Black History Month: A Spotlight on Notable Psychologists
February 1, 2024

In honor of February being Black History Month, we take this opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the accomplishments Black Americans have made in the field of psychology. Far too often, these contributions have been overlooked. The following are several notable individuals 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. 

Na'im Akbar (1944–present): A clinical psychologist, Akbar has written extensively on the psychological and cultural aspects of African American identity and mental health. He is an internationally known scholar, author, lecturer, researcher, and expert. He created the Black psychology program at Morehouse University, Norfolk State University, and Florida State University. 

Kenneth B. Clark (1914–2005) and Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983): This pioneering husband-and-wife team conducted influential research on the impact of racial segregation on children. Their famous “doll study” showed that Black children, when asked to choose a doll most like themselves, would disproportionately choose White dolls. This research was used in the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 and played a key role in exemplifying why racially separate schools were psychologically harmful and violated the 14th Amendment. 

John Hope Franklin (1915–2009): Franklin was primarily a historian, but his work on race relations and African American history contributed significantly to the understanding of the psychological impact of racism. President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. Franklin also served on President Clinton's Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race from 1997 to 1998. 

Alvin Poussaint (1934–present): A psychiatrist whose research emphasized the impact of racism, Poussaint is well-known as an advocate for racial equality. He contributed to research on race and mental health and has been involved in efforts to reduce racial disparities in healthcare. He served as a professor and dean of students at Harvard Medical School. 

Inez Beverly Prosser (unknown–1934): Prosser was the first Black woman to earn a PhD in psychology. She spent much of her short life focused on research concerning the impact of segregation on the educational achievement of Black children. She was instrumental in helping Black students obtain funding for college and graduate studies. 

Joseph L. White (1932–2017): White has been referred to as the “godfather of Black psychology” due to the significant contributions he made during his career. Much of his work focused on the importance of addressing the needs of minorities through multicultural counseling. 

These are just a few individuals who have played important roles in advancing the field of psychology and addressing issues related to race, identity, and social justice. Their work continues to influence and inspire new generations of psychologists.