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American Girl adds civil rights-era doll to historical collection

Melody Ellison uses her platform to fight for equality for all in 1960s Detroit

The popular doll company American Girl is diversifying its 30-year-old BeForever doll collection with its latest addition, Melody Ellison.

Melody, an outgoing 9-year-old church chorus leader, grew up in Detroit in the 1960s — a time when not only were tense race relations and the civil rights movement at the forefront of America, but when cities like Detroit continually thrived. As a child, Melody had the opportunity to experience a prosperous time for black businesses and neighborhoods in her hometown, the rise of Motown Records, and the city where Martin Luther King Jr. initially recited parts of his iconic I Have a Dream speech in 1963, which was made famous at the March on Washington months later.

Melody’s story explores the ups and downs of being an African American girl during the civil rights era, highlighting heartwarming moments she shares with her family and church choir to the discrimination she faces as a product of life in 1960s America. Leaning on her faith, optimism and resilient spirit, Melody uses her positive traits to inspire other girls and their families to promote growth and change, and to stand up for their beliefs.

“American Girl’s historical characters have long been celebrated for their educational value and for helping girls discover strength of character through things that truly matter — like helping others, being a true friend and standing up for what’s right,” American Girl president Katy Dickson said in a news release. “We’re proud to introduce Melody and hope she’ll serve as an important role model to girls, giving them the courage to use their voices to speak up about what they believe in — even when it’s not easy to do. A concept that’s just as important today as it was over 50 years ago.”

Melody, released in late August, joins Addy Walker — a 9-year-old courageous girl who escaped slavery in 1864 — as the only other doll of African descent in the BeForever collection. Melody is also the first doll of color that American Girl has released since facing backlash in 2014, when the company discontinued four dolls, two of them minorities, and moved them to the American Girl Archives, which features dolls that will no longer be sold. The two minority dolls are Cecile Rey, an African American doll who meets her best friend in her hometown of New Orleans, and Ivy Ling, the only Asian doll ever to be included in the historical collection.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.