Influential Black Social Workers

Influential Black Social Workers

Our list of influential Black social workers leads the field in research and practice in areas like mental health, gender inequality, domestic violence, substance abuse, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of social workers.

Top 10 Black Social Workers from the Last 30 Years

  1. Dorothy Height
  2. Ruth Winifred Howard
  3. Wilson A. Head
  4. Mildred “Mit” Joyner
  5. Stanley Battle
  6. Abena Joan Brown
  7. Bettye Davis
  8. Michael J. Holosko
  9. Larry E. Davis
  10. Darlyn Bailey

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives.

Social workers help wiht issues such as illness, unemployment, and divorce. They help clients access basic services such as food stamps, healthcare, and childcare, and can even offer mental health services if licensed as a clinical social worker. While these basic services are extremely important in the lives of those touched by social workers, an even more important part of the role of social worker is serving as advocate, to raise awareness of issues or injustices faced by clients, communities, or people groups.

Certainly this is the case for many of the influential Black social workers found in our list. They are addressing areas that are impacting the African American community, such as gender inequality, domestic and family violence, and welfare reform, among others.

The National Association of Social Workers citing the study “The Social Work Profession: Findings from Three Years of Surveys of New Social Workers”, found that 22% of new social workers (those who recently graduated) were Black. This is an encouraging statistic because the Black population comprises only 13.4% of the total U.S. population. Equally encouraging, of those graduating with a Master’s of Social Work, 57% of African American graduates were first-generation college students.

Black Social Workers Making Important Contributions to the Field

Prominent African American social workers in academia are researching in areas such as juvenile justice, foster care, adoption, medical social work, teenage pregnancy, welfare reform, and domestic/family violence. (Gourdine and McRoy) Other areas. of study impacting the African American community are HIV policy andadvocacy, mental health and Black gay men, depression, substance abuse, and gender inequality. (Allen and Briggs).

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25 Influential Black Social Workers from the Last 30 Years

The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.

Find out more about our Methodology.

List is arranged alphabetically

  1. Junior Lloyd Allen

    Dr. Allen is an assistant professor in Wayne State University’s School of Social Work. Allen’s research interests include the exploration of issues associated with gender and sexuality, HIV policy and advocacy, mental health and Black/African American gay men, community mobilization, program evaluation, masculinity, mental health, depression, substance abuse, and gender inequality. HIs qualitative research has helped improve policies that may help reduce HIV infection rates and may help mental health efforts aimed at gay males. Alma maters: Bachelor’s degree from Hampden–Sydney College, MSW from Florida International University, and PhD in Social Work from University of Georgia.

    Academic website

  2. Darlyne Bailey

    Dr. Darlyne Bailey is Professor and Dean Emeritus at Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Bailey worked in mental health care before joining the faculty and administration at Bryn Mawr College. In her 25 years, Bailey she has generously served many on local and national oganizational boards and advisory committees seeking her expertise in leadership developement of women and community transformation. Bailey is also the Director of the Social Justice Initiative at Bryn Mawr. Education: AB in Psychology in Secondary Education from Lafayette College, Master’s of Social Work at Columbia University, Doctorate in Organization Behavior from Case Western Reserve University.

    Academic Website

  3. Juan J. Barthelemy

    Dr. Juan J. Barthelemy is an Assistant Professor at University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. Barthelemy has nearly 20 years of practice experience working with at-risk African American youth. His research focuses on strategies communities can take to reduce violent crimes. He is also working on research about how schools can engage youth and prevent future criminal behavior. Barthelemy received his BA in Psychology from Southern University at New Orleans, master’s in Mental Health Adminsitration from University of Northern Iowa, MSW from Washington University in St. Louis, and PhD in Social Work from University of Tennessee, 2005.

  4. Stanley Battle

    1951 - Present (73 years)
    Stanley Fred Battle is an American educator, author, civic activist and former leader of Coppin State University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Currently, Battle serves as the director of the Master of Social Work program and as a professor of social work at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut.
  5. Harold Eugene Briggs

    Dr. Harold E. Briggs is the Pauline M. Berger Professor in Family and Child Welfare in the School of Social Work at University of Georgia. Briggs has worked extensively on mental health, substance abuse treatment, child welfare systems, and youth sexual health seeking to find ways to improve the well-being of children, adolescence, and families. Briggs is a leader in the development of psychological measures of African American well-being and has led psychometric studies of homophobia and fear of AIDS, as well as research concerning the perception of the African American experience and engaging African Americans in mental health services. Briggs devotes time to training community memebers to become leaders in their communities to promote self-governance and change. Alma maters: BA in Sociology from Morehouse College, Master’s in Social Treatment and PhD in Social Development and Social Treatment from University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration.

  6. Abena Joan Brown

    1928 - 2015 (87 years)
    Abena Joan Brown was an African-American businesswoman and theater producer who founded the Creative Arts Foundation in Chicago to enable black artists to work. Known as the “mother of Chicago’s black arts community”, she received honors and awards for her work in both theater and social programs. Brown was inducted into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame and interviewed as a subject of the archival program The HistoryMakers.
  7. Bettye Davis

    1938 - 2018 (80 years)
    Bettye Jean Davis was an American social worker and politician. She was the first African-American to be elected as an Alaska State Senator in 2000. Davis was a Democratic Party member of the Alaska House of Representatives, representing the fourteenth and twenty-first districts from 1991 through 1996 and the Alaska Senate, representing the K District from 2000 through 2013. During her time in the Alaska Senate she co-sponsored legislation introduced by Representative Sharon M. Cissna to address the needs of Alaska’s aging adult population. Senator Davis was referred to as “the conscience of ...
  8. Lawrence Edward Davis

    Dr. Larry E. Davis is the Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh and the Director and founder of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems which conducts applied social science research on race, ethnicity, and color. He’s earned research funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the National Institute of Mental Health to aid his work on interracial group dynamics, the impact of race, gender, and class on interpersonal interactions, African American family formation, and academic achievement of youth. Alma maters: BS in Psychology from Michigan State University, MSW and Master’s in Psychology from University of Michigan, and dual-degree PhD in Social Work and Psychology from University of Michigan. Davis is the founder and leader of REAP-a consortium of Race, Ethnicity, and Poverty centers from across the United States.

  9. Ruby Morton Gourdine

    Dr. Ruby M. Gourdine is a member of the School of Social Work faculty at Howard University and has worked has a clinician, administrator, consultant, and researcher in the areas of juvenile justice, child welfare, medical social work, school social work, and social work history. Gourdine has written extensively on child welfare, teenage pregnancy, transracial adoption, females and violence, school social work, and disability content in social work curricula. She has served as principal /co- principal investigator on a number of grants in these area. In 2010, the National Association of Social Workers celebrated Gourdine as a pioneer in social work. Gourdine completed here bachelor’s and PhD in at Howard University. She received her MSW from Atlanta University, today Clark Atlanta University.

    Academic Website

  10. Johnnie Hamilton‐mason

    Johnnie Hamilton-Mason is a professor and Eva Whiting White Endowed Chair at Simmons University. She has served as Director of the Doctoral Program at SSW, co-founded the SSW’s Pharnal Longus Academy for Undoing Racism and served as a Harvard University W.E.B. DuBois Institute non-resident fellow in African American research. Her main focus is on African American Women and Families, the intersection of cross cultural theory and practice, and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

    Alma Maters: Ph.D. and M.S.W. from Smith College, and a B.A. from Boston State College

    Academic Website
    Professional Website

  11. Wilson A. Head

    1914 - 1993 (79 years)
    Wilson A. Head was an American/Canadian sociologist and community planner known for his work in race relations, human rights and peace in the United States, Canada and other parts of the world. Early life Wilson Adonijah Head was born on September 30, 1914, in Milner, Georgia. He “was the son of a Georgia sharecropper, Evander Head , and of Evelyn Whittle , the eldest of five children”; siblings Frank, Marvin, Glenn, and Minnie Head. He was of African American, Northern European, and Cherokee descent. He grew up in deep poverty in the small black community of Milner, near Atlanta. His father ...
  12. Dorothy Height

    1912 - 2010 (98 years)
    Dorothy Irene Height was an African American civil rights and women’s rights activist. She focused on the issues of African American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. Height is credited as the first leader in the civil rights movement to recognize inequality for women and African Americans as problems that should be considered as a whole. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. Height’s role in the “Big Six” civil rights movement was frequently ignored by the press due to sexism. In 1974, she was named to the National Commission...
  13. Maycie Herrington

    1918 - 2016 (98 years)
    Maycie Herrington was an African-American history conservator, social worker, and community volunteer known for her work to preserve the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. She was involved with the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, when she worked for the Red Cross while her husband Aaron trained to become a fighter pilot. Herrington died on May 24, 2016, at the age of 97.
  14. Michael J. Holosko

    Michael J. Holosko is Professor of Social Work at the University of Windsor and holds an endowed chair as the Pauline M. Berger Professor of Family and Child Welfare at The University of Georgia, School of Social Work. He has research focusing on areas of evaluation, health care, gerontology, social policy, and music intervention. According to Sage Publishing he has been a consultant to a variety of large and small health and human service organizations and industry in the areas of: program evaluation, outcomes, accreditation, organizational development, communication, leadership, visioning, organizational alignment, and stress management.

  15. June Gary Hopps

    June Gary Hopps was presented The Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Education Award in 2017 and is presently the Thomas J. Parham Professor at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Georgia. She was the first African American and the youngest person to serve as dean of the Boston College School of Social Work. Dr Hopps has won NASW’s award for Outstanding Leadership in the Social Work Profession; the establishment of the June Gary Hopps Graduate Fellowship at Boston College; and the proclamation of June Gary Hopps Day by the state of Massachusetts.

    Alma Maters: Ph.D. from Brandeis University, M.S.W. from Atlanta University, and A.B. from Spelman College.

    Academic Website

  16. Ruth Winifred Howard

    1900 - 1997 (97 years)
    Ruth Winifred Howard was an American psychologist. She is best known for her psychological work concerning students with special needs at Children’s Provident Hospital School. She is one of the first African American women to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology. Howard was an active participant in the American Psychological Association, the International Council of Women Psychologists, the American Association of University Women, the National Association of College Women , and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She also received instruction from Florence Goodenough.
  17. Kimberly Yvette Huggins-hoyt

    Kimberly Y. Huggins-Hoyt is an instructor in the School of Social Work at Georgia State University. She also manages a federal court monitoring project of foster care agencies in Georgia.

    Alma Maters: Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, B.S.W. and M.S.W. from Georgia State University, and B.S. from Kennesaw State University.

  18. Mildred C. Joyner

    Mildred C. Joyner is President of the National Association of Social Workers NASW and former president of the Council on Social Work Education CSWE. Joyner also serves as President of the North America Region of the International Federation of Social Workers IFSW, and remains a member of IFSW’s Executive Committee. She began teaching in in 1979 at West Chester University as professor and served as the director and chairperson of the undergraduate social work department. As a professor she contributed greatly to the university and the community and developed courses that dealt with critical issues in race relations. Retiring from WCU in 2011 she began a consulting firm, MCJ Consultants, that focuses on organizational change and equity in the workplace. Education: BSW from Central State University and her MSW in Planning, Policy, and Administration from Howard University

  19. Dorie Ladner

    1942 - Present (82 years)
    Dorie Ann Ladner is an American civil rights activist. Early life Dorie Ladner was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on June 28, 1942. In high school, Ladner joined the NAACP Youth Council in Hattiesburg. In this organization, she met NAACP state president Medgar Evers.
  20. Theodore Lumpkin

    1919 - 2020 (101 years)
    Theodore Lumpkin Jr was an American military officer. Early life and education Lumpkin was born in Los Angeles and was educated at Jefferson High School. He attended Los Angeles City College from 1938 to 1940, graduating with an associate degree in mathematics and continued his studies at University of California Los Angeles. The Second World War had commenced, but the USA was formally neutral until the end of 1941.
  21. Ruth G. Mcroy

    Ruth McRoy, is very well known for her research and published works she’s done on adoption. She realized not much was known about what the best placements were, and what was known about the long-term outcomes for adopted children and their families. She sought to provide the research, especially related to racial matching and privacy, to better inform adoption practices and wanted to ensure that decisions were being made that were in the best interests of the child. She has chaired more than 20 dissertations and served on more than 80 committees in fields beyond social work, at Boston College, University of Texas at Austin, Smith College and Tufts University. Since 2009 she has been at Boston College, where she became the first holder of the Donahue and DiFelice Endowed Professorship at Boston College School of Social Work. There she is also Co-Founding Director with Tiziana Dearing and David T. Takeuchi of the Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, and Environmental Equity (RISE).

  22. Jamie A Mitchell

    Jamie Mitchell is a faculty memeber at University of Michigan as the assistant director of clinical research participation at Michigan Medicine’s Rogel Cancer Center. She has done extensive research regarding patient-centered communication among African-American men.

    Alma Maters: Ph.D. in Social Work and B.A. in Psychology from Ohio State University, an M.S.W. from University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

    Academic Website
    Academic Website

  23. Lizette Parker

    1971 - 2016 (45 years)
    Lizette Parker was an American politician and social worker. She served as the Mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, from 2014 until her death in April 2016. Parker was the first black woman to serve as Mayor of Teaneck, as well as the first black woman to serve as the mayor of any municipality in Bergen County, the state’s most populous county. Coincidentally, she succeeded former Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who became the first Muslim to become the Mayor of a Bergen County community in 2010.
  24. Pearl Stewart

    Pearl Stewart is an Associate Professor of Family Science and Human Development at Montclair State University. She specializes in family diversity, African-American extended families and cultural connections between African American and West African families.

    Alma Maters: PhD and BS from University of Delaware, and an MSSA from Case Western Reserve University

    Academic Website

  25. Wilma Cecelia Peebles-wilkins

    Wilma Peebles-Wilkins was Dean, Boston University School of Social Work for several years and a former scholar at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University. She is currently Dean Emeritus at Boston University. According to the NASW Foundation Dr. Peebles-Wilkins has more than 40 years of experience as a social work practitioner, administrator, and educator. She has worked both in the public and private sectors as well as in an acute care hospital in pediatrics.

    Alma Maters: Doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, MSSA is from Case Western Reserve University, and BA in Sociology and a minor in Social Work from North Carolina State University.

  26. Robert Woodson

    1937 - Present (87 years)
    Robert Leon Woodson Sr. is an American civil rights activist, community development leader, author, and founder and president of the Woodson Center, a non-profit research and demonstration organization that supports neighborhood-based initiatives to revitalize low-income communities.

This list is far from exhaustive; if you have a suggestion for someone to add, please contact us.

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Key Associations for Black Social Workers

For more the most famous Black scholars of the last 30 years, visit our Influential Black Scholars page. If you want more on Social Work, visit our Social Work page to find more influential social workers, top colleges and universities for Social Work, and more.

Other Influential Black Scholars by Academic Discipline

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