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 his career, 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.
Before the U.S. Civil War, there was no higher education system established for African American students. In fact, many states had laws in place which prohibited the education of blacks. The first school to provide higher education for African American students was the Institute For Colored Youth founded in 1837 which would later become Cheney University. Lincoln University located in Pennsylvania (1854) and Wilberforce University located in Ohio (1856) soon open their doors as well.
These new schools were often called, “colleges”, “universities”, or “institutes”. However, their major focus in their early years was to provide elementary and high school level education for students of various ages that had not had any formal education. With the Emancipation Proclamation, and subsequent freedom of slaves; many African Americans could now pursue educational opportunities that they had been denied while enslaved. It would not be until the early 1900’s that HBCU’s would offer college level courses. Continue reading “Background of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)”→
Lewis Business College was a trailblazer in providing business education to African American students. The college was launched by its visionary founder, Violet T. Lewis. Her dedication and perseverance paved the way for thousands of African Americans to access higher education. Continue reading “Lewis College of Business: A Detroit HBCU”→
Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893) was a religious leader, teacher, author, historian, and college president. Payne was a staunch advocate of education and training of ministers. Payne became the 6th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1852. He would the position for more than 40 years. Payne was also a co-founder of Wilberforce University in 1856. In 1856, the AME Church purchased the college and selected Payne as its president. Payne was the first African American college president in the United States. He served in the role until 1877. Continue reading “Daniel A. Payne: 1st African American To Become A College President”→
Sarah Jane Early Woodson (1825 – 1907) was the first African American woman to be a college professor. She was a professor at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Born in Chillicothe, OH, she was heavily involved with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) as well as the feminist and temperance movements. In 1856 she graduated from Oberlin College with an L.B. degree. In 1868, at the age of 42 she married Rev. Jordan Early, a pioneer in the AME church movement. She assisted him in ministry while continuing her role as an educator throughout the South. Woodson authored a book about her husbands life in 1894. She died in 1907.