Featured Psychologists: Francis Sumner, PhD, and Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD
Francis Sumner, PhD
Francis Sumner, PhD, is referred to as the “Father of Black Psychology” because he was the first African American to receive a PhD degree in psychology.
Sumner was born in Arkansas in 1895. As a teenager without a high school education, he was able to pass an entrance exam to Lincoln University and graduate magna cum laude with honors. He later enrolled at Clark University to pursue a bachelor of arts in English in 1916. After graduation he returned to Lincoln as a graduate student and was mentored by Stanley Hall. Although he was approved as a PhD candidate, he could not begin his doctoral dissertation because he was drafted into the army during World War I.
Upon returning from the war, he reenrolled in the doctoral program at Lincoln and in 1920 his dissertation titled "Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler" was accepted. Sumner became a professor at various universities and managed to publish several articles despite the refusal of research agencies to provide funding for him because of his color.
He was interested in understanding racial bias and supporting educational justice. Sumner is also credited as one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University, which he chaired from 1928 until his death in 1954.
Thomas, R. (2006). "Sumner, Francis Cecil." African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr, edited by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Oxford African American Studies Center.
Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD
Inez Beverly Prosser, PhD, was the first African American woman to receive her doctoral degree in psychology. Prosser was born in Texas in 1895. After graduating from high school, she completed a teaching certification and taught in the Texas segregated school systems. She received her bachelor of arts in education in 1924 and her master’s in educational psychology from the University of Colorado. Prosser accepted faculty and administrative positions before deciding to pursue her doctorate.
In 1933, she graduated from the University of Cincinnati with her PhD in educational psychology. Her dissertation, "The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools," received much acknowledgment. Her findings revealed that black students benefited more in segregated schools because they were more likely to receive affection, support and a balanced curriculum versus an integrated school where they were likely to have problems adjusting academically, socially and in accepting their identity.
Tragically, Dr. Prosser died in a car accident one year after she received her PhD. However, during her career she encouraged many black students to pursue higher education and her work was influential in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that later took place in 1954.