MANSFIELD, Mass. — The National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture in Mansfield was so unique and had such a rare collection of black dolls that the Smithsonian tried to acquire it several years ago. But the museum was forced to close after it lost its lease during the pandemic. There’s now a movement to help bring the museum back to life.
The National Black Doll Museum was one of a kind. It had one of the largest collections of black dolls in the world. Some even date back to the late 1700′s. “I didn’t have it when I was a kid. I felt a hole in my heart because somebody who told me I wasn’t worth it. I had teachers who told me I would never be anything,” said Debbie Britt.
Britt is the museum’s cofounder and executive director. She started the museum in 2004 because she felt so strongly that all kids have something that looks like them. “Life is hard and as a kid they’re supposed to just have fun. They are going to find out life is hard anyway. You don’t have to put it on them when they’re young. When they’re young they’re supposed to have a good time and that’s all I want them to have,” she said
Before it was forced to shut down, the National Black Doll Museum was the only brick-and-mortar museum in the United States devoted to the art, craft, history and preservation of black dolls. The museum had more than 7 thousand dolls depicting black icons in 8 different galleries. Each exhibit was changed out every 8 to 10 weeks. “We had fashion, sports, music, a room that just told the history. We had a replica slave ship type of room that was in there. We had a room that had historical dolls in there. We had GI Joe that were in there, so we had something for everybody,” Britt said.
While the dolls are now boxed up as they wait for a new home, Britt and her staff, who are all volunteers, have taken part of the collection on the road to visit children in women’s shelters. “I know that kids and women in shelters can’t take their kids out because they’re in hiding,” Britt said.
Britt said she is hoping to relocate and reopen the museum in Attleboro. There is a fundraiser established.
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