Black History Month – Influential African American Therapists, Social Workers & Psychologists

During Black History Month it is important to recognize and honor the contribution African Americans have made to shaping what modern counseling and psychology is today. According to The Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Inc, “Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history” (The Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Inc). Countless African American figures have made irreplaceable contributions to how we understand and work in helping fields today.

Leaders of the Past
  1. Francis Cecil Sumner was the first Black American to earn a PhD in Psychology. He received his degree from Clark University. Without a high school education, he was able to get into Lincoln University by passing the entrance exam and graduated cum laude and received honors during his time there. Sumner is considered one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University and was on the board until his death in 1954. Sumner was highly interested in studying and understanding racial bias and educational inequality. Sumner overcame racial bias and educational inequality and despite countless refusals he was able to publish many articles and is now known as the ”Father of Black Psychology” and left his legacy for years to come.
  2. Inez Beverly Prosser was the first Black American women to earn her PhD in Psychology. She received her degree from the University of Cincinnati. Before her graduate school experience, she got her teaching certificate and taught in the segregated school systems in Texas. In her doctoral program her dissertation titles “The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools,” received a lot of attention and focused on the lack of affection, support, and educational equity black students faced in integrated schools. Prosser tragically passed away in a car accident one year after earning her PhD but left her legacy behind, which was very influential in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that took place in 1954.
  3. Lester Blackwell Granger earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College after serving in the US Army as artillery lieutenant during World War I. He became a very influential civil rights and labor rights activist who led the National Urban League (NUL). He became a social worker in 1922 and worked with black youth in the school system. He became a vital figure in the social working profession and became the first African American president of the National Conference of Social Work. Granger spent many years in career dedicated to ending the racial segregation in military and other armed forces. His work and leadership led to h led to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issuing Executive Order 8802 which banned racial discrimination in employment with Federal contracts. The order affected thousands of defense industries during World War II and led to a surge in hiring African Americans in manufacturing industries. Granger leadership became so influential, U.S. President Harry S. Truman awarded Granger the Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service and the Medal for Merit. Granger utilized his dedication and leadership to help advance the field of Social Work.
Leaders of the Future
  1. Joy Harden Bradford received her PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia. She is the host of the popular podcast titled Therapy for Black Girls. Bradford is passionate about making mental health topics and services more relevant and accessible to Black women across the country. Her passion and dedication to the mental health field received recognition and features in Essence, Oprah Daily, The New York Times, HuffPost, Black Enterprise, and Women’s Health. Dr. Joy works to incorporate modern day pop culture to help explain and understand various psychological concepts. Dr. Joy has already made such an impact in the field of psychology and with a long career ahead it is exciting to see what more she will do.
  2.   Darlyne Bailey was one of the first women to attend Lafayette College and completed her doctorate in Organizational Behavior from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Bailey serves in many professional associations that focus on health and human services, leadership development, organizational behavior, inter-organizational strategic alliances, and social justice. She has won countless awards such as Fellow in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation‘s National Leadership Fellowship Program and receiving the National Association of Social Workers Pioneer Award. Dr. Bailey is a dedicated professional in the field of social work and makes a difference each day in her community.

This blog only covers a glimmer of the countless influential African American figures who have helped develop the field and understanding of counseling, social work, and psychology.


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