As we close out Black History Month, I felt it would be a good exercise to consider Black contributions to the field of psychology. In many of the classes I took to become a counselor, we would often comment about how the field of psychology is dominated by “old, white men.” Too often, we primarily think of them when we consider the “pioneers of psychology” – Freud, Rogers, Piaget, and on and on.

I have to admit that, before researching for this blog, I was hard pressed to think of one person of color, let alone a Black person, who has contributed to psychology. I need this blog as much as I need to write it.

We at Heartland Therapy Connection appreciate the contributions of the many Black psychologists and mental health workers who have helped inform and shape our understanding of the field. While one blog is insufficient to cover this topic, here are four important Black psychologists to know and their contribution to the field of psychology.

1) Dr. Francis Cecil Sumner, Ph.D. – The “Father of Black Psychology”

Father of Black Psychology

The first Black man to receive a Ph.D. in psychology was Dr. Sumner. He was interested in understanding racial bias and supported educational justice. Though he was often refused funding because of his skin color, he managed to publish many important research papers. He is also credited as one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University, a historically Black research university in Washington, D.C.

2) Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. – The importance of racial identity

Dr. Tatum’s work focuses largely on the effects of racism on the American educational system. She is a strong supporter in the belief that a strong racial identity is key to a child’s healthy development. Her works comment on how racism, particularly in the classroom, can have a detrimental effect on that racial identity development.

3) Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D., and Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark, Ph.D. – The age of racial identity and internalized racism

This husband and wife team are best remembered for their “Doll Study.” This study showed that Black children as young as age three have begun to form their racial identity. More disturbing, however, was the finding that these same Black children have started to internalize racism. Their preferences in the doll study showed that they believed white dolls to be prettier and preferable to Black dolls. These findings were pivotal during the Civil Rights movement. They were utilized during important cases such as Brown vs. the Board of Education.

4) Dr. Herman George Canady, Ph.D. – Examiner bias in IQ testing

Dr. Canady’s research was focused on how the race of the examiner in an IQ test
could impact the results, particularly for Black people. His findings showed that having a white examiner often negatively impacted the rapport with a Black subject. This would be represented unfairly in the IQ score. His work was used to create better testing protocols that more accurately reflect a student’s ability.

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