The History of The Black Doll

Replica of the First Black Barbie introduced in 1980.

A black doll is a dark-colored inanimate representation of a dark-skinned person. Representations, both stereotypical and realistic, fashioned into playthings, date back centuries. More accurate, mass-produced depictions are manufactured today as toys and adult collectibles.

Media used to create black dolls include cloth, papier-mâché, paper, china, wood, bisque, composition, hard plastic, vinyl, resin, porcelain, silicone, and polymer clay. Cloth rag dolls made by American slaves served as playthings for slave children. Early mass-produced black dolls were typically dark versions of their white counterparts.

European manufacturer

Several 19th-century European doll companies preceded American doll companies in manufacturing black dolls. These predecessors include Carl Bergner of Germany, who made a three-faced doll with one face a crying black child and the other two, happier white faces. In 1892, Jumeau of Paris advertised black and mulatto dolls with bisque heads. Gebruder Heubach of Germany made character faces in bisque. Other European doll makers include Bru Jne. & Cie of Paris, Steiner, Danel, Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets (S.F.B.J.), and Kestner of Germany.

American manufacturer

Advertisement for brown skinned dolls from the St. Louis Argus, December 23, 1921
American companies began including black dolls in their doll lines in the early 1900s. Between 1910 and 1930, Horsman, Vogue, and Madame Alexander included black dolls in their doll lines. Gradually other American companies followed suit.

Beatrice Wright Brewington, an African American entrepreneur, founded B. Wright's Toy Company, Inc. and mass-produced black dolls with ethnically correct features. Also an educator, Wright began instructing girls in the art of making dolls in 1955.

During the 1960s and in the aftermath of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, California, Shindana Toys, a Division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc., is credited as the first major doll company to mass-produce ethnically-correct black dolls. certainly in the United States. Their "dolls made by a dream" with realistic African facial features remain popular amongst black-doll collectors.

Other popular collectible black dolls include manufactured play dolls past and current, manufactured dolls designed for collectors by companies such as Madame Alexander and Tonner Doll, artist dolls, one-of-a-kind dolls, portrait dolls and those representing historical figures, reborn dolls, and paper dolls.


Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991 by Myla Perkins
The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls by Debbie Behan Garrett
Philadelphia Doll Museum Webpage "History of Dolls" stored at the Internet Archive
Further reading

Collectible Black Dolls by John Axe, Hobby House Press, 1978
Collector's Encyclopedia of Black Dolls by Patikii Gibbs, Collector Books, 1987
Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991 by Myla Perkins, Collector Books, 1991
Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins, Collector Books, 1995
The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls by Debbie Behan Garrett, Hobby House Press, 2003
Black Dolls Proud, Bold & Beautiful by Nayda Rondon, Reverie Press, 2004
Collectible African American Dolls Identification and Values by Yvonne Ellis, Collector Books, 2008
Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating Collecting and Experiencing the Passion by Debbie Behan Garrett, 2008
"The Scripts of Black Dolls" in Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Robin Bernstein, 2011
External links

Baby doll, Acme Toy Company, ca. 1925, in the Staten Island Historical Society Online Collections Database

More Black Barbie News

Colored Francie" made her debut in 1967, and she is sometimes described as the first African American Barbie doll. However, she was produced using the existing head molds for the white Francie doll and lacked African characteristics other than a dark skin. The first African American doll in the Barbie range is usually regarded as Christie, who made her debut in 1968. Black Barbie was launched in 1980 but still had Caucasian features. In September 2009, Mattel introduced the So In Style range, which was intended to create a more realistic depiction of black people than previous dolls.

Shindana Toy Co.

Baby Nancy Shindana Toy Co. 1968


Shindana Toys, a division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc., was a South Central Los Angeles, California cooperative toy company formed in 1968, one of many Operation Bootstrap initiatives undertaken following the 1965 Watts Riots. Company proceeds supported businesses in the Watts area. Shindana (a Swahili word roughly meaning "to compete") Toys was community-owned and founded by Louis S. Smith, II and Robert Hall.[which?] The latter was the company's first CEO and President; though he was succeeded in both posts by Smith. The Chase Manhattan Bank, the Mattel Toy Company, Sears Roebuck & Co., and Equitable Life Assurance helped finance portions of the Shindana Toys operations.

Shindana Toys was historically significant for being one of the first toy companies (if not the first) to market ethnically-correct black dolls. A goal of the company was to raise Black consciousness and improve self-image. In a 1970's Los Angeles Associated Press article, company president, Louis Smith said, "We believe that only by learning to love oneself can one learn to love others...Shindana believes that by marketing black dolls and games that both black and white children can learn to relate to at an early age, the company can foster the spirit of what Shindana is all about, love."

While the first doll created by Shindana Toys was named "Baby Nancy," many later Shindana Toys dolls featured ethnically correct names, including names that were Swahili in origin. Operation Bootstrap contracted with Mattel Toymakers to create a talking voice unit, just like the one invented for Chatty Cathy in 1960, for their doll Tamu in 1971. The popular Talking Tamu (Swahili for "sweet") doll was designed to say the following 11 phrases when you pulled her "talking ring":

Black Celebrity Dolls
Shindana dolls were created with the likenesses of positive Black celebrities, including Flip Wilson, Jimmie Walker (these were pull string talking dolls like Tamu), Julius Erving (a.k.a. Dr. J.), O.J. Simpson, Marla Gibbs, Redd Foxx, Diana Ross, and Michael Jackson. Children could make some of these dolls "talk" by pulling and releasing a string.

Cuddly Li'l Souls
This line featured "soft cloth-body rag dolls with natural-style hair" [1] and clothing imprinted with uplifting phrases like "Peace," "Right On," "I'm Proud, Say It Loud", and "Learn, baby, learn." The last phrase was a transformation of the "Burn, baby, burn" chants heard during the Watts Riots. These dolls were given name like "Sis," "Natra," "Wilky," and "Coochy." The 1971 Sears Wish Book priced these dolls between $1.89 and $2.19.

Little Friends Collection
This collection featured Black, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic boys and girls—most about 12 inches tall and with attention given to ethnic details.[2]

Career Girl, Wanda
"Each of Wanda's boxes included a little pamphlet explaining the doll's particular profession. Photos of real Black women in these professions and their comments about the nature of their jobs gave suggestions on what the child might do to learn more about the job."[3] Some of Wanda's careers included nurse, skydiver/race car driver, tennis player, and singer.

Other Shindana Toy Lines

Thanks in part to its acquisition of a company that produced board games, Shindana also started distributing games. These games included titles like "Jackson 5ive Action Game," "The Black Experience," "The Afro-American History Mystery Game," "Captain Soul," and "The Learning Tree."


1971.xx.xx Sears Christmas Catalog P031 sur Flickr : partage de photos !
Shindana - Dolls 1960's-1980's
Dolls in the Spotlight
Gonzales, Patrisia. "Preserving Part of Black History with Dolls". The Philadelphia Enquirer. July 14, 1985. p. 5
Operation Bootstrap, an essay with accounts pertaining to Shindana Toys
Operation Bootstrap Gallery, with pictures pertaining to Shindana Toys

Re-Launch of the Kenya Doll

4 Beautiful Kenya Dolls

The Kenya Doll was originally launched in 1992 to provide girls of color with a toy that accurately reflected their appearance, and that could be used to instill self-esteem, along with pride in heritage and community. Kenya became an overnight success in 1992 as the hottest doll for African American girls, selling over 4.8 million dolls. The doll was a cult favorite toy of the decade, capturing every little brown girl’s heart, and enjoying strong universal appeal.
Kenya’s World is an African American toy brand that is re-launching the historical Kenya Doll along the same premise. The Kenya Doll has been created and designed to promote all of the characteristics mirroring an African American figure, lifestyle and culture, where kids can truly says ‘this doll looks just like me.’ Each doll comes in three different skin tones (light, brown and dark), which covers all of the African American skin tones. The company has also created the only toy brand that launches across three platforms, with product lines including “My First” (Newborns), “Kenya Classic” (3 years and older) and “Fashion Madness” (Tweens). The Fashion Madness characters transform into the real-life Rock Star Madness Band, incorporating music, live performances, a blog and stylish fashion products to the product line.

The re-launch of the Kenya Doll brand features several new and unique lifestyle components, an entertainment component, additional characters, fashion items, merchandise, along with 63 more items than the original brand. Kenya will also expand its line to the Hispanic culture with an expected 2013 launch.
The Rock Star Madness Band features Kenya and her extremely creative friends performing music that represents their lifestyle, fits their flare for fashion and popular culture, and lyrically spreads a positive message. The Rock Star Madness Band will continue to release hot, new videos, CD’s and DVD’s which are electrified by their live performances in spreading Project Pride. Kenya also has a blog to closely interact with fans and share news and project updates. The Rock Star Madness Tour was produced by The Frontrunnaz, choreographed by Flii Stylz and directed by Carlos Ramos, Jr.
The Kenya Doll re-launch provides an opportunity to create a cultural movement and awareness for African American children, Hispanic children and multi-cultural children in giving them the foundation of pride within family and community. 

Positively Perfect Dolls

Positively Perfect multicultural dolls meaning of Butterfly Logo

The Positively Perfect logo is a butterfly which represents transformation. Just as the caterpillar changes into the beautiful

The EPI Story

Dr. Lisa Williams is a mom and former professor, so she always wanted to inspire the best in young people. In 2010, the World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration (World of EPI) was formed with the mission of expressing joy by providing children access to dolls that encourage dreams, promote intelligence, challenge perceptions, and open their hearts to all types of beauty. The doll you are holding is the result of generations of parents, grandparents, and friends wanting to provide positive play for children. Motivated by their dreams and from my heart, Positively Perfect dolls were born.

Every doll represents positive statements, such as “I am proud,” “I am smart,” or “I am beautiful.” They are lovingly designed to show the beauty in our diversity, from curly to straight hair and buttercream to chocolate skin.

When you take a doll home to the amazing child in your life, present it to them with a loving kiss. In turn, I hope each doll gets tons of hugs and kisses, too.

Whenever a Positively Perfect doll is purchased, a donation is made to a national charity that supports and uplifts all children.