For years, kids across the country have looked to American Girl Dolls for female representations of American history. Now, another integral story has been added to the canon.
Melody Ellison is the latest addition to the company’s "BeForever" collection. She’s a 9-year-old living in the early '60s and, as described in a press release, is a "civil rights believer, chorus leader, and daughter of Detroit."
The character is the first black American Girl doll with a story from the 20th century and only the third ever: an 1850s doll named Cecile was from New Orleans, but is no longer available, while original doll Addy Walker is an escaped slave from the 1860s—a deeply important, but far weightier story than those given to her contemporaries.
While her life takes place 100 years after Addy, much of Melody Ellison’s story is still rooted in issues of race. A six-member advisory board worked to craft her portrayal and included prominent members of the NAACP, history professors, and the President and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Along with author Denise Lewis Patrick, they worked together to ensure Melody’s story was as true to life as possible—including her hair. The texture of the doll’s locks was changed multiple times to reflect the era.
"In the late '60s, the majority of African-Americans did have straight hair," Juanita Moore, President and CEO of the Wright Museum, said to the Detroit Free Press. "It may not have been bone straight, but it was straightened."
Like any little girl, Melody does have some fun—she likes singing in church, Motown, gardening with her grandparents, and spending time with friends—but the books also depict what life would have been like for a young black girl in Detroit during the civil rights movement. Melody participates in protests, finds inspiration in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., and in one plot, experiences prejudice in the form of racial profiling.
"I hope Melody and her stories inspire young girls today, offering them an experience rich in basic political and social concepts that they will be able to apply in their own lives," Melody advisory board member Gloria House said in the press release.
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