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Profiles in Black: Frances Cress Welsing (1935-2016)

Text: Anita Debro

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Dr. Frances Cress Welsing was a professor and psychiatrist unafraid to publicly stand behind her work and known for heated television appearances to back her controversial claims.

In 1991 Frances Cress Welsing published her most famous work, a collection of essays The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors. That contentious work espoused her theories on the origins of white supremacy and she found a following and support from black academics, members of the Nation of Islam and many hip hop artists, including Chuck D of Public Enemy. Welsing inspired Public Enemy’s 1989 album “Fear of Black Planet.”

Welsing was born into a prominent black family in Chicago. Her father and grandfather were both doctors and her mother an educator. Education and achievement were important in her family. Welsing decided she would follow in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and attend medical school at Howard University. There, Welsing gravitated toward pediatric psychiatry and upon graduation she worked in clinical settings helping poor children. In 1974 Welsing received her first taste of controversy with the publishing of her essay “The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation,” which featured her theories of  racism being rooted in the white feelings of inferiority because of a lack of melanin.

For the next three decades, Welsing would lean into those theories of racism until The Isis Papers was published.  The book further explored the roots of and effects of racism based on her research.  The work also laid out her controversial views of what she considered black ills such as homosexuality, which she claimed was a means of decreasing the black population.