Women's History Month: 3 Sisters Created the Largest Black Doll Museum in the World


Photo via Dolledaze
By Winnie Gaturu

What would you do if you had a collection of more than 5,000 dolls? Open a museum, maybe? Well, that's exactly what sisters Felicia Walker, Celeste Cotton and Debra Britt did with the black dolls they’d been collecting for more than 50 years. They would carry the dolls and take them to different venues to educate people about black history and culture, but eventually grew tired of packing and unpacking their huge collection, plus, they were running out of space so they decided to get them a proper home. This wasn't easy. It took 5 years to find a good location, a 3,500 square feet property in Mansfield, Massachusetts. And that's how the National Black Doll Museum, the largest in the world, came to be. 



So, what really inspired them to collect all these dolls? It's more of a passion they have. They all love collecting dolls and have been doing it since they were young. Their grandmother collected black dolls too, and when they were kids, their uncle, who was in Vietnam, would send them a doll from every country he visited. As they grew older, their love and interest in collecting dolls increased and thus their huge collection that they are now sharing with the world.

The museum has many different exhibits which showcase different aspects of African-American history. You'll find a dimly lit room representing a slave ship with more than 700 wrap dolls which represent those who survived the voyage and even a star room containing dolls of famous black actors like Wesley Snipes and Will Smith. The doll collection also contains a few unique pieces like a Marley doll which is made out of Bob Marley's real hair and clothes, and the first black barbie from as early as 1979. There are also dolls of black people who made extraordinary achievements like Martin Luther King Junior and dolls of ordinary people whose contributions have been undervalued.  Each doll in the museum is unique in its own way and tells a story. It could be a joyful one, a sad one, a witty one or a historically rich one. The bottom line is, every piece in the museum showcases the richness of African-American culture.

Photo via Dolleddaze
For the sisters, the dolls remind them of the past, both good and bad. They are a great way to teach people, especially children, about African-American culture and the people who shaped our present. As part of their initiative, the three sisters also take part in a bullying prevention program where they travel across the country teaching children how to make wrap dolls. They encourage the kids to put their fears and worries as well as their hopes and dreams into the dolls they make. By using scraps of fabric, yarn and other recycled materials, the kids are taught that they can make something out of nothing and hence motivate them to create the best out of themselves.

If you ever find yourself in the Mansfield, Massachusetts area, be sure to visit the National black doll museum. You'll definitely get to learn a lot about African-American culture and maybe even make a wrap doll yourself! 

 Do you collect black dolls? Would you visit this museum?
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Winnie Gaturu is a writer, tech lover, mom, wife and student from Nairobi, Kenya. During her free time, she loves trying out new recipes, diy projects, filling in crossword puzzles and spending time with her family. You can catch up with her on yourhairandbeautywrite.wordpress.com.

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