Searching to find that one special doll may have been what inspired doll lover Annie B. Henry to start her African-American doll and figurine collection. Henry, who now owns more than 100 dolls, has donated her collection to the Florida A&M Meek-Eaton Black Archives and Museum. “BLACK LIKE ME: The Dr. Annie B. Henry African-American Doll Collection” opened on March 26 and will run until July 2010.
“We are beautiful people and we are intelligent, and can bring so much into a doll,” said Henry, a retired professor at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. “I was given my first doll in 1988 after completing my doctorial studies at Florida State University, and I am glad to be able to have a job that allowed me to afford to buy these dolls.”
Henry, a FAMU alumna, made a promise to her mentor, the late James N. Eaton that she would place the dolls on display in the black archives after she retired, explained Elizabeth Murell Dawson, director of the Black Archives. Henry’s collection tells the history of blacks in several times throughout history.
“This doll collection is a great teaching tool that gives insight into the African-American experience, and truly shows how many avid doll collectors we have in our community,” Dawson said. “This collection is a great collaboration with March being women’s month, and the dolls really attract females and still have a way of making girls and women melt.”
There are dolls that date back to before the American Civil War. Dolls like the two-headed reversible doll, commonly known as the Topsy-Turvy doll are in the collection. Dawson explained that this doll has two faces, so when flipped it reveals a white face on one side and black face on the other.
“The Topsy-Turvy is one of the oldest pieces of history,” said Dawson. “It takes us into the psyche of African-American women in the past, present, and future. These dolls reflect the importance and strength that women of color went through to secure toys that look like them.”
The collection includes an African fertility doll. This doll was not just a “doll” in Africa. The fertility doll was included in religious rituals across the continent that was created to insure fertility in women, Dawson explained.
Henry’s collection also visits a time during history when black women were referred to as “mammies,” which were domestic housemaids.
“A mammy was seen as fat, black women with nappy hair, a head scarf, big pink lips, but she was often known as the strong one in the family,” Dawson said.
Staci Holloway, a FAMU student, said, “I really liked the diversity of the dolls and all the information that comes with each doll or time period. I really found it to be educating and realized that it wasn’t just about the dolls but all the information that you receive from them. “