10 African & African American Psychologists You Should Know

Barry Wallace Jr.
Barry Wallace Jr.

It’s Black History Month and we’re excited to bring you this list of important African and African American psychologists who have conducted critical research and contributed to the field of psychology in so many ways.

1. Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914-2005)

Contributions:  Work essential in case of Brown v. Board of Education. In the famous “Doll Study” he studied the responses of more than 200 Black children who were given a choice of white or brown dolls. His findings illustrated that children showed preference for white dolls from as early as three years old. Thus, he concluded segregation was psychologically damaging which played a role in the Supreme Court decision in outlawing segregation. Additionally he was the first black president of the American Psychological Association.

2. Francis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954)

Contributions: First African American to receive his Ph.D. in Psychology. Helped establish the psychology department at Howard University to train African American Psychologists. Sumner completed vast amount of research which counteracted racism and bias in psychological studies of African Americans. Some of his students went on to becoming leading psychologist in their own right, for example Kenneth Clark.

3. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983)

Contributions: Her work with children showed that African American children became aware of their racial identity at about three years old. Many of these children began to see reflect and internalize the views that society held about them. She also found that many African American children who were tested and informed they had a learning disability or disabled were diagnosed incorrectly due to biased psychological testing.

4. Inez Beverly Prosser (1891-1934)

Contributions: She was the first African American woman to receive her Ph.D. Her dissertation examined the academic development of African American children in mixed and segregated schools. Her findings showed that African American children fared better socially and academically in segregated schools. Specifically she found that African American children from integrated schools experienced more social maladjustment and felt less secure, a barrier to their learning. She spent the last seven years of her life teaching at historical Black colleges.

5. Robert Lee Williams II (1930-Present)

Contributions: He was a founding member of the National Association of Black Psychologist and served as its second president. He created the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity by utilizing African-American vernacular and personal experience. This test showed that African Americans weren’t intellectually inferior to European Americans, but the differences in speech and experience can skew IQ results. Also, he created the term Ebonics to refer to the African American vernacular English.

6. Albert Sidney Beckham (1897-1964)

Contributions: He is regarded as the first African American to hold the title school for Juvenile Research and Chicago Bureau of Child Study. He brought together ministers whose parishes included families of students he was working with, allowing for the first time a church-neighborhood-school relationship in the community that benefited African American youth.

7. Kobi Kambon (aka Joseph A. Baldwin)

Contributions: Served as the president of the Association of Black Psychologists from 1982-1983. He does research in the areas of African American mental health and psychological outcomes of racial-cultural oppression of African Americans in American society. He developed several measures of African-centered world-views and philosophies. His works examine how deviations from African-centered world-views can have detrimental effects for African Americans in the US.

8. Beverly Daniel Tatum (1954-Present)

Contributions: She’s widely recognized as a race relations expert and leader in higher education. Her areas of research include racial identity development and the role of race in the classroom. Her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” examines the development of racial identity. She argues racial identity is essential to the development of children.

9. Joseph L. White (1932-Present)

Contributions: Helped found the Association of Black Psychologists and establish the first Black Studies Program during the 1968 strike at San Francisco State University. He wrote “Toward a Black Psychology” and argued that whatever the future of race relations and the destiny of Black people, the creation of a Black Psychology was necessary because psychology created by white people could never adequately apply to define African Americans. He pointed out that the application of white psychology to African Americans often led researchers to incorrectly conclude that African Americans were lacking and less than.

10. Herman George Canady (1901-1970)

Contributions: He was the first psychologist to examine the role of the race of the examiner as a bias factor in IQ testing. His master’s thesis discussed the role of race of the examiner in establishing testing rapport and provided suggestions for establishing an adequate testing environment in which African American students could thrive. He was instrumental in founding the West Virginia Psychological Association, the West Virginia state board of psychological examiners, and the Charleston Guidance Clinic.

About the author: Barry Wallace Jr. (Class of 2015) is a Psychology major at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research interests include the impact of personality traits on relationships, positive psychology and resilience, and the impact of covert discrimination on minority individuals.