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Posts Tagged ‘Black History Month’

 contributed by Tony Pankuch. For a screen reader compatible pdf of this post and documents contained within, click here.

As discussed in the CCHP’s recent video, Robert V. Guthrie and the Search for Psychology’s Hidden Figures, little work had been done prior to the 1970s to seriously spotlight the scientific contributions of Black psychologists in the United States. In the 1950s, Black psychologists remained marginalized in a field that had historically contributed to their societal oppression. Yet circumstances leading up the 1957 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association led to a purposeful effort among APA leadership to solicit the opinions of the organization’s Black members. In doing so, they collected valuable documentary evidence of marginalization in the nation’s top professional psychological organization.

Backing up for a moment, the situation surrounding the 1957 APA Convention began seven years earlier, in 1950, when the APA resolved that its meetings would henceforth be held only in institutions, hotels, and establishments which did not discriminate on the basis of race or religion. Two years later, following instances of racial discrimination during the 1952 Convention in Washington, D.C., the APA passed an additional resolution vowing not to return the convention to Washington “until additional progress has been made towards democratic treatment of minority groups.”

Fast forward to 1954, and the APA’s Council of Representatives had just voted to hold the 1957 Convention in Miami Beach, Florida—a segregated city in an extremely segregated state. APA Executive Secretary Fillmore H. Sanford explained the situation in Miami Beach somewhat optimistically:

(Click each document to enlarge.)

Document 1: See link at beginning of post.
1956, May 4. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

Note the phrase, “these are predictions and not actualities.” No one at APA could know exactly what might happen if they were to host an integrated convention in Florida. The events in Washington, D.C. had shown that, despite assurances from hotels and other establishments, racist harassment and violence remained likely in any highly segregated city.

In the years leading up to the convention, votes were held and public comments were solicited from APA members, depicting a wide range of opinions. The arguments in favor of hosting the convention in Miami Beach did not dismiss the racial segregation of the city and state. Rather, proponents believed that hosting an integrated convention in the South would actually help to advance democracy in the region. As argued by Convention Manager Jack A. Kapchan:

Document 2: See link at beginning of post.
1956, May 18. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

Kapchan’s letter was circulated among APA membership, and his argument gained the enthusiastic backing of many who cited it in their own comments. Votes were cast indicating strong support for holding the convention in Miami Beach.

Five days after Kapchan wrote his letter, Sanford drafted a written request to be sent to 37 Black psychologists who were APA members. It read:

Document 3: See link at beginning of post.
1956, May 23. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

Should APA hold its 1957 meetings in Miami Beach? Would the cause of democracy be served better by going, under the conditions described, or by refusing to go? Would you yourself go to the meeting in Miami Beach? Would you plan to attend the 1957 meetings if they were held, say, in Boston. You can see where answers to these and related questions will be of material assistance to the Board in making a sound decision on this matter.

The responses that Sanford received came from a who’s who of notable Black psychologists, some of whom would later be profiled by Robert V. Guthrie in his landmark book Even the Rat Was White. James A. Bayton, for instance, characterized a Miami Beach convention as “a mighty big risk”:

Document 4: See link at beginning of post.
1956, June 18. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box V59, Folder 2.

Herman G. Canady, who notably studied racial bias in IQ testing, offered a longer response, holding the APA accountable to its 1950 and 1952 resolutions and placing the situation within a larger social and historical context:

Document 5: See link at beginning of post.
1956, June 18. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box M3533, Folder 4.

Like Canady, Roger K. Williams offered an important justification for his refusal to attend a Miami Beach convention: the danger of interstate travel.

Document 6: See link at beginning of post.
1956, June 23. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box M3533, Folder 4.

Williams’s point is an important one. To reach Miami Beach by driving, members would have to pass through the heart of the Deep South, states like Alabama and Georgia where white supremacy, segregation, and anti-Black violence were legally enshrined. This was the era of The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide which identified the all-too-rare hotels, restaurants, and other businesses where African Americans could safely stop during their travels cross-country. Even with the Green Book in hand, Black travelers still put themselves in immense danger travelling through unknown towns and cities in the Deep South.

Not all respondents to Sanford’s letter were opposed to a Miami Beach convention, however. Martin D. Jenkins supported the location, so long as the APA held true to the principles of its 1950 and 1952 resolutions:

Document 7: See link at beginning of post.
1956, June 20. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box M3533, Folder 4

Howard E. Wright agreed with Kapchan’s letter in his response, citing a Miami Beach convention as a “desirable social strategy”:

Document 8: See link at beginning of post.
1956, June 18. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box M3533, Folder 4.

Yet perhaps the most stirring response to this matter came from Mary A. Morton:

Document 9: See link at beginning of post.
1956, July 2. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box M3533, Folder 4.

You state in your letter that “The issues are almost paralyzing in their complexity.” For me, as an individual, the issues are simple: (1) Will Mary Morton feel secure in joining in any and all proposals for joint activity or will she have to wonder if the particular place involved will welcome her along with all others in the group? … If she is going to have to be concerned about things like these, she stays at home. … Conventions should be intellectually stimulating but they should also be relatively carefree.

… Miami Beach may really become an oasis in a desolate region for purposes of the 1957 meeting, but my acute awareness of how desolate is the region would prevent my enjoying any sojourn into the oasis. Local newspapers and radios would certainly be constant reminders that I was in hostile territory.

In her response, Morton clearly addressed the privilege of both Sanford and the APA’s Council of Representatives. They could easily distance themselves from the dangers of a segregated city, focusing largely upon high-minded principles and potential ideological victories. For Black psychologists like Morton, attending a Miami Beach convention meant putting themselves in “hostile territory,” risking their safety and the safety of their loved ones for the sake of a convention that could just as easily be held in a Northern city.

In June of 1956, a committee of four was assigned to visit Miami Beach to gather further information. Stuart W. Cook represented APA’s Board of Directors and chaired the committee, and was joined by psychologists Robert Kleemeier, Arthur Combs, and S. O. Roberts. Roberts had already voiced his opposition to a Miami Beach convention in no uncertain terms:

Document 10: See link at beginning of post.
1956, May 31. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron. Photo from the Robert V. Guthrie papers, Box M3533, Folder 4.

The committee carried out a review of dining facilities, hotels, recreational facilities, and transportation. They met with representatives from other organizations, including the American Library Association, who hosted integrated meetings in Miami Beach. In his final report, approved by the rest of the committee, Cook testified that the group encountered no instance of discriminatory behavior. Yet the group could not eliminate all possibility of discrimination, nor could they deny that many Black attendees would feel uncomfortable staying in Miami Beach due to the culture of the South. Cook concluded:

Document 11: See link at beginning of post.
1956, July 3. Stuart Cook papers, Box M2331, Folder 2, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

The 1957 Annual Convention of the APA was held in New York City from August 30th to September 5th. The convention would not be held in Miami Beach until 1970, six years after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally prohibited discrimination on the basis of race.

The prolonged nature of this controversy and the responses of Black members of the APA highlight the tangible ways that marginalization can occur in psychology and other professional fields. In pushing for a Miami Beach convention as part of a “social strategy,” supporters of the location were not entirely misguided. All major civil rights movements in the United States have required their participants to assume some risk of personal harm. Yet it was largely white psychologists who concocted this social strategy, not the Black men and women who were asked to put themselves in harm’s way. Further, most of those Black psychologists were not seeking to take part in an act of defiance against Southern racism—rather, they were simply trying to participate in their professional community and attend a conference for the benefit of their careers and their field.

Had the 1957 APA Conference been held in Miami Beach, Black psychologists who rightly feared for their safety in the South would have been denied access to the largest psychological conference in the United States. The comments of these psychologists helped push the APA to remain true to the principles of racial equality and integration, yet the resolutions of 1950 and 1952 should have invalidated this controversy from the beginning. Circumstances such as these were far from the only systematic barriers faced by Black psychologists in the mid-20th century, but they clearly illustrate how well-meaning policies and resolutions could, and still do, overlook the complexities of racial injustice.


Additional materials on the 1957 APA Convention are available for research in the Stuart Cook papers at the Archives of the History of American Psychology at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology. To request additional materials from these papers, please contact ahap@uakron.edu.

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– contributed by Lizette Royer Barton.

I have to start by saying that every day I am in awe of young people, both in the history of psychology and their presence in the pressing issues of today. Change is slow, painfully slow at times, and thankfully we have young people who are willing to fight the long, painful fights from which we eventually all benefit.

In digging through the SPSSI records recently I unearthed some materials regarding the early history of the Black Students Psychological Association (BSPA), a group of young Black psychology students who took matters into their own hands and demanded change. In honor of Black History month and in honor of young people, specifically young people of color, let’s talk a little bit about BSPA and recognize the group’s importance in the history of psychology.

SPSSI_Box743_Folder6_BSPA1971ConventionProgram_BlackUnityImage

BSPA 1971 National Convention program,  SPSSI records, box 743, folder 6

You may have heard the story the story about a group of Black psychology students disrupting George Miller‘s presidential address at the 1969 American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Washington DC. Students disrupting the “old guard” makes for a good story after all, but what happened after that? Heck, what happened before that?

Gary Simpkins was a undergraduate psychology student at California State College in Los Angeles (now known as California State University, Los Angeles) when he took a psychology course with Dr. Charles Thomas, a founding member of the Association of Black Psychology (ABPsi) who at the time was serving as co-chairman of the group. With Dr. Thomas serving as a faculty adviser Simpkins and his fellow students started the Black Students Psychological Association.

According to Simpkins & Simpkins (2009), early BSPA meetings took place at Thomas’ home and a community mental health center, and Thomas arranged for members of ABPsi to meet regularly with the students. With the support of ABPSi, BSPA decided to attend the Western Psychological Association (WPA) convention in Vancouver, British Columbia June 18-21, 1969.

The image below is a May 1969 letter from BSPA secretary-treasurer Rita Boags to SPSSI executive secretary Caroline Weichlein seeking travel funds for BSPA members to attend WPA in Vancouver. Notice Boags hand written “Dr. Zimbardo” in the first paragraph. Following receipt of the letter, SPSSI secretary-treasurer Robert Hefner contacted Zimbardo to inform him that SPSSI did not have the funds for the request.  The CCHP also has a copy of Philip Zimbardo’s June 9, 1969 response to Rita Boags in which he informs her that SPSSI is unable to grant the funds.

SPSSI_743_folder1_BSPA_TwoPageLetter_WATERMARKED

SPSSI records, box 743, folder 1

But funding aside, let’s take a closer look at Boags’ letter and BSPA’s goals for attending the WPA convention at the top of page 2.

SPSSI_743_folder1_BSPA_TwoPageLetter_CROP2

Boags to Weichlein, page 2, SPSSI records, box 743, folder 1

Simpkins & Simpkins (2009) wrote that Thomas helped to get them onto the convention program and they scheduled a panel titled, “Racism in Organized Psychology.”

I took to the WPA records and located the 1969 program.

WPA_490_folder1_1969_programcover_WATERMARK

Western Psychological Association records, box 490, folder 1

I scoured the program but did not find a panel titled, “Racism in Organized Psychology.” However I did find two sessions of interest – Social II: Black Americans and Challenge and Change in 1969: Black Perspective in Psychology.

WPA_490_folder1_1969_program_BSPA1_CROP

WPA_490_folder1_1969_program_BSPA2_CROP

1969 WPA convention program, WPA records, box 490, folder 1

Perhaps the panel Simpkins is referring to was ABPsi’s nearly three-hour symposium, “Challenge of Change in 1969: Black Perspective in Psychology.”

Did BSPA members present their papers during this time?

WPA_490_folder1_1969_program_BSPA2_ABPsiPanel)CROP

1969 WPA convention program, WPA records, box 490, folder 1

From the materials housed here at the CCHP I could not determine whether or not that was the case. Does anyone know?

BSPA seems to have been founded in either later 1968 or early 1969. The annual Western Psychological Association convention was June 18-21, 1969. The American Psychological Association convention in Washington DC – the meeting where Gary Simpkins and BSPA members interrupted APA president George Miller’s presidential address – was in September of 1969. Those students got to work quickly!

BSPA addressed the APA Council the following day (September 2, 1969) and outlined five specific concerns and their plans for implementation: (1) the recruitment of Black students into psychology; (2) the recruitment of Black faculty members into psychology; (3) the gathering and dissemination of information concerning the availability of various sources of financial aid for Black students; (4) the design and provision of programs offering meaningful community experience for Black students in the field of psychology; and (5) the research and development of terminal programs at all degree levels that would equip Black students with the tools necessary to function within the Black community.

You can go out on your own and find what happened next regarding APA (start with David Baker’s (2003) “The challenge of change: Formation of the Association of Black Psychologists” in Freedheim & Weiner (Eds.) page 492). The gist is that APA President George Miller and President-Elect George Albee agreed to meet with members of BSPA and ABPsi to work out details. They met in Watts in Southern California for two days and in October a specific plan was reported back to APA Council.

BSPA members Gary Simpkins and Phillip Raphael wrote a report detailing the events at the 1969 annual convention, the meeting with APA Council, and the subsequent meeting with Miller and Albee. It was published as a “special insert” in the American Psychologist (1970) –  Black Students, APA, and the Challenge of Change . 

SPSSI_743_folder6_BlackStudentsAPAChallengeOfChange_WATERMARK

SPSSI records, box 743, folder 6

One year later, the Black Students Psychological Association had a national office in Washington, DC and they held their first national conference in Atlanta, GA.

SPSSI_743_folder6_BSPA_1971conventionprogram_cover_WATERMARK

BSPA 1971 National Convention program,  SPSSI records, box 743, folder 6

The program was innovative and really cool.

There were team activities, special activities, and specific area activities organized around the following themes: politics, education, religion, housing and urban renewal, job training and employment, drug education, mental health, culture and the arts, crime and delinquency, our aged [senior citizens], family, mass media and communication, research methodology, and economics. The specific area activities were held all around Atlanta with local leaders hosting and participating.

SPSSI_Box743_Folder6_BSPA1971ConventionProgram_SpecificAreas_watermark

BSPA 1971 National Convention program,  SPSSI records, box 743, folder 6

SPSSI_Box743_Folder6_BSPA1971ConventionProgram_BLOG_WATERMARK

BSPA 1971 National Convention program, daily schedule, SPSSI records, box 743, folder 6

This wasn’t just academics reading papers with audience members asking “questions” (AKA not really asking questions but rather telling everyone in the room what they already know. You guys know what I’m talking about). This was an engaged group of people, mostly students, tackling real issues in the community with psychology.

Awe inspiring.

The SPSSI records also include a bit of information about the BSPA’s second national convention in 1972 on the Bronx Campus of New York University but that is where our archival trail runs cold.

According to Bertha Garret Holliday (2009), “In that same year [1971], an ideological-political chasm began to emerge between ABPSi and BSPA. Meetings focused on effecting a merger between the organizations met with little success.”

And in a very brief chapter by Simpkins in Robert L. Williams (2008) History of the Association of Black Psychologists: Profiles of Outstanding Black Psychologists, Simpkins asserts that BSPA “…continued to exist for a number of years as an affiliate of ABPSi. Later, BSPA made a transition to the now existing ABPSi Student Circle.”

I want to know more. I want to know about this group and its members and how the BSPA may have shaped their careers in psychology. I want to know what came out of that first meeting in Atlanta. I want to know more about the “ideological-political chasm” between ABPSi and BSPA. I want to know more about ALL OF IT!

But alas, I have reference requests in my inbox and my “real job” to attend to. My references are below. Someone take up this project and get back to me. And in the meantime, let’s hear it again for the young people who always have and always will be the change makers!

References

(Some of these sources are cited above but others are not. Many are available in full-text via PsycNet. All of them are good so go read them.):

(Jul 1969). Black Students Demand Changes in Psychology. SPSSI Newsletter, 3.

(Jul 1970). BSPA opens office in APA building. The Washington Report, 6(7), 1, 3.

Baker, D. B. (2003). The challenge of change: Formation of the Association of Black Psychologists. In D. K. Freedheim & I. B. Weiner (Eds.), Handbook of Psychology, Volume I: History of Psychology (pp. 492-495). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

Blau, T. H. (1970). APA Commission on Accelerating Black Participation in Psychology. American Psychologist, 25(12), 1103–1104.

Holliday, B. G. (2009). The history and visions of African American Psychology: Multiple pathways to place, space, and authority. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(4), 317-337.

Jones, R. L. (Ed.). (1991). Black psychology.  Cobb & Henry Publishers.

McKeachie, W. J. (1970). Report of the Recording Secretary. American Psychologist, 25(1), 9–12.

Nelson, B. (1969). Searching for social relevance at an APA meeting. Science, 165(3898), 1101-1104.

Sawyer, J. (1970). Why women, Black people, students, and other interest groups should be represented in the APA. American Psychologist, 26(6), 557-558.

Simpkins, G., & Raphael, P. (1970). Black students, APA, and the challenge of change. American Psychologist, 25(5), xxi–xxvi.

Simpkins, G. and Simpkins F. (2009). Between the Rhetoric and Reality. Lauriat Press.

Thomas, C. W. (1970). Psychologists, psychology, and the black community. In F. F. Korten, S. W. Cook, & J. I. Lacey (Eds.), Psychology and the problems of society (pp. 259–267). American Psychological Association.

Warren, J. (Apr 1971). BSPA still struggling to define relationship with APA. APA Monitor, 2(4), 1, 11.

Williams, R. L.  (2008). History of the Association of Black Psychologists: Profiles of Outstanding Black Psychologists. AuthorHouse.

Williams, R. L. (2008). A 40-year history of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPSi). Journal of Black Psychology, 40(3), 249-260.

CCHP Archival Collections:

Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) Archives records

Western Psychological Association records 

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– Contributed by Lizette Royer Barton with digitization assistance from Jodi Kearns.

Francis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954) was the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in psychology. He earned his degree on June 14, 1920 under G. Stanley Hall at Clark University upon defending his dissertation, “Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler.”

 

Francis Cecil Sumner in his doctoral robes.  Robert V. Guthrie papers

Francis Cecil Sumner in his doctoral robes.
Robert V. Guthrie papers

 

Listen to Kenneth Clark comment on Sumner’s high standards when it came to education at the link below.

 

Many of us recognize Sumner’s name because he was a “first.” However, it could be said that the most important part of his legacy was his work in establishing the Psychology Department at Howard University and the teaching and training of numerous African American psychologists.

Sumner joined the faculty at Howard University in 1928. As was common in many historically black colleges, psychology courses were taught in the education and philosophy departments. Sumner believed in order to properly train Black psychologists an independent department of psychology was of the utmost importance. In 1930, with the support of Howard’s president, Sumner established the psychology department and was promoted to full professor and head of the department that same year.

He was assisted in the department by Frederick P. Watts, a graduate student, and Max Meenes, a professor of psychology and fellow graduate of the Clark University doctoral program.

 

Listen to Max Meenes discuss the start of Howard’s psychology department below.

 

Howard offered training up to the Master’s level with a focus on laboratory and experimental psychology.

 

In the audio clip below Max Meenes discusses why they kept the program at the Master’s level and how they prepared students for doctoral work elsewhere.

 

Kenneth B. Clark, Mamie Phipps Clark, Max Meenes, unidentified. 1957.

Kenneth B. Clark, Mamie Phipps Clark, Max Meenes, unidentified. 1957.
Robert V. Guthrie papers

 

Well-known graduates of the Howard University Psychology Department include Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark, both of whom went on to earn doctoral degrees from Columbia University. Kenneth Clark in particular stressed the influence Sumner had on him while at Howard and the importance of his time in the department.

 

Listen to Kenneth Clark talk about Sumner’s influence on his own education and career as a psychologist. 

 

To learn more about Francis Cecil Sumner please check out Robert V. Guthrie’s seminal book, “Even the Rat was White: A Historical View of Psychology.” And to learn even more pay a visit to the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology and take a look at the Robert V. Guthrie papers, which include the incredible sound recordings featured above.

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