Francis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954) is better known for being the first African American to ever earn a Ph. D in psychology. What is not so widely known is that he was also the first African American to have earned a doctorate from any American University.
Francis Cecil Sumner was a pioneer for future Black psychologists. He started the psychology program at Howard University and went on to teach other prominent future Black psychologists such as Kenneth Clark. He was also a pivotal leader in education reform and completed vast amounts of research that counteracted racism and bias in psychological studies of African Americans.
Unfortunately, Francis Cecil Sumner died before seeing the end of segregation, something he fought hard for.
Like many Black psychologists, Francis Cecil also did a lot of research in the areas of discrimination and social injustice, but I believe his greatest contribution to the field was becoming the first African American psychologist and paving the way for myself and those before and after me.
His other contributions include:
- 1916 As a graduate student at Lincoln University he taught psychology of religion, mysticism, rationalism, experimental psychology, social psychology and intermediate and advanced German.
- 1920-1921 Took his first teaching position at Wilber force University in Ohio.
- 1921 (summer) Taught at Southern University in Louisiana.
- 1921 (fall) Accepted an appointment as instructor of psychology and philosophy in the college department at West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State College).
- 1928 Resigned from West Virginia after becoming restless and assumed the acting chairmanship of the department of psychology at Howard University where he remained until his death in 1954.
- 1931 Had the opportunity to attend the First International Congress for Religious Psychology held at the University of Vienna. There he presented a paper entitled, “Mental Hygiene and Religion” and met many leaders among European psychologists of religion.
- Served as an official abstractor for both the Journal of Social Psychology and the Psychological Bulletin, where he translated more than three thousand articles from German, French, and Spanish.