VIRTUAL EVENT - Black Toys and Toymakers: The Story of Shindana Toys (February 26)

Racquel M. Gonzales's picture
February 26, 2021
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, Black History / Studies, Childhood and Education, Cultural History / Studies, Humanities


We invite you to join a virtual conversation celebrating the history and impact of Shindana Toys, a Black toy company with roots in the 1960's Civil Rights Movement, and their groundbreaking doll Baby Nancy.

When: February 26, 1:00 PM (EST)

How to Register: Participants are welcome to "Pay What You Can" to register for the event here. Additional information can be found at 


Event Details

In 2020, The Strong National Museum of Play inducted Baby Nancy into its National Toy Hall of Fame. Crafted with Black children in mind, Baby Nancy is the first Black doll that found mass popularity at home and abroad. Learn more about Shindana Toys—the Black-owned company behind the groundbreaking doll—at a special, virtual discussion with a guest panel of history experts and an original member of the organization. Hosted by Christopher Bensch, Chief Curator at The Strong, the 40-minute discussion will delve into the company's creation and evolution, their role in the community, their product lines, and examples of Black entrepreneurship. It will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Shindana Toys operated from 1968 to 1983 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. Launching their toy line with the Baby Nancy doll, the company would offer the most comprehensive line of playthings created for Black children at the time. The company was a division of Operation Bootstrap Inc., a non-profit organization formed in 1965 by civil rights activists Louis ("Lou") Smith and Robert Hall to address systemic poverty and racism. Dedicated to Black empowerment and community uplift, Shindana Toys—named for the Swahili word for "compete"—became a champion for greater Black representation in toys and in the toy industry in the United States.


Special Guests 

Marva Smith Maxey helped found and run Operation Bootstrap, Inc., Shindana's parent organization, in 1965 along with founders Lou Smith and Robert Hall. A longtime community organizer in Los Angeles ever since, she was featured in the 2019 documentary on Shindana Toys, produced by KCET television in California.

David Crittendon, MA, is an educator, musician, activist, historian, and author of the upcoming novel Then See if I Care: a story about Bessie Smith. Together with Lou Smith, he participated in 1964's Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Northern Campaign in N.Y.C., 1965. He is a member of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum, 2013, and Claiming Freedom Symposium Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, Cal State L.A., 2015. He was also featured in KCET's 2019 documentary about Baby Nancy and the enduring legacy of Shindana Toys as a locus of community pride, economic development, and social equity.

Yolanda Hester, MA, is a historian, archivist, educator, and author who holds an master's degree in African American Studies from UCLA. She was featured in the 2019 KCET documentary spotlighting the history of Shindana Toys in Los Angeles, California. She has published work on Black doll history as well as the history of Black businesses in America.

Rob Goldberg, PhD, is a historian and faculty member at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn. He has written about Shindana for the Los Angeles Times, and is currently writing a book on the politics of toys in the 1960s and 1970s. He holds a doctoral degree in American History from the University of Pennsylvania.


Contact Info: 

Catherine DeBellis

Director of Public Programs at The Strong National Museum of Play