Black Pioneers in Mental Health

4 min read

While this list just begins to skim the surface, today (and everyday) we honor these 16 Black trailblazers who transformed the mental health field and modern-day psychotherapy. These pioneers elevated the understanding of Black mental health and deepened the knowledge of the mental health field as a whole. Keep scrolling to learn more about our present-day activists with links to their podcasts and books!

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller (1872-1953)

First Black Psychiatrist

  • Paternal grandparents enslaved
  • Dr. Fuller’s ground-breaking research on advanced our understanding of Alzheimer’s
  • Central in mentoring black psychiatrists
  • Professor at Boston University; Boston Medical Center named The Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center

Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser (1897-1934)

First Black Woman Psychologist

  • Dissertation on “The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools”
  • Tragically passed away one year after receiving PhD
  • Despite shortened career, Dr. Prosser’s work influenced the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown w. Board of Ed.

Dr. Francis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954)

First Black Psychologist

  • Referred to as the “Father of Black Psychology”
  • Published several articles despite research agencies refusing to provide funding due to the color of his skin.
  • Credited as one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University

Dr. George Herman Canady (1901-1970)

Psychologist examined racial bias in IQ testing

  • First psychologist to look at role of examiner’s race as a bias
  • factor in IQ Testing.
  • Influential in founding the WV Psychological Association and State Board of Psychologist Examiners
  • Expert witness for NAACP in segregation and employment discrimination cases.

Drs. Mami Phipps Clark (1917-83) + Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1915-2005)


  • Their famous “Doll Study” showed that Black children as young as 3, when given a choice showed a preference for a white doll over Black dolls.
  • Their research was critical in illustrating the psychologically damaging role of segregation in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Dr. Joseph White (1932-2017)

 “Godfather of Black Psychology”

  • Dr. White pushed the field to reconsider the way mainstream psychology is applied to the Black community.
  • His work paved the way for culturally informed psychology.

Dr. E. Kitch Childs (1937-1993)

Psychologist and Civil Rights Activist

  • Participated in the US women’s liberation movements, anti-racist social movements, and advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution
  • Inducted into Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame for work on dismantling APA’s position on homosexuality (listed as a psychological disorder in DSM until 1973)

Dr. Jeanne Spurlock (1921-1999)

Psychiatrist, Professor, Author

  • Focused on impact of poverty, sexism, racism, and discrimination on the BIPOC, womxn, LGBTQ+ community
  • Among many leadership positions, served as Deputy Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association for 17 years
  • In addition to many fellowships created in her honor, she was posthumously awarded the American Medical Women’s Association’s highest honor

Dr. Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr. (1932-2016)

Psychiatrist who founded three applications of psychotherapy:

  1. Rational Behavior Therapy – a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  2. Rational Self-Counseling – an emotional self-help technique
  3. A Self-Help Alcohol Relapse Prevention Treatment Method.

Dr. Hope Landrine (1954-2019)

Scientist and Psychologist

  • Career dedicated to understanding the health and social disparities (including role of housing segregation, community poverty, and racial discrimination)of Black and other minority communities.
  • MANY honors including, fellow status in American Psychological Association Divisions: 9, 35, 38, 40, and 45 (including a Lifetime Achievement Award).

Dr. Robert Lee Williams II (1930-2020)

Psychologist and Professor

Psychologist and Professor

  • Founding member and 2nd President of the Association of Black Psychologists.
  • Developed the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity showing that African Americans are not intellectually inferior to European Americans. Rather IQ differences due to racial and cultural biases in the testing measures.

Dr. Janet E. Helms

Psychologist and Professor

  • Dr. Helms is a nationally recognized and published scholar in multicultural counseling.
  • Her work focuses on racial identity development, race relations, and cultural influences on clinical assessment and counseling.
  • Dr. Helms has received many honors including several American Psychological Association division lifetime achievement awards

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum (1953)


  • Dr. Tatum’s work focuses on the psychological effects of racial identity development and the role of race in the classroom.
  • Her book, “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?’ stressed the critical need for conversations on race in order to address the continued segregation in schools and impact on racial minorities academic achievement.

Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw (1959)

Lawyer, Civil Rights Activist

  • Dr. Crenshaw developed the theory of intersectionality.
  • Intersectionality brings to light how social and political identities (i.e. ethnicity/race, gender, sexuality, ability, class) intersect and impact system oppression and discrimination
  • An incredible person, scholar and activist. We love her podcast – Intersectionality Matters

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt

Social Psychologist

Deep gratitude to these Black pioneers and many more whose contributions pushed the mental health field to examine our biases and strive toward equity!

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