Honoring Black Americans in Mental Health

Written by Miracle Hawkins, Contributing Writer


During the month of February, necessary attention is brought to Black history, facts, and culture to celebrate Black History Month. Black History Month began in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson who was a writer and educator. “Woodson proclaimed that Negro History Week should always occur in the second week of February – between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln” (PIMA Library, 2017). Later in the 1960s as awareness of Black identity grew, Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.  In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month. At that time, President Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” (PIMA Library, 2017).

During Black History Month, most conversations are about Black historic moments, slavery, civil rights, Black inventors, music, and art. However, there are few conversations about Black history within the field of mental health. Conversations surround mental health must be addressed within the Black community, as the Black community is more subjected to trauma, racism, discrimination, oppression, and marginalization. It is also important to recognize Black Americans who have contributed to the field of mental health but have been unfortunately overlooked. In honor of this Black History Month, the following is a list of Black pioneers who have played a significant role within the field of mental health.

  • Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D. was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University. Clark and her brother Bancroft Clark are best known for their famous “Doll Study” that included 200 Black children. Findings from their study proved that school segregation was psychologically harmful to Black children. Their study was used as evidence in favor of ending school segregation in the supreme court case Brown vs. The Board of Education (Mental Health America, 2021).
  • Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D. was a pioneering African American psychiatrist who made major contributions to the study of Alzheimer’s disease. Fuller’s research focuses on the physical changes in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, and he was one of the first known Black psychiatrists to work alongside Dr. Alois Alzheimer (Mental Health America, 2021).
  • Jacki McKinney, M.S.W. is a survivor of trauma, addiction, and homelessness. McKinney specializes in issues affecting African American women and their children and is a founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/Survival Network. Ms. McKinney is also a recipient of Mental Health America’s highest honor, the Clifford W. Beers Award (Mental Health America, 2021).
  • Francis Cecil Summer, Ph.D. also referred to as “the Father of Black Psychology” was the first Black man to earn his Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Summer struggled to publish his research because of the color of his skin. However, he persisted and was able to publish several articles. Mr. Summer is one of the founding members of the Howard University Psychology Department (Mental Health America, 2021).
  • Bebe Moore Campbell was a Black author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate. Ms. Campbell worked extremely hard to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities. She is also the founder of NAMI-Inglewood, which was created to provide a safe space for Black people to talk about mental health concerns (Mental Health America, 2021).


Mental Health America. (2021). Black pioneers in mental health. https://www.mhanational.org/black-pioneers-mental-health

PIMA Library. (2017). February is black history month: How did it begin. https://www.library.pima.gov/blogs/post/february-is-black-history-month-how-did-it-begin/




Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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