Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Francis Sumner was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Psychology. Sumner was born in 1895 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. After elementary school, Sumner was home-schooled by his parents. He was able to pass the entrance exam for Lincoln University even without having attended high school. He began his studies at age 15 and graduated magna cum laude with honors in 1915. Sumner then attended Clark University obtaining a bachelor of arts in English in 1916. He returned to Clark University to complete his Ph.D. in psychology but was unable to start his doctoral studies due to being drafted into the army during World War I. He re-enrolled after completing military service and graduated with his Ph.D in 1920 at Clark University. Sumner became a professor and also began to publish research.
His first teaching position was at Wilberforce University in Ohio. He would later teach at other universities as well. In publishing his research, he encountered many barriers. Many research agencies refused to fund his research because he was black. In publishing articles, Sumner was outspoken in criticism of colleges and universities and their treatment of African American students. He would later go on to become one of the founders of the psychology department at Howard University. He chaired the department from 1928 until his death in 1954
Throughout, Sumner investigated ways to refute racism and bias prevalent in many psychological theories that suggested the inferiority of African Americans.
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.