I asked for a Julia doll for Christmas when I was a kid—and it was found under the tree. The doll wore a white nurse’s uniform with cap, and featured eyelashes, bendable legs, and a Twist ‘N Turn™ waist. Julia, a black doll with light brown skin, brown eyes, and short straight brown hair, was my only childhood African America doll.
Julia Baker, based on Diahann Carroll’s character from the TV show “Julia”, played a nurse and single (widowed) mother. The sitcom aired from September 1968 to March 1971.
I don’t remember if I knew that Diahann Carroll was black or not. Race and skin color was not talked about in my Appalachian home; at least I don’t remember if it was. But my mom bought a Julia doll for me. Now, I wonder where a white mother in southern Ohio Appalachia in the late 60’s would find a black doll. I don’t recall ever seeing any black baby dolls at stores in southern Ohio during my childhood.
Why did I want a Julia doll? I felt warm and fuzzy when Julia talked with her TV son, Corey, played by actor Marc Copage. Her voice sounded calm and kind. And she smiled a lot with big understanding eyes. Problems were solved with talking—not spanking or yelling or ignoring. Julia was pretty with stylist clothes. And her shoes matched her purse.
Julia was the first TV show to star an African American woman who worked in a professional field (aerospace industry nurse) instead of a domestic job (maid, housekeeper, cook); and the first to star an African American actress in a lead role.
Julia ran opposite the Red Skelton and was a ratings hit. Diahann Carroll won a Golden Globe for her role as Julia.
Nonetheless, behind the scenes a storm brewed. Many viewers, including black actors, criticized the Julia TV show for failing to represent historical or contemporary African American social and political struggles in the U.S. Due to ongoing criticism, Carroll left her show after three seasons, ending the series.
The Julia Barbie Doll, made by Mattel, was one of the first Celebrity Barbie Dolls.
“While there had been other African-American dolls in the Barbie collection before—including Barbie’s friend Christie, first introduced in 1968— an official African-American Barbie wasn’t created until 1980, alongside a Latina Barbie. That same year saw the first of more than 40 different international Barbies released to date.” According to Barbie History, the 2016 Barbie dolls come in seven skin tones.
However, other sources reported that in 1967, Mattel created an ethnic doll with Caucasian features; “meaning she was a Barbie dipped in chocolate.” The African American community proclaimed it was an unfair representation, but this doll wasn’t pulled in 1976. In 2009, the official “Black Barbie” debuted with a hairdo and clothing style for the 80’s.
I applaud Diahann Carroll in the mist of any past or present criticism about the Julia TV show. Her image in a Julia doll made a little girl happy at Christmas.
Does your daughter or granddaughter play with a black doll along with her white dolls? Why not?
Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.