Joseph L. White, the professor and social activist known as the “father of Black psychology,” died of a heart attack on Nov. 21 at age 84, ABC News reported.
“Dr. White was a renowned scholar and will be remembered for his pioneering work in clinical psychology. But like all great professors his most enduring contribution is that he touched so many lives as a mentor and a teacher,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a family friend.
White spearheaded the creation of a field of psychology for African Americans—popularizing the movement in a 1970 Ebony magazine article. He argued that Eurocentric psychology misunderstood African American spirituality, views of time and emphasis on collective behavior, ABC stated, adding that women, gays and other ethnic minority groups followed his blueprint. “Essentially, Joe was critiquing traditional psychology’s arrogance in believing that it was the norm against which all people and their cultures should be measured and telling Black people that ‘you cannot seek validation from people who are oppressing you,’” Thomas A. Parham, a former vice chancellor of student affairs at University of California, Irvine told the Associated Press.
White, a Lincoln, Nebraska native, grew up in Minneapolis. In 1961, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Michigan State University and only one of five Blacks nationwide to hold a doctorate in psychology at that time, according to UC Irvine, which recruited him in 1969 and where he worked as a professor for more than four decades. The professor died while traveling to St. Louis to visit his daughter for Thanksgiving.