In recognition of Black History Month, the Pro Bono Counseling Project celebrates the work and contributions of African Americans to the field of mental health care. Here are just a few of the many mental health pioneers:
Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD
Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser was one of the first known African American woman to obtain her PhD in psychology. Dr. Prosser inspired other Black women to believe they too could become doctors in the field of psychology. She completed her master’s degree at the University of Colorado and then her doctorate in psychology at the University of Cincinnati in 1933. Dr. Prosser evaluated the effects of racial inequality on the mental health of African American children. Her research and arguments helped lead some of the first discussions about desegregating American schools.
Herman George Canady, PhD
Dr. Herman George Canady is considered a foundational Black psychologist, exploring issues from gender to race. He earned a B.A in sociology, an M.A in clinical psychology as well as a Ph.D. in psychology from North Western University. He would later go on to become the Chair of the psychology department at West Virginia State College. Through his work, he organized with other Black psychologists to demand increased access to educational opportunities for Black students. He was the first to examine the racial bias that could arise from the race of test proctors in IQ testing. The field of Social Psychology has developed in numerous ways from his work, from stereotype threat theory to intergroup anxiety.
Francis Sumner, PhD
Dr. Francis Cecil Sumner is known as the “Father of Black Psychology” and in 1920 was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Psychology. Dr. Sumner earned his PhD in Psychology at Clark University, and went on to become the Chair of the Psychology department at Howard University. He was one of the first psychologists to examine the psychology of religion, and his most famous publication is Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler. He was a leader is educational reform, and during his time at Howard University, he worked to distinguish Psychology as its own field, moving away from the trend of combining psychology, education, and philosophy together.
Solomon Carter Fuller, MD
Dr. Solomon Fuller was the first African American psychiatrist in the United States and was also the first African American psychiatrist recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Fuller was one of the pioneers of Alzheimer’s research, and his work also included studies on manic depression and schizophrenia. Dr. Fuller migrated to the United States from Liberia to attend Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He then attended Long Island College Medical School and completed his medical degree at the Boston University School of Medicine in 1897.
Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin
Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin founded The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore in 1983. The Museum is the nation’s first wax museum concentrating on Black history, life, and culture. Dr. Elmer Martin was a sociologist and professor of social work at Morgan State University. Dr. Joanne Martin is a noted historian, educator, and researcher. The Martins co-authored four books together: Social Work and the Black Experience; The Helping Tradition in the Black Family and Community; and Spirituality and the Black Helping Tradition in Social Work (published by the National Association of Social Work press) and the Black Extended Family (University of Chicago Press).