10 Black Psychologists Who Greatly Impacted The Field: Kenneth And Mamie Clark

In honor of Black History Month, I thought I’d do a 9 part post highlighting 10 Black psychologists I think everyone should know about.

The reason I chose to write about this is partly because as a behavior scientist, I have learned about all the greats in psychology from Adler to Zimbardo, but none of them were Black. Even in my undergraduate years I had no Black psychology professors, but was fortunate enough to have two in my graduate studies.

Because of this, often times when I think of psychology it’s easy to believe that Black people had little to no impact on the field, but that simply isn’t true.

Another reason I feel that this post is important is to show potential future behavior scientists that they not only have a place in the field of psychology/mental health, but that they can be future leaders in field.

#1 and # 2: Kenneth and Mamie Clark

Kenneth Clark, born on July 25, 1914 was a psychologist and educator. He was the first Black president of the American Psychological Association and was the first African-American to become a fully tenured professor at the City College of New York.

His wife, Mamie Phipps Clark did research with children that showed African American children became aware of their racial identity at about three years old and many of them began to see reflect and internalize the views that society held about them. She also found that many African American children that had been labeled as having a learning disability or disabled were actually not, but were the victims of  biased psychological testing.

The Clarks were the first African-Americans to obtain their doctoral degrees in psychology from Columbia University

In 1946 the couple founded the Northside Center for Child Development to work with inner-city children.

In 1950 the couple published a report unmasking the psychological effects of racial segregation in schools.

In their famous Clark “Doll Study”, they studied the responses of more than 200 Black children who were given a choice of white or brown dolls. The findings illustrated that children showed preference for white dolls from as early as three years old, considering the white dolls as “good” and the black dolls as “bad”. The report and study were cited heavily in the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education to help outlaw segregation nationwide. The Clarks both served as expert witnesses several school desegregation in the case.

The couple also helped found Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Kenneth Clark was named the first Black member of the New York State Board of Regents (1966), and published many books and articles on the condition of African-Americans such as Prejudice and Your Child, A Possible Reality, and Pathos of Power.

Mr. Clark passed away on May 1, 2005. Mrs. Clark in 1983.

Mr. and Mrs. Clark “Doll Study” is one of my favorite studies and one I have used before to highlight many different issues surrounding race, colorism, and self-esteem. Without the work of both Kenneth and Mamie Clark we could possibly still have segregated schools.


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