In Mansfield, a one-of-a-kind collection of black dolls

The National Black Doll Museum in Mansfield is the only such museum in America.

It’s a small space and irregularly shaped: 3,500 square feet of nooks and crannies, all chock-full of a rotating collection of more than 6,000 dolls.


There are apple heads, wishbone, walnut, and thimble dolls; topsy-turvy dolls, one side a white face and white body, the other side black; praying twin dolls from Nigeria; South African Zulu dolls that evoke earth, wind, and fire; Ndebele courtship dolls, also from South Africa; Mattel’s Black Barbies; a singular Bob Marley; Barack and Michelle Obama bride-and-groom dolls; and thousands more.

Dolls are playthings. But like statues and monuments, including the Confederate ones lately being removed in droves across the nation, they also embody ideals, identity, and cultural history, values that young children will carry into adulthood.

“You want to give your child a doll,’’ said Doreen Arcus, a developmental psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, “that looks like all the good things you want them to aspire to be.”

In a gallery with a mirror that runs across one wall, photographs and sketches pay tribute to Americans whose contributions to science, politics, art, and culture should have been recorded in the history books — but weren’t — because they had black skin.

George Grant, a dentist and inventor who was the first African-American professor at Harvard. Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a former slave who was a Union spy during the Civil War. Jack Johnson, who…

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