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Francis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954). Torie Tracy Blake Shipley Malissa Smith Aimi Nelson. Overview. Zeitgeist Historical Antecedents Professional Obstacles Overview of Research Interests Experiments/Data/Outcomes Sumner’s Influences Summary of Presentation.

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francis cecil sumner 1895 1954
Francis Cecil Sumner(1895-1954)

Torie Tracy

Blake Shipley

Malissa Smith

Aimi Nelson




Historical Antecedents

Professional Obstacles

Overview of Research Interests


Sumner’s Influences

Summary of Presentation

the spirit of the times
“The Spirit of the Times”
  • Born 1895
    • 30 years after the end of the US Civil War
    • 1 year before the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision
the spirit of the times continued
“The Spirit of the Times” (continued)
  • Died – January 12th, 1954
    • Five months before landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision May 17th, 1954
the spirit of the times continued5
“The Spirit of the Times” (continued)
  • From 1876-1920 only 11 blacks out of 10,000 recipients had earned PhD’s
    • (and none in Psychology until 1920)
time line
Time Line
  • 1892 - The APA is founded by 26 (white) men
  • 1920 - Francis Cecil Sumner is the first African American awarded the PhD in psychology (from Clark University)
  • 1928 – Psychology Department is established at Howard University, chaired by Francis Cecil Sumner
personal history and education
Personal History and Education
  • Family and Early Education
  • Lincoln University (1911-1915)
personal history and education8
Personal History and Education
  • Clark College (1915-1916)
  • G. Stanley Hall
    • Accomplishments
    • Relationship to Sumner
personal history and education9
Personal History and Education
  • Lincoln University (1916-1917)
    • 1917 received M.A. from Lincoln
  • Clark University (1917-1918)
  • Military Service (1918-1919)
  • Clark University (1919-1920)
    • June 14th, 1920 Received his PhD in Psychology
personal history and education10
Personal History and Education
  • West Virginia Collegiate Institute (1921-1928)
    • Offered a position teaching Psychology and Philosophy at West Virginia Collegiate Institute
    • Published several articles
    • Began writing controversial articles and opinions about race and education
  • Howard University (1928-1954)
    • 1930 - Established the psychology department and became its chair
obstacles childhood
Obstacles: Childhood
  • Home-Schooled for secondary
  • Raised under zeitgeist of racial tension
obstacles education
Obstacles: Education
  • Rejected from American U. and Illinois
  • Bittersweet relationship with G. Stanley Hall
  • Conflicts at Clark University-
  • WWI-
obstacles post doctoral
Obstacles: Post-Doctoral
  • Funding for research
  • Ostracized from fellow faculty
  • Unrecognized by the discourse community at large
research interest
Research Interest
  • Sumner had at least 45 publications during his career. Some were in:
    • “Pure” Psychology
      • “Actual Brightness and Distance of Colors when Apparent Distance is Held Constant”
      • “Affective Tone of Tactual Impressions”
    • Applied Psychology
      • “Measuring the Relevancy of Picture to Copy in Advertising and the Influence of Color on the Legibility of Copy”
    • Psychology of Religion
      • “The Mental Hygiene of Religion”
examples of published works
Examples of Published Works
  • “Core and Context in the Drowsy State”(1924)
  • “Environic Factors which Prohibit Creative Scholarship among Negreos”(1925)
  • 1931 at Howard University “The Mental Health of White and Negro College Students” Sumner,F.C., Sumner, F.H.
  • 1950 at Howard University “The Persistence of Vocational Preference in Successful Individuals”. Sumner, F.C., Somerville,Addison


“I thoroly (sic) believe that if you make of your study of psychology a practical matter you can be of the greatest service to your own people.”

– written to Sumner by Dean James Porter, Clark University (1917)

(as cited in Guthrie, 2004, pp. 219)

first black american to receive a ph d in psychology 1920
First Black American to receive a Ph.D. in psychology (1920)
  • Despite blatant racism and involvement in WWI
  • Opened the doors of many Black Americans after him
spoke up against inequalities of black americans
Spoke up against inequalities of Black Americans
  • 1918: Sparked controversial debates in his letters to the editor of the Worcester Gazette
    • Actively protested substandard education and oppression
      • Probably influenced by W.E.B. DuBois
    • Americans’ views of Germans as “barbaric, immoral” were actually projection to minimize guilt

W.E.B. DuBois

protested for better education of black students
Protested for better education of Black students
  • Influenced by his own education options
  • Argued in a more “politically correct” way in the Educational Review
    • Negro as “culturally inferior” (Sumner, 1927)
    • This may have been his only choice, considering the Zeitgeist (Sawyer, 2000)
professor at howard university 1928
Professor at Howard University (1928)
  • President Johnson at Howard requested him
  • Responsible for developing Department of Psychology
  • 45 publications during his tenure
  • By 1972, 300 Ph.D’s had been received by African Americans in psychology - 60 of these had been undergrads or grads in Sumner’s department
howard university cont
Howard University, cont.
  • Kenneth Clark as his student
    • Kenneth Clark - the “most successful and influential African American psychologist of the 20th century” (Sawyer, 2000, pp. 136)
  • Howard University’s Department of Psychology still exists today
peer mentorship
Peer Mentorship
  • A peer mentorship program was developed in his name at Clark University

Helps students to “enhance self esteem, revitalize interest in the community, and leave their own legacies as Sumner did.” (Francis C. Sumner Mentor Program Homepage, n.d.)

in summary
In Summary...
  • A Lifetime of Equal Rights
  • Sumner’s Education through Hardships
  • Research Interests
  • Influences …. Even Today