BYU Historian Helps Create New American Girl Doll

The new American Girl includes an 18-inch doll featuring historically authentic clothes. Courtesy: American Girl

(KUTV) A new American Girl doll is out on the shelves.

Meet Melody Ellison, a civil rights believer growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, who is inspiring girls to be a force for positive change.

But her story took years to create, and a team of historians and civil rights experts, to give young women today a glimpse of life in the 1960s.

BYU associate history professor Rebecca De Schweinitz was contacted by American Girl researchers back in 2014 about joining a team of advisors to create the story of Melody.

Years before, De Schweinitz had finished writing a book called, : "If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality.” It caught the interest of the American Girl team and De Schweinitz joined the advisory board.

“He told me they were working on a character in 1960s Detroit”, De Schweinitz explained. “I was really impressed they wanted to locate her in the north and exploring the relationship of the civil rights movement in the north.”

Melody’s story provides a glimpse of life during the 1960s in Detroit, a prominent time in the civil rights movement.

“We talked about the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and how that would have felt and how people at the time, especially a young girl at the time, might have responded,” De Schweinitz said.

The city of Detroit held several important events from the civil rights movement, including the 1963 Walk to Freedom march.

Melody’s story is fiction but De Schweinitz says it is very historically accurate. The book also goes into depth about Melody’s reaction when she faces discrimination herself, and how she finds inspiration from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“It's a fictional story but it contains elements of real life events,” De Schweinitz said. “The author did a really great job of incorporating some often really difficult civil rights issues into the story…. So how are they going to respond to 'white only signs'. or how are they going to respond when they're mistreated by the police.”

De Schweinitz says, even decades after the civil rights movement, it's an important time for young women to read this story.

“Some of the obstacles that we see Melody and her family facing in the early 1960s are issues that have not entirely gone away,” she explained. “One of the hopes for American Girl is that girls themselves will really recognize that girls can do something.”

In addition to Melody's story, the Melody product collection includes an 18-inch doll and several historically authentic outfits.

For more information about Melody, visit the American Girl website.

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