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Girls & Women

Meet American Girl’s newest doll, a young black girl from the Civil Rights Era

Mattel

To commemorate Black History Month, US doll company American Girl just announced its latest historical doll, Melody Ellison, an African-American girl living in Detroit during the 1960’s civil rights movement.

The new doll will be available for purchase this summer, during American Girl’s 30th anniversary.

Did you miss today's special feature about American Girl on CBS This Morning? Watch it now—and see our new Melody doll revealed!

Posted by American Girl on Monday, 22 February 2016

According to the American Girl website, Melody is meant to represent the ordinary Americans who helped power the civil rights movement:

Because February is Black History Month, your daughter may be learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement in school. But even in our own changing times, civil rights issues and the social climate of the 1960s may be difficult for her to fully understand. That is why we are so proud to introduce our compelling new BeForever™ character, Melody, whose story reflects the changing face and history of the nation during that important era.

Why is a doll so important?

American Girl dolls are not like your average Barbie doll. Back in the day, when Barbie dolls all looked the same (before this), American Girl dolls offered much needed diversity.

The 18-inch dolls are fully-fledged, unique characters that portray realistic girls of different ethnicities. Each doll has an accompanying book written from the girl’s perspective and contains serious stories about American history and hardship.

Through their backstories, American Girl characters can make unsavory aspects of history that aren’t easy to talk about - like war, slavery, poverty, and child labor - digestible and emotionally resonant to young girls.

A few examples include:

A Native American doll named Kaya, from the year 1764, dreams of becoming leader of her Nez Perce tribe in Northwest America and deals with the beginning of European contact. 

Latina doll Josefina Montoya, from colonial New Mexico, lives through the societal and cultural changes in 1824 right before the Mexican-American War, all while grappling with her mother’s death. 

And doll Kit Kittredge, who lives through the Great Depression, finds ways to help her family out of poverty after her father loses his job.

Since the company was bought by Mattel (the makers of Barbie dolls) 15 years ago, American Girl has been sadly moving away from creating more “radical girl” dolls. That’s why Melody, a Civil Rights Era doll, is a much welcomed addition.

Melody is one of two African-American dolls currently featured in the line. The first black doll was Addy, a girl from the Civil War-era who escaped slavery.

Friends. So glad to be home and it's the weekend!! Woo hoo! #agsofcolor #agsofcolour

A photo posted by OneMoreDoll (@onemoredoll) on

The reaction to new addition Melody has been mostly positive.

But the steep price has caused some criticism.


Making dolls that accurately and respectfully portray people of color is no easy task.

American Girl created an advisory board, including the late civil rights activist Julian Bond, to help create Melody.

It’s always good to have more dolls and characters that represent all sorts of people that young girls can identify with.

In today’s globalized world, dolls like Melody are needed to introduce the challenges groups of people have faced throughout history to a young audience.

And most importantly, by offering more empowering female role models, these dolls can teach important lessons about the agency and power that girls, no matter when and where they come from, have in creating change in their communities.