In honor of Black History Month, it is important to acknowledge that the accomplishments of Black Americans have too often been overlooked. We would like to take this opportunity to recognize several notable Black psychologists who are responsible for historic contributions to the field. These individuals and their work deserves to be amplified in order to build a future based on equity, inclusion, and opportunity.
Dr. Beckham is known as the first African American to hold the title of school psychologist. He established the first psychological laboratory at Howard University in Washington, DC. He is also credited with starting the first psychological clinic in a public school at DuSable High School in Chicago.
Dr. Canady is most known for being the first psychologist to study how the race of a test proctor may create bias in IQ testing. He found that the rapport between examinee and examiner could have significant impact and provided suggestions to reduce bias.
This husband-and-wife team are known for their famous “doll study,” which showed that Black children, when asked to choose a doll most like themselves, would disproportionately choose White dolls. Their research was used in Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 to argue that racially separate schools were psychologically harmful and violated the 14th Amendment.
Dr. Prosser was the first African American woman to receive her doctoral degree in psychology. She spent most of her short life focused on teaching and education.
Dr. Prosser's dissertation research focused on self-esteem and personality in matched pairs of Black students, with half of those studied attending segregated schools and the other half attending integrated schools. She found that Black students fared better in segregated schools. Her findings were controversial in the years leading to Brown v. Board of Education but were supported by people such as Carter Woodson and W.E.B. DuBois.
Dr. Sumner was the first African American to receive a PhD in psychology. His research focused on understanding racial bias and encouraging educational justice. He was one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University, where he served as chair from 1928–1954.