|Francis Cecil Sumner|
December 7, 1895|
Pine Bluff, Arkansas, U.S.
January 12, 1954 (aged 58)|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Residence||Austria, (later) England|
Frances HoustonDivorced. Nettie M Broker 1946-
Francis Cecil Sumner (December 7, 1895 - January 12, 1954) was an American leader in education reform. He is commonly referred to as the "Father of Black Psychology." He is primarily known for being the first African American to receive a Ph.D in psychology (in 1920). He worked closely with G. Stanley Hall during his time at Clark University, and his dissertation--published in Pedagogical Seminary, which later became the Journal of Genetic Psychology--focused on "Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler." 
Francis Cecil Sumner was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on December 7, 1895. He was the second son of David Alexander and Ellen Lillian Sumner and younger brother to Eugene Sumner.
Sumner received his elementary education in Norfolk, Virginia, and Plainfield, New Jersey. Sumner then proceeded to educate himself, with much help from his parents, who too were self-educated. Many high schools at the time did not admit females and minorities; thus Sumner did not receive a formal post primary education. His parents gave him many assignments to do, which consisted of many days of intense reading and writing.:217-218 To buy the school books necessary, his parents would work extra hours. Sumner's applications to schools would read "private instruction in secondary subjects by father".
In 1911, at the age of 15, Sumner passed a written test to gain acceptance into Lincoln University as he did not possess a high school diploma. Sumner graduated as valedictorian from Lincoln College magnum cum laude in philosophy with special honors in English, modern languages and Greek, studying also Latin and philosophy, in 1915.:217 Sumner then went to Clark University in 1916 and in the fall he received his second Bachelor's Degree in English. There, he developed a mentor-mentee relationship with the president of Clark, G. Stanley Hall. Sumner also developed a relationship with James P. Porter, the dean of Clark University and professor of psychology. Hall and Sumner's relationship became one of mutual respect as Hall continued to provide encouragement to Sumner and many other Black students. Sumner graduated from Clark University in 1916 with a B.A degree in English.:217-218
Sumner returned to Lincoln University as a graduate student and as a teacher of religious study, psychology, philosophy, and German. It was at this time that Sumner began to consider advancing his study in psychology. Sumner kept contact with Hall, asking for assistance and consideration for a fellowship award to study "race psychology" at Clark University.:219 This later became his area of focus as he worked toward "the understanding and elimination of racial bias in the administration of justice."
In 1917, Sumner returned to Clark University, where he was awarded a senior scholarship.; Hall approved his application for a Ph.D in psychology. Sumner was drafted by the United States Military in 1918 to 1919, which prevented him but beginning his doctoral dissertation.:220-221 He was sent to Camp Meade Maryland for basic training with the 48th Company, 154 Depot Brigade. During his year (1918-1919) in World War I, Sumner was sent to the battlefield in Germany and in his time there, he kept contact with his mentor, G. Stanley Hall. Sumner asked to be reconsidered as a candidate upon getting out of the war and Hall worked quickly to ensure that Sumner could return to Clark after the war.
Sumner remained in France until he was discharged in the middle of 1919. After his doctoral dissertation entitled "Psychoanalysis of Freud and Adler" was accepted he received his Doctorate degree from Clark University on June 14, 1920, making him the first African-American to receive a Ph.D in the field of psychology.:221-223
Sumner's area of focus was in investigating how to refute racism and bias in the theories used to conclude the inferiority of African Americans. Sumner's work is thought to be a response to the Eurocentric methods of psychology.
Sumner accepted a professor position at Wilberforce University in 1920. While at Wilberforce, Sumner was a professor of psychology and philosophy. In 1921 he went to teach at Southern University in Louisiana, a HBCU. In fall 1921, he accepted a position at West Virginia Collegiate Institute, where he wrote many articles dealing with the state of colleges and acceptance of African-Americans or the lack thereof. Sumner used these articles to support and raise awareness for the views brought up by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. He remained for the next 7 years. Over time, he failed to receive funding for his research. He claimed that race prejudice was the cause of his inability to attain his and other African American scientists' funding. In his time at these universities he faced financial difficulty, because white research agencies refused to provide funding for him.
From 1928 until his death in 1954, Sumner served as the chair of the psychology department at Howard University. Sumner is credited, along with Max Meenes and Frederick P. Watts, with helping develop the psychology department at Howard University. He also is known for teaching social psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, an influential figure in the civil rights movement. Sumner encouraged that psychology should move away from philosophy and the school of education.:228
Sumner resigned from West Virginia Collegiate Institute on August 31, 1928. He then moved on to Howard University in fall 1928, and became the acting chairman and professor, until 1930 upon which time he became the fully appointed chair of Psychology and succeeded in making the department independent from Philosophy. Sumner held the position until he died on January 12, 1954.
In an attempt to show support and praise for the excellence of his students, Sumner created an incentive program. This award was given to one of his psychology students who submitted the best essay on a specific theme. One recipient of this award was Kenneth Bancroft Clark, later the first African American president of the APA.
Sumner had at least 45 publications throughout his career. His interest in applied psychology led to multiple publications on color and vision. Sumner's primary focus was in the psychology of religion. He gave a paper to the International Congress of Religious Psychology (Vienna). The paper was on "The Mental Hygiene of Religion." Sumner was one of the first academics to contribute to the fields of psychology, religion, and the administration of justice.
Another of Sumner's notable achievements was his work with the Journal of Social Psychology and the Psychological Bulletin. For years he was the official abstractor for both journals. He began writing the abstracts in 1946, and between 1948 and 1949 he wrote 505 abstracts. Sumner wrote over 2,000 abstracts during his time with these two journals. Most of the abstracts he wrote were from French and German authors, others were Russian, Spanish, and English.
Sumner was described as motivating and encouraging (Bayton, 1975). Kenneth Clark once stated, "And he didn't just teach psychology. He taught integrity. And, although he led the way for other Blacks in psychology, Sumner would permit no nonsense about there being anything like "Black psychology" -any more than he would have allowed any nonsense about "Black astronomy." In this and many other ways, Sumner was a model for me. In fact, he has always been my standard when I evaluate myself."
Sumner was a member of many associations, including the American Psychological Association, 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. He was a member of fraternal organizations, including Psi Chi, Pi Gamma Mu, and Kappa Alpha Psi, writing several journal articles for the latter fraternity.:230
In 1926, Sumner viewed the African American culture as younger as it was only a few hundred years removed from savagery and less than a century from slavery, while those of Whites was more a pinnacle of Western Civilization. With that in mind, he felt that many inadequacies existed between the teaching methods of African Americans. Sharing the same stance as Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Sumner emphasized the need for education to be customized for African education. His goal was to culturally elevate the African Americans and stressed the importance of learning trades such as carpentry and plumbing.
Sumner died of a heart attack while shoveling snow outside his home in Washington D.C. on January 12, 1954. He received a military honor guard in memory for his service during World War I. Sumner was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. Many students described Dr. Sumner as a "low key and very dedicated"; as a very quiet and very unassuming individual who was brilliant with tremendous capacity to make an analysis of an individual's gestalt"; and as "Howard's most stimulating scholar" (Guthrie, 1998, p. 229).