Black Americans' contributions to the field of mental health have been long overlooked. Check out these trailblazers!
Bebe Moore Campbell
Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities. She founded NAMI-Inglewood in a predominantly Black neighborhood to create a space that was safe for Black people to talk about mental health concerns. Throughout her time as an advocate, Campbell made her way to DC. On June 2, 2008, Congress formally recognized Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the US.
Herman George Canady, Ph.D.
Herman George Canady was a prominent Black clinical and social psychologist. He is credited with being the first psychologist to study the influence of rapport between an IQ test proctor and the subject, specifically researching how the race of a test proctor can create bias in IQ testing. He also helped to provide an understanding of testing environments that were suitable to help Black students succeed.
E. Kitch Childs, Ph.D.
In 1969, E. Kitch Childs helped to found the Association for Women in Psychology. She was also a founding member of Chicago’s Gay Liberation Front. In addition to being a leader for women in psychology and the LGBTQ+ community, she also owned her own practice in which she provided therapy to LGBTQ+ folks, people living with HIV/AIDS, and other marginalized members of her community. She practiced feminist therapy, and centered her research and work around the experiences of Black women and feminist theory.
Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D. And Kenneth Bancroft Clark, Ph.D.
Mamie Phipps Clark was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University. She previously earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard University. Her experience in college and specifically graduate-level courses helped her realize the shortage of psychological services available to the African American community and other minorities. The Clarks are best known for the famous “Doll Study” in which more than 200 Black children participated. Both Mamie and Kenneth Clark worked on this study, providing invaluable evidence in favor of ending school segregation in the supreme court case Brown vs. The Board of Education, citing that school segregation was psychologically harmful to black children.
Dr. Kenneth Clark was the first-ever black president of the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark's dedication and passion for adequate mental health services for all prompted Dr. Clark to open her own agency to provide comprehensive psychological services to the poor, blacks, and other minority children and families. In February 1946, Dr. Clark and her husband opened the doors of “The Northside Center for Child Development” for those in the Harlem area. She worked in the center counseling and providing other psychological services from 1946 until 1979 when she retired. Although retired, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark served on different advisory boards and was still very active within her community.
James P. Comer, M.D., M.P.H.
Dr. Comer is the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut. He is known nationally and internationally for his creation of the Comer School Development Program in 1968 within Yale University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Comer's has focused his career on improving school restructuring and has been featured in numerous newspaper, magazine and television reports, while also having several articles published in academic journals. He is a co-founder and past president of the Black Psychiatrists of America. Dr. Comer is the recipient of countless recognitions and holds over forty eight honorary degrees. In 2014, Dr. Comer received a prestigious nomination by President Barrack Obama to serve on the President's Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
Paul Bertau Cornely, M.D., DrPH
Dr. Cornely was a founder of the National Student Health Association in 1939, president of the Physician's Forum in 1954, and founder and first president of the District of Columbia Public Health Association in 1962. Dr. Cornely was also the first African-America elected as President of the American Public Health Association in 1968. Dr. Cornely’s professional work focused on the development of public health initiatives aimed at reducing healthcare disparities among the chronically underserved. He also made significant contributions in the civil right movements through his efforts to desegregate health facilities across the U.S. Additionally, Dr. Cornely conducted research studies in tuberculosis, venereal diseases and scarlet fever; utilization of physicians' extenders and its effect on the cost and quality of health care; and the effects of social and cultural factors on health and health care utilization. He published over 100 scientific and popular articles. Dr. Cornely retired in 1973 as Professor Emeritus in the Department of Community Health and Family Practice of Howard University College of Medicine.
Jennifer Eberhardt, Ph.D.
Jennifer Eberhardt is an esteemed professor of psychology at Stanford University. She is an expert on the consequences of the psychological association between race and crime and has done extensive research on the topics of implicit bias, criminal justice, and the education system, and her work has provided the evidence needed to educate law enforcement officers in implicit bias training. In 2014, Dr. Eberhardt’s work earned her the famous MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship.
M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D.
Dr. Joycelyn Elders was the first African American and the second woman to be sworn in as the Surgeon General of the United States. During her tenure as Surgeon General, Dr. Elders advocated for universal health coverage, comprehensive health education, including sex education in schools. Unfortunately, Dr. Elders only held the position of Surgeon General for 15 months as she was asked to resign. Nevertheless, this does not diminish her accomplishments including the fact that Dr. Elders was the first person in the state of Arkansas to become a board-certified pediatric endocrinologist, conducted an extensive amount of research on growth and diabetes in youth, as well as issues related to teen pregnancy and congenital abnormalities. Additional efforts by Dr. Elders included her extensive work to address minority health issues, particularly when she was appointed by then-Governor Clinton to head the Arkansas Department of Health where she focused her efforts on improving minority health, which led her to establish an internal Office of Minority Health within the Arkansas Department of Health. Currently, Dr. Elders is a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D.
Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller was a pioneering African American psychiatrist who made significant contributions to the study of Alzheimer's disease. He was born in Liberia, the son of a previously enslaved African who had purchased his freedom and emigrated there. He graduated from Boston University School of Medicine, which as a homeopathic institution, was open to both African American and women students. He spent most of his career practicing at Westborough State Mental Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts. While there, he performed his ground-breaking research on the physical changes to the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Dr. Fuller was one of the first known Black psychiatrists and worked alongside Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first discovered the traits of Alzheimer's disease in 1901.
Beverly Greene, Ph.D.
Beverly Greene is the author of the landmark article "When the Therapist is White and the Patient is Black: Considerations for Psychotherapy in the Feminist Heterosexual and Lesbian Communities." She is a pioneer of intersectional psychology, and her work on heterosexism, sexism, and racism has illuminated how different intersecting facets of a person’s identity shape their experiences of privilege, oppression, and mental health. Dr. Greene’s work earned her the honor of the Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology in 2008.
Hope Landrine, Ph.D.
Dr. Hope Landrine was an expert in health psychology and public health. In 1992, she published “The Politics of Madness” which presented her research on the presence of existing societal inequities in the diagnosis and categorization of psychiatric disorders. This was some of the first scientific data that showed that stereotypes of women, people living in poverty, and racial and ethnic minorities were likely affecting psychiatric diagnoses and helping to maintain the inequities already present in society. Dr. Landrine frequently applied a public health lens to psychology and psychiatry and argued that the field of psychology’s focus on decontextualized individuals is insufficient for understanding overall health.
Freda C. Lewis-Hall, M.D., DFAPA
Freda C. Lewis-Hall earned her B.S. degree from Johns Hopkins University and her medical doctorate from Howard University in Washington, DC. She served as Pfizer, Inc.’s Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President until the end of 2018 and as Chief Patient Officer and Executive Vice President during 2019. Trained as a psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis-Hall has held an array of leadership roles across the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as in academia, medical research, and direct service provision. In 2010, Dr. Lewis-Hall was appointed by the Obama Administration to the inaugural Board of Governors for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), and in 2012 she was appointed chair of the Cures Acceleration Network Review Board and a member of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative and on numerous other boards, including those of Harvard Medical School, The Institute of Medicine's Forum on Drug Discovery, Development, and Translation, and Save the Children. Dr. Lewis-Hall has received several recognitions including being named as one of Savoy's Top Influential Women in Corporate America in 2012, named “Woman of the Year" by Healthcare Businesswomen's Association’s in 2011, as well as being recognized in 2010 as one of the nation’s 75 Most Powerful Women in Business by Black Enterprise Magazine and among the 25 Most Influential African Americans in health care by Black Health Magazine.
Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr, M.D.
Dr. Maultsby was the founder of the psychotherapeutic method, rational behavioral therapy. Through his work and therapeutic method, Dr. Maultsby explored emotional and behavioral self-management. Dr. Maultsby's unique contributions include making emotional self-help a legitimate focus of scientific research and clinical use. Through rational behavior therapy he formulated a comprehensive system of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and counseling that incorporated, in a clinically useful way, the most recent neuropsychological facts about how the brain works in relation to emotional and behavioral self-control. The technique of cognitive-behavioral therapy and counseling that Dr. Maultsby created is the first comprehensive, yet short-term, culture and drug-free technique of psychotherapy that produces long-term therapeutic results. In addition to authoring books for health professional therapists and counselors, Dr. Maultsby has written four pioneering books that describe his method of emotional self-help, called rational self-counseling.
Harriette Pipes McAdoo, Ph.D.
Harriette Pipes McAdoo worked with her husband, researcher John Lewis McAdoo, on the Family Life Project which studied Black families in the Washington, DC area with a focus on the middle-class, rather than the working class and those living below the poverty line. Her research was some of the first work that challenged the widely-held, harmful racial stereotypes held about Black families. Harriette McAdoo’s work on the Family Life Project earned her a spot in the White House Conference on Families, appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
Jacki McKinney, M.S.W.
Ms. McKinney was a survivor of trauma, addiction, homelessness, and the psychiatric and criminal justice systems. She was a family advocate specializing in issues affecting African American women and their children and is a founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network. Ms. McKinney was a consultant and advisor to the Center for Mental Health Services and is well known for her moving presentations to national audiences on issues such as seclusion/restraint, intergenerational family support, and minority issues in public mental health. Additionally, Ms. McKinney was a proud recipient of Mental Health America’s highest honor, the Clifford W. Beers Award, presented to a consumer of mental health and/or substance abuse services who best reflects the example set by Beers in his efforts to improve conditions for, and attitudes toward, people with mental illnesses. She was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Voice Awards program which was presented to her for her distinguished leadership and advocacy on behalf of trauma survivors.
Linda James Myers, Ph.D.
Dr. Myers specializes in psychology and culture; moral and spiritual identity development; healing practices and psychotherapeutic processes; and intersections of race, gender, and class. Internationally known for her work in the development of a theory of Optimal Psychology; Dr. Myers has conducted trainings in England, South Africa, Ghana, and Jamaica. She is the author of numerous articles, book chapters, and five books, including Understanding an Afrocentric World View: Introduction to an Optimal Psychology; and, most recently, co-editor of Re-centering Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice. Dr. James Myers’ Oneness model of human functioning offers a trans-disciplinary focus that builds on insights from the wisdom tradition of African deep thought and converges with modern physics and Eastern philosophies. Her current research interests comprise the application of that model to a broad range of issues from health and education to business ethics. Dr. James Myers has received numerous honors and awards for excellence in research and scholarship, including being named Distinguished Psychologist by the Association of Black Psychologists; the Bethune/Woodson Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Development of Promotion of Black Studies from the National Council of Black Studies; Oni Award by the International Black Women’s Congress; and, the Building to Eternity Award from the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization, among others. Professor James Myers is a recipient of the O.S.U. College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, a member of the national honor societies of Phi Kappa Phi and Psi Chi, a past president of the Association of Black Psychologists, and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities.
Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D.
Inez Beverly Prosser is considered to be the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in psychology. Her dissertation, “The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools,” evaluated the effects of racial inequality and racism on the development of Black children’s identity and mental health. Her research and arguments helped lead some of the first discussions about desegregating American schools.
Francis Cecil Sumner, Ph.D.
Francis Cecil Sumner is another person who gets called “the Father of Black Psychology,” because he was the first Black man to earn his Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Sumner was accepted into Clark University’s doctoral psychology program, but was then drafted to serve in WWI. Upon his return, he re-enrolled and his dissertation was accepted. Dr. Sumner struggled to get his research published because of the color of his skin, but persisted nonetheless and was able to publish several articles. He is also one of the founding members of the Howard University Psychology Department.
Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum is the author of the renowned book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria And Other Conversations About Race, one of her many works that focuses on racism and the effect it has on the American education system. She argues that the effects of racism, especially in schools, can have a detrimental effect on students’ racial identity formation and emphasizes the urgent need for continued conversations about race. Beverly Tatum’s tireless work on racism, psychology, and the education system earned her the American Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology in 2014.
Robert Lee Williams, II
Robert Lee Williams, II was the creator of the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity, an intelligence test specifically oriented towards Black experiences, language, and culture. The data collected from this test helped to shatter the notion that Black people had lower average intelligence than white people and showed, rather, that differences in previous IQ data were likely the result of speech and experiential differences skewing IQ test results in favor of white people. He was also a founding member of the National Association of Black Psychologists and served as the second president of the organization.
Joseph L. White, Ph.D.
Joseph L. White is sometimes referred to as “the father of Black psychology.” He wrote the groundbreaking article “Toward a Black Psychology,” which is credited as being the first-ever strengths-based (rather than deficit-based) evaluation and description of Black behavior and culture. He passionately advocated for the creation of Black psychology, arguing that applying white psychology to Black people often unfairly created the illusion of Black inferiority, when ultimately it was a reflection of the culturally irrelevant psychological principles being applied. He also helped found the Association of Black Psychologists as well as the Black Studies program at San Francisco State University in 1968.
Mental Health America Resources for Black and African Americans
Other Scholarly Resources
Chapter 3: Mental Health Care for African Americans
(Chapter from Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General), Department of Health and Human Services
Pathways to Integrated Health Care: Strategies for African American Communities and Organizations
Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health
African American Men and Women's Attitude Toward Mental Illness, Perceptions of Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors
by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, & Brown