Black History Month-America’s First African American Psychologists
February is National Black History Month. Restorative Health and Life would like to pay tribute to the first African American man and woman psychologists in the United States of America. They paved the way for African American mental health clinicians such as me, and they deserve to be recognized. But, honestly, I don't ever recall learning about any famous African American psychologists at any point in school. Hence, I diversified my knowledge base and began receiving mentorship from Nevada's first African American woman psychologist. I was incredibly impressed and am thrilled to share what I've learned with others.
Dr. Francis Summer
Dr. Francis Summer is the first African American person to receive a Ph.D. degree in the field of Psychology. Early in his career, he became known as the "Father of Black Psychology." Dr. Summers is credited for his work as one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University. Dr. Summers sat as a chairman in the Psychology Department at Howard University from 1928 until he died in 1954. Dr. Summers's work mainly consisted of research around understanding racial bias and supporting educational justice.
Dr. Summer uniquely entered formal college education. He did not receive a high school education; therefore, his requirement to attend college came through passing an entrance examination. Dr. Summers attended Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University located in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Dr. Summers excelled in his studies and graduated as Magna Cum Laude with honors. Dr. Summers later applied, was accepted, and enrolled in Clark University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He graduated in 1916; he returned to Lincoln University as a graduate student. Unfortunately, as an approved Ph.D. candidate, Dr. Summers could not begin his doctoral dissertation due to being drafted into the army during World War I.
Dr. Summers reenrolled in the doctoral program at Clark after returning from the war. Dr. Summers titled his dissertation "Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler" and completed his studies in 1920.
Dr. Summers's career consisted of research and teaching. He was a professor at several universities. He published several articles despite the many obstacles he faced as an African American male working in Psychology. The most prominent obstacle he faced was the refusal of research agencies to provide funding to conduct his studies because of his color. Dr. Summer's perseverance and determination to overcome struggles are commendable. I greatly value his efforts that made way for African American mental health professionals.
Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD
Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser was the first African American woman to obtain a doctoral degree in Psychology. Dr. Prosser is credited for her work that influenced the Supreme Court's decision for Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Her work explored the impact of black students attending segregated schools versus integrated schools on their academic and social interactions. Soon after receiving her master's degree, Dr. Prosser also pursued a career as a faculty and administrator before obtaining her doctoral degree in Psychology.
Dr. Prosser began her career as a teacher in Texas's segregated school systems after graduating high school and completing a teaching certification. She later attended the University of Colorado and pursued her Bachelor of Arts degree in education and subsequently her master's in educational psychology.
In 1933, Dr. Prosser received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Cincinnati. Her dissertation was titled "The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated School." Her dissertation received much attention because her findings revealed that black students benefited from attending segregated schools versus integrated schools.
Dr. Prosser focused on the quality of education Black Students received. "More affection, support and a balanced curriculum in a segregated school while in integrated schools they were more likely to have problems adjusting academically, socially and accepting their identity."
One year after Dr. Prosser received her Ph.D. in Psychology, she died in a tragic car accident. However, her advocacy for African American students to pursue higher education has dramatically impacted many.
Author: Brittney Collins-Jefferson, LCSW, LCADCI
References https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/psychologists/sumner-prosser Miller, J. (2006). "Prosser, Inez Beverly." African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr, edited by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Oxford African American Studies Center. Thomas, R. (2006). "Sumner, Francis Cecil." African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr, edited by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Oxford African American Studies Center.