Psychologist and activist Joseph L. White – whose trailblazing work revolutionized the way African-Americans are understood in psychology and was affectionately referred to as the “godfather” of his field by students, mentees and colleagues -died Nov. 21 at the age of 84.
At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, White emerged as a powerful voice of change: challenging psychologists to understand better the unique experiences of ethnic minorities. He is widely considered a pioneer in the contemporary field of Black Psychology and, in 1968, he helped found the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi).
His seminal article in Ebony magazine in 1970, “Toward a Black Psychology,” also was instrumental in beginning the modern era of African-American and ethnic psychology, and it helped to define and frame the discourse in that field of study. It was that article that earned him the distinguished honor of being forever referred to as “the father of Black Psychology.”
“Throughout his life, Dr. Joseph L. White has stood on the side of social justice, and directed the activities of his psychological and academic endeavors with visions of hope and possibility for transforming dark yesterdays into brighter tomorrows,” said Thomas A. Parham, a past ABPsi president and vice chancellor of student affairs at University of California, Irvine, where White served as a professor of psychology and psychiatry since 1969. “He taught us with his heart and soul, he mentored us, he nurtured us and he guided us, because that is part of the culture he helped create.”
Joseph L. White was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Dec. 19, 1932, and was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Francisco State he was accepted into the doctoral program at Michigan State University in clinical psychology. He became the first African-American at Michigan State to receive his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1961, and in his words, became the first black psychologist he had ever seen.
During his career, White was a part of the faculty and administration at both California State University, Long Beach and his alma mater San Francisco State University. He later joined the faculty at UCI in 1969. At the time of his passing, he was a professor emeritus at UCI, where he served as a teacher, author, supervising psychologist, mentor, and director of ethnic studies and cross-cultural programs.
He was appointed to the California State Psychology Licensing Board by Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. and served as chairman for three years. He also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of The Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas.
He is survived by his wife Lois White of Irvine, California; three daughters Dr. Lori Suzanne White, Mrs. Lynn White Kell, and Dr. Lisa Diane White; his former wife Myrtle Escort White; his beloved sons-in-laws Anthony Tillman and Kevin Kell; his brother Gerald “Bunky” White; his aunt Estella “Betty” Lee, and a host of beloved cousins, colleagues, students and extended family.