[the field] support some more black
graduate students?” More than half of
psychology PhD programs had never
had a black graduate student, and only
about 5 percent had a black professor. So
we sat down and tried to work out a plan
to change that.
How did that go?
We’re still working on it. (Smiles).
You brushed elbows with some
of the major leaders in the black
civil rights movement, including
Martin Luther King Jr., Black
Panthers’ leader Eldridge Cleaver
and Malcolm X. Can you share a
I’ll share a story about Malcolm, whom I
knew around the time he was becoming
“Malcolm X.” Malcolm’s youngest brother,
Robert Little, was a graduate student in
social work when I was at Michigan State.
They had one black graduate student in
every discipline, about 10 altogether, and
Bob was the one in social work.
Bob would bring Malcolm over to the
campus to visit, and we’d argue all night
long, these 10 black graduate students.
Malcolm was telling us that the white
man is the devil — it wasn’t personal
with him; he was just a great debater. We
would say, “Well, no, he brought us here
on a scholarship,” and this and that. . . .
He tried to tell me — and I didn’t believe
it at the time — that when I got out of
graduate school, that they were gonna
Who was right?
When I came back to California in 1961
Nigger” and so forth.
as this brand new PhD, I thought I had
arrived in heaven. And then I tried to
rent a house and found out I wasn’t in
heaven — I was one of “those Negroes.”
I also tried to rent an office because I
became a licensed psychologist, and I ran
into the same set of issues. I remember
what Malcolm X had told me about “Dr.
From that point on I started a fair
housing foundation and a number of
other things [including, at the behest of
student protests, putting black studies
courses into the curriculum at Long
Beach]. Gradually I turned from what
they thought was the nicest Negro in the
world, at Michigan State, to this militant
You also served as Robert
Kennedy’s campaign director in
Long Beach in 1968 and you were
with him the day before he was
assassinated. What were your
impressions of him?
I got to know Bobby Kennedy fairly well
because I’d always pick him up when
1920 Francis Cecil
Sumner, PhD, is the
to receive a PhD in
1963 Assassination of
John F. Kennedy.
was the first
to earn a doctoral
degree in clinical
was at the top of
1954 U.S. Supreme
Court rules against
public schools in
Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka.
1947 Publication of
“the doll test” by Kenneth
Clark, PhD, and Mamie
Clark, PhD, which showed
black children preferred
white dolls to black dolls,
demonstrating the presence
of a culturally based
Lyndon B. Johnson
signs the Civil
1967 Martin Luther King
Jr. discusses the role of social
scientists in the civil rights
movement at APA’s Annual
White starts the Educational
which over time has
provided educational access
and opportunity to more
than 250,000 low-income and
students in the California
State University system.