As a high school student in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, it may have been hard for Dr. Joseph L. White to see that seeking to wear the white coat of a waiter would quickly fade as a goal. By the time Dr. White died late last year at age 84, he had achieved not only what it took to be a waiter, but much, much more. In fact, according to a brief biography, White spent his adulthood blazing trails and challenging modern thinkers.
By age 25, according to the African American Registry, White had moved to California and, with the encouragement of an uncle and aunt there, had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, spent two years in the military and married. In the process, he found he wanted to focus on psychology. In 1961, he became the first Black student at Michigan State University to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
From that point on, White spent most of the rest of his life working in public higher education posts in California, including organizing, in 1968, the first Black Studies department at San Francisco State University and pioneering a statewide equal opportunity programs. In 1968, he was a founder of the Association of Black Psychologists. His 1970 article “Toward a Black Psychology,” published in Ebony magazine, is credited with providing the spark that led to what is known as the modern era of African-American and ethnic psychology.
The University of California, Irvine (UCI) had been his base since 1969. As a professor at UCI, he wrote and helped pen nearly half a dozens books focusing on Black psychology, taught scores in his field and emerged as a top psychologist. At the time of his death, he was a professor emeritus, mentor, supervising psychologist and director of ethnic studies and cross-cultural programs at UCI, the institution said.