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A few years ago when I was working at a prison in North Florida the chaplain asked me if I would take part in some of the Black History activities that he was trying to put together. I felt honored by the request and got to work putting together a presentation on individuals and circumstances that shaped the profession that I have chosen for a career. Some of them are not the household names that we usually associate with Black History but they have all played and still play a major role in the lives of African Americans in this country.
     - Many people are not aware of the fact that the first social service agency in this country was the Freedmen’s Bureau. Congress passed a bill for the creation of this bureau in March, 1865. It was formed to help black and white Southerners in the face of the economic chaos that followed the Civil War. The social sciences had not really developed at this time so there were no social workers or psycho therapists to assist those that had been traumatized by slavery’s ill treatment, however, teachers and religious volunteers administered help to those in need of those services. The bureau’s agents were set up throughout the South to help the newly freed black Americans take steps in the process of becoming free American citizens. The bureau’s main areas of success lay in its financial help in the formation of Historically Black colleges. With time, however, white insurgents regrouped and eventually were successful in destroying the bureau and the entire Reconstruction programs that were attempted during this era.
     - W.E.B. DuBoise was born in 1868, in Massachusetts. He was born free in a town where blacks made up a small segment of the population. Although he did not experience the horrors of slavery he certainly experienced discrimination and poverty at an early age. He went on to become the first black man to earn a PhD in Sociology from Harvard University. DuBois went on to write extensively on issues pertaining to black people in the North and the South. His book, the Souls of Black Folk is a classic document which examined the inner nature of black life in a society where a black person’s very humanity was just becoming an issue of discussion. He went on to do research into criminality in black life and its connection to slavery. He is best known for being a co-founder of the NAACP.
     - Frantz Fanon was a native of the Caribbean island of Martinique. Dr. Fanon was an accomplished psychiatrist who was born in 1925. His writings on the impact of European colonialism on the mentality of blacks throughout the Diaspora remains instructive in the understanding of the connection between social factors and individual psychology. His books, “Black Skin, White Masks” and “The Wretched of the Earth” are only two of his prolific works on the effects of oppression on people of color.
     - Dr. Nathan Hare was born in Oklahoma in 1933. His family moved to San Diego, California when he was 11. While there he became interested in boxing and did well enough to become well known in the amateur ranks. However, his plans to become a professional fighter were sidetracked when he scored among the highest in an I.Q. test at his school. He was encouraged to go on to college. He went on to receive a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago. In 1975 he went on to receive his PhD in Clinical Psychology. He conceptualized the concept of “ethnic studies” and also was the founder of the “Black Scholar” magazine. He is currently in private practice in the San Francisco area where he and his wife, Dr. Julia Hare operate the Black Think Tank, a movement devoted to helping black boys attain manhood.
     - Dr.’s Kenneth and Mamie Clark. This husband and wife team of clinical psychologists played a major role in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954. They worked together with attorney Thurgood Marshall in his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to the “Separate but Equal” laws that governed the segregation of U.S. public schools. They went to schools around the South where they performed the “White baby-Black baby” tests. These tests involved presenting a white doll and a black doll before a group of kindergarteners and asking the children which doll was “good” and which one was “bad”. After obtaining the answers (which almost unanimously was in favor of the white doll and negative for the black doll) they went on to ask the black children which one most resembles them. The children’s responses were so profound that it caused the Justices to acknowledge the devastating effects of school segregation on the self-esteem of black children. The couple went on to play major roles in various areas of African American society, including serving on the board of Howard University and starting the Harlem Community Mental Health Association.
     In the interest of time I will stop here but there have been several names on the list of black social scientists discussed in my presentation:
     Dr. Alvin Poussant was mentioned for his work on issues pertaining to the lack of sufficient mental health practitioners in the black community. Dr. Andrew Billingsley, Sociologist and a clinical social worker, is famous for his seminal work, “Black Families in White America” work on black family dynamics. Dr. Frances Welsing, is a noted psychiatrist and author of the “Cress Factor of Color Confrontation”, a scholarly analysis of melanin in humans and its impact on the color dynamic in human relations. Dr. Harry Edwards is a Sociologist who wrote the book, “The Revolt of the Black Athlete”, has written extensively on black athletes and is a respected consultant on issues pertaining to athletes and their relation to the sports industry. Dr. Maxie Maultsby is important for his contributions to cognitive therapy and the creation of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Last but certainly not least we have to mention President Barack Obama for his work as a very successful community organizer prior to going on to law school. His book, “Dreams of My Father” is a powerful and insightful look into the life of a young man coming to terms with “myths” about his absentee father and how his early struggles with his identity taught him the importance of understanding others and coming to terms with himself.
     There are many more. When you get a chance I would suggest you read one of the books listed above. All of these scientists are very prolific and have written many scholarly books and articles.




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 Tony VanSluytman - the Author

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