Black History Month 2021
It has been 101 years since Francis Sumner, the first black doctoral student, was awarded a PhD in psychology from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. While the occasion was a momentous one, racism and pervasive inequity in the United States shadowed Black students and professionals. Even after earning advanced degrees, Black psychologists often struggled to obtain funding for research, made less money than similarly qualified colleagues, and had their research routinely refused acceptance into academic journals.
We seek inspiration from and celebrate the leadership and contributions of early Black psychologists who have been instrumental in the continued and arduous journey to advance mental health care for all.
In honor of Black History Month, the Meadows Institute is highlighting the contributions of notable and pioneering Black leaders who have helped advance mental health equity and shaped our modern education and mental health care systems.
Francis Cecil Sumner, PhD
Francis C. Sumner, the “father of Black psychology,” was the first African American to receive a PhD in psychology in 1920. Sumner is credited with helping found Howard University’s psychology department. His research focused on understanding and deconstructing racial bias within the field, and he was an early advocate for educational justice.
Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD
America’s first Black female psychologist, Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD, was a Texan and a lecturer at Austin’s Tillotson College, later renamed to Huston-Tillotson College. Though she died just one year after receiving her PhD, two decades after her death, her work supported the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education.
Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, and Kenneth Clark, PhD
Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Clark were the first African Americans to receive their PhDs in psychology from Columbia University. The Clarks studied racial bias and self-identification in Black children. Their research was instrumental to shedding light on the negative effects of educational segregation. They opened the first full-time child guidance center for families in the Harlem area, the Northside Center for Child Development, in 1964.
Joseph White, PhD
The “godfather of Black psychology,” Joseph White helped found the Association of Black Psychologists in 1968. After experiencing prejudice and ignorance of the Black perspective in mainstream psychology along his path to becoming a psychologist, White advocated for education reform and personally valued mentorship between Black psychologists and graduate students.
Learn more about other Black pioneers in the mental health field: