Newest Black American Girl Doll, Melody, Sparks Look Back At Addy’s Debut
By Haleema Shah
This year, American Girl, known for its historically themed children’s books and mail order dolls made an announcement – it would add a new doll to its historic line. The doll, named Melody Ellison, would be a 9-year-old African-American girl growing up in Detroit during the Civil Rights movement.
Melody isn’t the only African-American doll in the American Girl collection, but her introduction in February has sparked a look back at the first and only other African-American doll in the collection – Addy Walker.
Addy, introduced in 1993, is an escaped slave growing up at the end of the Civil War. Her story and experience as a slave was carefully crafted to be suitable for children, said Aisha Harris, a culture writer for Slate magazine and host of its podcast, Represent.
“It does a really good job of exposing kids to slavery, perhaps for the first time … and I think it does it in a way that really works well for kids that age,” Harris said if Addy.
While some might celebrate Addy for being a character that brings tragic parts of American history into the consciousness of children in an age-appropriate way, Harris said there has been disapproval of making the first African-American doll in the collection a runaway slave.
Critics have written that unlike other American Girl dolls who were characterized by “free-spiritedness, a defiant personality and the courage to defy expectations,” as one writer wrote, Addy’s America was so challenging her personality was overshadowed by the adversity of her situation.
“Felicity was a plucky colonial Williamsburg girl, (and) Samantha was an orphan and living with her wealthy grandmother in the early 1900s,” Harris said. “Compare their stories to Addy’s … (which) deals with a very, very sensitive topic.”
Harris said as a young girl she grappled with the combination of understanding the facts of Addy’s life and playing with a doll.
“It was rough because I enjoyed playing with her … but it was also the first time I noticed that my ancestry (and) my history was different from my white peers,” Harris said. “And it was different in a way that felt uncomfortable. At the same time, I think (Addy) is so important and meant so much to so many little girls.”
Harris said incorporating Addy into the American Girl collection was a crucial step in representation for children’s toys, especially for “people that are not white and living in this country,” and welcomed the most recent historic doll’s arrival to the American Girl company.
“I’m really happy now that there’s more than just (Addy) and that we have someone like Melody,” Harris said. “And hopefully it won’t be that long of a distance until we get the next Black American Girl.”