BSPA members, 2017

In 1967, The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) was established at the APA convention in San Francisco. ABPsi petitioned the APA to develop a more inclusive institutional culture by increasing the representation of Blacks in the organization’s governance structure. ABPSi also challenged APA to take up the charge of recruiting, training and retaining Black students (undergraduate and graduate) and Black faculty, and the charge of addressing social problems and injustices (e.g., racism) facing marginalized communities. Michigan was well represented among the founders of ABPSi.

Adelbert Jenkins

For example, Adelbert Jenkins (1958 MA, 1963 PhD Clinical) who later developed the humanistic approach to Black psychology, was one of 28 psychologists who helped found the Association of Black Psychologist. Michigan students (e.g., Na’im Akbar-formerly Luther B Weems-BA 1965, PhD 1970; A Wade Boykin-MA 1970, PhD 1972; Algea Harrison-Hale-MA 1959, PhD 1970; J Frank Yates- MA 1969, PhD 1971) who were also central in the organization’s founding have subsequently served as leaders of ABPsi.

Na’im Akbar, A Wade Boykin, Algea Harrison-Hale, J Frank Yates (starting top left, clockwise)

Two years after the founding of ABPsi (1969) The Black Students Psychological Association (BSPA) was formally established meeting in Vancouver, BC at the annual conference of the Western Psychological Association. Michigan’s graduate students (e.g., Na’im Akbar; A Wade Boykin, Algea Harrison-Hale, J Frank Yates) helped to found the national BSPA as well as BSPA at the University of Michigan. As was the case in 1967, BSPA demanded that APA attend not only to recruitment, retention, and training of Black psychologists, but that they attend to sociopolitical conditions plaguing Black communities. More locally, this group noted that only three African Americans received doctorates in psychology from the University of Michigan in the almost 50 years spanning from 1920 to 1966 (Wispe, Awkard, Hoffman, Ash, Hicks, & Porter, 1969). They pressed the department and the university to do better.

John McAdoo, Harriette McAdoo

Intent on building a rigorous body of scholarship about the lives of Black children, adults and families, in 1974, two graduate students, A. Wade Boykin and J. Frank Yates, secured funding from the Russell Sage Foundation and convened the first Empirical Conference on Black Psychology (later known as “Black Empirical”) at the University of Michigan. Yates and Boykin were joined by their planning committee of fellow graduate students (Algea Harrison-Hale, Harriette McAdoo, John McAdoo, and A. J. Franklin, who was at the time completing an internship at ISR). Over the span of almost 3 decades this invited conference created a pipeline of rigorous published scholarship on the lives of Black children, adults, and families and created the foundations for the field of Black psychology.

William (Nick) Collins, Halford Fairchild, Suzanne Randolph

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, BSPA continued to agitate for change. The strategic and vocal activism on the part of graduate students including (but not limited to) J. Frank Yates, Algea Harrison (Hale), Harriet McAdoo, John McAdoo, A. Wade Boykin, Na’im Akbar, and Halford Fairchild, Vonnie McLoyd, Suzanne Randolph, William (Nick) Collins (PhD 1975), Kathy Burlew, and Carolyn Bennet Murray (PhD, 1979) led the department to recruitment of Black students into doctoral programs in psychology.

In the 1980s with the decline in Black students in the department, BSPA (with the support of Chair Patricia Gurin) developed and implemented a host of recruitment initiatives, including an annual 3-day long recruitment and retention initiative which now serves as the rubric for the departments’ nationally recognized Diversity Recruitment Weekend (DRW).

In the 1980s and 1990s BSPA was also actively engaged in transforming the lives of others in the community. Charles Graham (2014), for example, spearheaded a program within BSPA to provide support and mentorship to incarcerated youth. BSPA members launched tutoring, college prep programs, adopt-a-family programs, as well as a range of professional development initiatives. In 1994 (former BSPA members) Robert Sellers, A. Wade Boykin, Jules Harrell (whose daughter Zaje Harrell is a Michigan Psychology PhD) helped found the Black Graduate Conference in Psychology. This national conference which has similar aims to the Black Empirical, has cultivated a pipeline of more than 1700 Black graduate researchers most of whom have gone on to academic careers.

Erika Hayes James, Beverly Daniel Tatum (left to right)

BSPA alumni continue to be at the vanguard in the field and beyond. For example, Beverly Daniel Tatum (MA 1976, PhD 1984 Clinical) served as President of Spelman college. Erika Hayes James (PhD 1995 Organizational Psychology) is the first Black woman dean of a top business school. Other alum (e.g., Robert Sellers, Liz Cole, Nick Collins, Cleo Caldwell, Dwight Fontenot, Shelly Hargrave) continue to play powerful roles in shaping life here at Michigan.



Garrett Holliday, B. (2009). The History and Visions of African American Psychology: Multiple Pathways to Place, Space, and Authority. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 2009, 15, 4, 317–337  

Guthrie, R. V. (1976). Even the rat was white: A historical view of psychology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Harrison-Hale, A. O. (2006). Contributions of African Americans from the University of Michigan to social science research on Black children and families. In D. Slaughter-Defoe, A. Garrett, & A. Harrison-Hale (Eds.), Our children too: A history of the Black caucus of the Society for Research in Child Development: 1973–1997. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 71(1, Serial No. 283), 164–172.

Jenkins, A. A. (1982). The psychology of the Afro-American: A humanistic approach. New York: Pergamon Press.

Wispe, L., Awkard, J., Hoffman, M., Ash, P., Hicks, L. H., & Porter, J. (1969). The Negro psychologist in America. American Psychologist, 24, 142–150.