Freeport woman showcases antique African-American dolls

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FREEPORT -

Inside April Marius' Freeport home, there's a treasure trove of antique African-American dolls from the 19th and 20th centuries. She has 350 works of art, crafted from wood and wax, cloth and clay and porcelain and paper.

Marius bought her first doll in 1994 as a gift for her newborn daughter. Twenty-five years later, Marius has turned her hobby into a history lesson for Long Islanders.

"I love history and the fact of digging up things and looking at something old and trying to figure out where it came from," Marius says.

Many of the first manufactured black dolls of the 19th century, known as cabinet dolls, were owned by white children. Marius says this is because the dolls reminded them of their nurse.

Extended interview with African-American doll collector

One of the most famous dolls is the topsy turvy doll from the pre-Civil War era. The doll has a black face on one end and a white face on the other. Marius says the design shows the ingenuity of the slave who created it.

"Her daughter was in the kitchen with her and in order to keep her daughter busy, she created this doll for her. It was a black doll," says Marius. "And when the master came in he said 'you can't play with that doll, it has to be a white doll.' So the mother was quite ingenious. She invented a doll that was white on one side and black on the other. It has a skirt. You turn it over so the skirt covers the other doll. So when she was playing with the white doll when he was there, it was safe. And when he left, she turned it over, and it looked just like her."

Marius also has dolls known as golliwogs. They feature coal black faces and clown features, which reflect the racist stereotyping prevalent during the early 1900s.

The dolls are so fragile, Marius takes them out of storage only once a year for public viewing. But she hopes to build a museum someday to showcase her collection and educate people year round.

"In order to know where you are today, you have to know where you came from," Marius says.

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