New Civil Rights-Era American Girl Doll Still Leaves a Huge Hole in the Story of Black Girls in America

American Girl doll Melody

American Girl has announced that it will debut Melody Ellison, a young black girl growing up in Detroit during the 1960s civil rights era, in its "BeForever" historical line this summer. As a mom of two biracial girls (I'm white and my husband is black), I'm happy that American Girl has decided to tell a very important story in America's history. It's a step in the right direction, but that's all it is -- a step. And it can do better.


American Girl dolls have been in existence for 30 years, yet the only other black doll AG offers is a slave named Addy. Cécile Rey was the second African-American doll, created in the line in 2011, but the company decided to discontinue her, along with three other dolls (including its only Asian-American doll), in 2014. That decision sparked outrage, and rightfully so. American Girl defended its decision by saying that the four dolls were chosen because they were each part of a pair in the collection. They went on to say that they were moving away from the character-friend pairing and revamping the historical character line.

American Girl does offer a line called "Truly Me," which offers a decent amount of diverse choices to create a doll that looks like your child. We purchased one for my oldest daughter Kyla (pictured below) years ago and she loved that it had her light skin tone and curly ringlets. But it's the dolls with a story (and the major marketing) that are the most popular. Those dolls get books, specialty items, and even movies.


In fairness, American Girl is doing some things right. To ensure Melody's story was authentic, the company says it formed a six-panel advisory board made up of historians and educators. It also consulted the panel several times to get Melody's straight, relaxed hair texture right -- it wasn't until the later '60s and early '70s that natural hair was in fashion.

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Teaching children about our history -- the good and the bad -- is important. Stories about the struggle African-Americans have faced in our country need to be told, but when the only two black dolls offered are a slave and a girl living in segregated times, it's a #fail.

It's important for children to feel represented. To feel like they are special, beautiful, and can be anything. That's why this photo of a 3-year-old boy looking at the president in awe went viral over the weekend and this video of a 106-year-old black woman so proud to meet the president and first lady has everyone smiling today. Or why this awesome girl started the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign when she got tired of reading books that she didn’t relate to.

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So while the addition of Melody to the American Girl "BeForever" line is something to be happy about, I won't truly be happy until AG releases a "Girl of the Year" who is black. A doll that looks like black girls today. One that doesn't have a story to teach, but is just a girl who likes cooking, or sports, or reading, or whatever. Just a girl who happens to black.

American Girl, in its mission statement, says that the "Girl of the Year" line "gives voice to a diverse range of personalities and backgrounds through inspiring, relatable characters that instill a sense of pride in girls and show them there is no limit to what they can accomplish." It's a lovely sentiment. But until American Girl includes all girls in its collection, it has a long way to go.



Georgette Gilmore is a writer, editor, social media junkie, and lover of food. She writes for two hyperlocal news sites in Essex County, New Jersey, and blogs about family travel at Playground. She was editor-in-chief of Barista Kids, a local parenting site, for five years. She lives in Montclair with her husband and two very adorable daughters – the Gilmore Girls.

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