Mansfield – Growing up in Dorchester in the 1950s and 1960s, Debra Britt of Mansfield often played with her blonde, alabaster-skinned Barbie dolls.
Until her grandmother snatched them away.
“She would dye them for me,” Britt, an African-American, recalled. “She would say, ‘you’re never going to have blonde hair and your eyes are never going to be blue. This is who you are and this is what you’re going to look like.’”
Three decades later, Britt still carries the torch lit by her late grandmother.
Britt and two of her sisters, Felicia Walker and Tammy Mattison, have amassed a vast collection of black dolls from across the globe and dating back to the Civil War era.
They tote them to area libraries and schools to make sure this generation of children celebrates its ethnic and racial diversity.
“You have to accept yourself for who you are,” she says.
This weekend, the women host the state’s first Black Doll Collectors Convention at the Mansfield Holiday Inn.
The event has attracted worldwide interest.
“We have people coming from South Africa. We have people coming from France. We have two buses from Chicago and two buses from Philadelphia,” she said. “We have the doll artist of the year from the British Virgin Islands.”