A Selection of Historical Contributions Made by Black Psychologists

Pictured left-right: Ruth Winifred Howard, Mamie Phipps Clark, Robert Lee Williams II, and Herman George Canady

It’s Black History Month, a perfect time to focus on the important contributions of Black psychologists.  Consider, for example:

Ruth Winifred Howard (1900-1997) was the first African American woman to receive a doctorate in psychology, in 1934, from the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation, published in the mid-1940s, was the most comprehensive study of the development of triplets at the time.

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) and her husband, Kenneth Clark (1914-2005), who ran the famous “doll” experiments that played a key role in Brown v. Board of Education (the first Supreme Court decision to cite psychological data!).  Their experiments found that children as young as 3 preferred dolls that were white rather than brown, consistent with what we today call implicit bias and supporting the argument that segregation harmed children.

Robert Lee Williams II (1930-2020), who studied and documented racial and cultural biases in standardized tests, especially IQ tests.  He was a founding member and early president of the Association of Black Psychologists.

Herman George Canady (1901-1970), who showed that IQ test scores are influenced by the race of the examiner, perhaps leading the way for modern studies of stereotype threat by Claude Steele (1946- ) and others.

This is a tiny sample!  To learn more history, read The History and Visions of African American Psychology: Multiple Pathways to Place, Space, and Authority by Bertha Garrett Holliday of the APA and visit African American Pioneers in Psychology.

Or, for a more contemporary sampling, visit this collection of Black and/or African American psychologists.