Experts agree that dolls representing individuals of African descent have existed in the Americas since the first black slaves were brought over from across the Atlantic. Evidence to support this fact stretches back to pre-colonial African culture, which used dolls in traditional and religious functions.
French and German porcelain doll makers, who exported their wares to the United States, also produced black dolls as far back as the early 1800s.
The earliest surviving examples of American black dolls are rag dolls, which reflected the economic state of the times. Given the lack of resources, the materials to create rag dolls were far more accessible to both African and Caucasian settlers than porcelain dolls imported from Europe. Over time, however, the quality of African-American dolls improved alongside the technology to create them.
Despite their nature as playthings, African-American dolls have featured in racial discussions. Early black dolls were two-sided so that children could change their color to match the race of the adults in the room. In the mid 1950s, they were used by researchers to confirm low black self-esteem in studies that were cited in judicial proceedings on race equality. Today, concerns exist about the under-representation of African-American dolls in the toy market.