverty issues. Clark argued that a new approach had to be developed to involve poor blacks, in order to gain the political and economic power needed to solve their problems. Clark called his new approach “internal colonialism”, with hope that the Kennedy-Johnson administration’s War on Poverty would address problems of increasing social isolation, economic dependence and declining municipal services for many African Americans (Freeman, 2008).

Clark in 1962 was among the founders of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU), an organisation devoted to developing educational and job opportunities. With HARYOU, Clark conducted an extensive sociological study of Harlem. He measured IQ scores, crime frequency, age frequency of the population, drop-out rates, church and school locations, quality of housing, family incomes, drugs, STD rates, homicides, and a number of other areas. It recruited educational experts to help to reorganize Harlem schools, create preschool classes, tutor older students after school, and job opportunities for youth who dropped out. The Johnson administration earmarked more than $100 million for the organisation. When it was placed under the administration of a pet project of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1964, the two men clashed over appointment of a director and its direction.

Clark used HARYOU to press for changes to the educational system to help improve black children’s performance. While he at first supported decentralisation of city schools, after a decade of experience, Clark believed that this option had not been able to make an appreciable difference and described the experiment as a “disaster.”

Following race riots in the summer of 1967, US President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission). The Commission called Clark among the first experts to testify on urban issues. In 1973, Clark testified in the trial of Ruchell Magee.

Clark retired from City College in 1975, but remained an active advocate for integration throughout his life, serving on the board of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, of which he was Chairman Emeritus until his death. He opposed separatists and argued for high standards in education, continuing to work for children’s benefit. He consulted to city school systems across the country, and argued that all children should learn to use Standard English in school.

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