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Influential African Americans in Mental Health: A Historical Review

Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D. (1917 -1983)


Mamie Phipps Clark, was the first African American woman to earn a doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University. Her research on the race of child development assisted in ending segregation in 1954 (Brown vs. Board of Education). During college, Dr. Clark recognized the limited resources of psychological services available to minorities in particular, African Americans. Committed to providing sufficient mental health services to the black community and socially-economically challenged, Dr. Clark and her husband opened their own agency in 1946 called “ The Northside Center for Child Development” providing comprehensive psychological services. Throughout her life she remained active in her community.


Dr. Sumner is the first African American to receive his Ph.D. in Psychology. Dr. Sumner assisted in establishing a training program for African American Psychologist in the psychology department at Howard University. Dr. Sumner’s research consisted of counteracted racism and bias in psychological studies of African Americans. Some of his notable students went on to becoming leading psychologist in their own right such as Kenneth Clark.

Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D. (1872–1953)

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller was one of the pioneering African American psychiatrist who made significant contributions to the study of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Fuller was born in Liberia from former slaves who purchased their freedom. He later went on to graduate from a homeopathic institution, Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Fuller spent the majority of his career practicing at Westborough State Mental Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts. During his time at Westborough, he conducted his ground-breaking research on the physical changes to the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Dr. Fuller was also known to be the one of the first black psychiatrists to work with Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first discovered the traits of Alzheimer's disease in 1901.


Dr. Prosser was the first African American woman to receive her Ph.D. in psychology in 1933. Due to the challenges of finding a graduate school that would accept American Americans, she had to leave Texas to pursue her degree. Dr. Prosser research interest were how racially integrated and racially segregated schools’ impact African American youth. Her contributions consisted of research on African American children in mixed and segregate schools. Most of her later years was spent teaching at historical Black colleges.


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