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The effort behind ensuring American Girl’s new Detroit doll captures black experience in 1960

Aug 18, 2016

This weekend, American Girl unveils its newest doll. Her name is Melody Ellison., and she’s from 1960's Detroit.

In developing the doll, American Girl turned to a six-member advisory board, which advised and reviewed all stages of Melody’s development.

"They could show that there was a necessity for a civil rights movement in Detroit, because racism was very much in effect and certain discriminatory practices were very strong in Detroit."

Among others, the advisory board included the late Julian Bond, an esteemed civil rights leader; JoAnn Watson of the Detroit NAACP; and Gloria House, professor emerita of African-American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

House joined us today to discuss what went into the development of Melody Ellison, American Girl’s newest historical character.

House said in creating Melody, American Girl strove to depict “what it was like to be alive” in the sixties. That’s why they picked Detroit.

“They could show that there was a necessity for a civil rights movement in Detroit, because racism was very much in effect and certain discriminatory practices were very strong in Detroit,” House said.

"They wanted to give a much broader sense of the struggle and the changes that took place, and the ordinary people who were involved in those changes."

Setting Melody and her family in Detroit also made it possible to depict the connection Detroit had to the civil rights movement happening in the south at the time.

“Melody’s family – father and mother – were in Detroit because her family had left the south in search of a better life,” House said.

This connection is also made as Melody’s older sister goes south to participate in the civil rights movement.

House said in creating Melody, American Girl strove to highlight people “on the ground making smaller changes.”

“They wanted to give a much broader sense of the struggle and the changes that took place, and the ordinary people who were involved in those changes,” she said.

For more, including how the team designed Melody’s look, listen above.

GUEST

Gloria House is professor emerita of African-American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

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