Profiles in Black: Dr. Robert V. Guthrie
DR. ROBERT V. GUTHRIE (1930-2005)
Psychologist, author and and professor Robert V. Guthrie called out injustice in his chosen field. In 1976 Guthrie, who grew up in segregated Kentucky, wrote a searing book about how the white psychology world overlooked the contributions of black psychologists and the work being done to train those psychologists at historically black colleges. The book, titled “Even the Rat Was White: A Historical View of Psychology,” is now regarded as a classic in the university classroom. Guthrie was the first black psychologist to have his papers deposited in the National Archives of the American Psychology Association.
Guthrie was born in 1932 in Chicago, but his family moved south so his father could work as a teacher. Guthrie thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps as an educator. He left Kentucky to attend Florida A&M University, where he received a bachelor’s degree. But it was not education that lit his fire. Guthrie took to his early psychology classes and credited his black psychology professors with leading him to his calling. Guthrie’s early adult life followed a non-linear but successful path for a black man in his time, including a stint in the Korean War, a high school teaching career and more military service before the focused march toward success in the mental health profession. He earned a doctorate in psychology, held numerous professorships in psychology departments, was a research psychologist for the National Institute of Education, operated a successful private practice with five other black psychologists in San Diego and served as director of psychological sciences in the Office of Naval Research.
Still it was Guthrie’s work that sought to shine a spotlight on the ones who came before him that earned him his bit of spotlight. The APA credits him with bringing to the forefront work done by trailblazers such as Mamie Phillips Clark and Kenneth Bancroft Clark, the black psychologists whose research on the effects of segregation on black children was cited in the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional.