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Obituary of Dr Joseph L. White: Trailblazing Founder of “Black Psychology”



By the Obituary Desk



Monday, December 11, 2017.


Psychologist and activist Joseph L. White, who has died, aged 84, was a trailblazing scholar whose 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.


White emerged at the height of the Civil Rights Movement as a powerful voice of change, challenging psychologists to understand better the unique experiences of people of African descent in the Americas. 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," 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."


Defining a black psychology

Black Psychology explains, organizes and facilitates the understanding of the cognitive, emotional, behavioral and spiritual behavior of African-descent peoples. White had argued that the lifestyles of African-Americans could not be understood or explained by using the traditional theories that explain the behavior of white people. So in the 1960's, he and others set into motion an ethos for Black Psychology that provided a new and revolutionary model that continues to influence African-American cultural and intellectual life to this day. 


"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,'" said Parham, who is among the many who cite White as an influential mentor.


The first black psychologist he had ever seen

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.


Champion of diversity on college campuses

White will be remembered as a champion of diversity on college campuses. In 1968 he created a Black Studies department at San Francisco State University. And during his time at Long Beach, White helped found the state's Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), which grew into a statewide program providing supportive pathways for disadvantaged students to study at CSU campuses. Through his personal mentoring, White has inspired countless black, white, Asian and Latino students to excel in academia and pursue advanced degrees.


White 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 has received the Distinguished Psychologist Award from the Association of Black Psychologists, the Citation of Achievement in Psychology and Community Service from President Clinton in 1994, the Helms award for mentoring from the Winter Roundtable. 


Influential writings

White is the author and co-author of several influential papers and books including: The Psychology of Blacks:  An African-American Perspective (1990; 1984); The Troubled Adolescent (1989); Black Man Emerging:  Facing the Past and Seizing a Future in America(December 1998), and the co-author with Parham and Adisa Ajamu of the 1999 (3rd Ed), and the 2011 (4th Ed) of the Psychology of Blacks books, and the 2006 Edited volume with Michael Connor on Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America.  


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.

Joseph L. White: born on December 19, 1932; died on November 21, 2017. He was aged 84.


Memorial Contributions

In lieu of flowers the family requests that any memorial contributions be made to any of the following:



5319 University Dr.  #3

Irvine, CA 92612

Make check payable to the African American Alumni Council of UCI, and please put Joe White Scholarship in the Memo line of the check



UCI Foundation

UC Irvine Gift Administration

555 Aldrich Hall 
Irvine, CA 92697-5600 

Make check payable to the UCI Foundation, and please put Cross Cultural Center/Dr. Joseph White in the Memo line of the check

Or you can make this donation online (see link below)  Go to UCI Giving, Go to the Drop Down menu and click on Campus-Student Affairs, click on Cross Cultural Center Dr, Joseph White https://secure.connect.uci.edu/s/1735/interior-1col.aspx sid=1735&gid=3&pgid=801&cid=1850


Contact: Dr. Lori White 927-333-3456


Obituary of Dr Joseph L. White: Trailblazing Founder of “Black Psychology”

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