Francis Cecil Sumner was the first black man to receive a Ph.D. in psychology. He overcame many struggles on his journey to this point. He began his higher education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. In 1915, he graduated magna cum laude, at which point he began communicating with James P. Porter at Clark University. In 1915, Sumner was accepted at Clark, and one year later, graduated with a B.A. degree in English. He then went back to Lincoln University as a graduate student and as a teacher of psychology and German. Sumner desired to further his education even more, so he applied to American University and the University of Illinois, but was not welcomed at either of these schools. After receiving his M.A. from Lincoln in 1917, he then returned to Clark with the help of G. Stanley Hall. In October, Sumner's application for candidacy for a Ph.D. in psychology was approved by Hall (see Figure 1 below). Shortly after being approved for the Ph.D. program, Sumner's education was interrupted by World War I. When he returned from fighting, he resumed his education, and on June 11, 1920 Sumner defended his dissertation, "Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler." Three days later he received his Ph.D. degree in psychology (see Figure 2 below).
Figure 1. Examination Notice of Sumner (Guthrie, 1998, p. 223).
Figure 2. Sumner's Degree from Clark University (Guthrie, 1998, p. 216).
After receiving his Ph.D., Sumner first taught at Wilberforce University in Ohio and then at Southern University in Louisiana. In 1921, Sumner went to West Virginia Collegiate Institute to fulfill the position of instructor of psychology and philosophy. While working at West Virginia, Sumner was disheartened by the number of substandard black colleges and universities as well as the treatment of black people in the education world. Despite an offer to increase Sumner's pay from $2400 to $2700, Sumner decided to leave West Virginia and assume the acting chairmanship position of the department of psychology at Howard University instead. Sumner began striving for a department of psychology separate from philosophy and education, and in 1930 with the help of the President of Howard, Mordecai W. Johnson, he achieved this goal, and was appointed full professor and head of the department.
Sumner was also part of several organizations including, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Educational Research Association, Eastern Psychological Association, Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and the District of Columbia Psychological Association. Throughout his career, Sumner was interested in psychological topics dealing with race and religion and did research in these areas, including a study done to look at the "attitudes of Blacks and whites toward the administration of social justice" (Guthrie, 1998, p. 229).
For more information about Sumner's contributions go to Contributions.