American Girl's Detroit Doll Channels a Bit of Rosa Parks and a Bit of Diana Ross

February 24, 2016, 4:37 PM by  Alan Stamm

A Wisconsin toy maker hopes to help girls better understand passions of the civil rights era through its next release in a series of dolls -- a 9-year-old Detroiter "inspired by Dr. King to have a dream of her own."

The fictional Melody Ellison is a mid-1960s aspiring singer whose dream, according to "No Ordinary Sound," an accompanying 232-page paperback by Denise Lewis Patrick, is "to lift her voice for fairness and equality."

The 18-inch-tall doll, part of the American Girl collection launched in 1986, goes on sales this summer for $115 -- though parents and grandparents will fork over lots more for girls who want "countless accessories and a series of novels" about Melody. Options include different outfits, a bed and a "Motown-style" recording studio.    

This throwback Detroiter reaches American Girl shops this summer for $115. Her lapel pin says" "Equal Rights in '63."

A representative at the firm in Middleton, Wis., spoke with Holly Fournier of The Detroit News:

The doll-centered company is planning at least one Detroit-based event this summer to unveil the doll, spokeswoman Stephanie Spanos told The Detroit News.

“We’ll be planning a pretty big campaign and launch when she’s closer to debuting at the end of summer and we do have plans to do some kind of launch event in Detroit for her,” Spanos said. “We’re just starting to meet and talk details about where we would have it, and what it would entail.”

At its website, American Girl frames the petite plaything as kind of a Rosa Parks-Diana Ross mash-up who "reflects the changing face and history of the nation during that important era." 

Melody is growing up in Detroit in the mid-1960s, a time of great energy, optimism, and change for the African American community. She is a singer and loves to perform in church, with her family, and in her community. Her stories are set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, which was gathering momentum, and the music scene, including the success and popularity of Motown Records and its artists.

As Melody gains more awareness of racial inequality . . . her sense of community grows from her extended family to include her neighborhood and, ultimately, all African Americans.

Detroit advisers "helped nail down each detail, including the texture of the doll’s hair," The News says. (American Girl photo of model.)

Sounds like a tall order for a foot-and-a-half piece of plastic, but -- full disclosure -- I never played with dolls.

Actually, as Fournier reports, consultants with standing contributed ideas and context for this project:

The American Girl team worked with a six-person advisory panel to develop the doll. Included on the panel were former Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, the late civil rights activist Julian Bond, and Juanita Moore, president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

The panel helped nail down each detail, including the texture of the doll’s hair.

“I was born in Detroit, greatly influenced by Motown, by the church, by my parents, my grandparents, by the community, which all helped to shape me,” Watson said in a statement released through American Girl. “So, this is a story that touches me in every way.”

Moore, the museum CEO, also related her own upbringing to Melody’s character.

“I love using history to tell stories and to teach people about life lessons,” she said in a statement. “I grew up during this period and so the stories of Melody are really my stories.”

A young model represents the new doll at American Girl's website.

Read more:  The Detroit News

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