Has Dr. King’s “Dream” Died? The Challenge for Psychology 50 Years after the March on Washington

50th Anniversary of March on Washington

By Efua Andoh (Public Interest Communications Staff)

With the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington approaching, we interviewed Henry Tomes, PhD, an esteemed psychologist who was the first African American to receive a PhD from Penn State University and the former Executive Director for APA’s Public Interest Directorate.

Dr. Tomes reflected on the impact of the March on him personally and professionally and on what the field of psychology can do to realize Dr. King’s “Dream.”

What are your memories of that time in our nation’s history?

The March for Jobs and Freedom was special for me. I had received my PhD from Penn State in June 1963 and by August I had moved my family to Nashville, Tennessee to take a job in the Department of Psychiatry at Meharry Medical College.

Having moved from the cloistered environs of State College, I was thrust into the frenetic build up to the March. During June, July and August daily demonstrations and sit-ins were taking place throughout Nashville, and it was evident that the Black community including its academic institutions was “all in” in these months leading up to the “March on Washington.”

How did the March impact you?

Similar to many others across the nation, I watched the March and heard Dr. King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech on television. The March’s emphasis on “Jobs and Freedom” resonated quite strongly with me. I had moved to Nashville because no other department of psychology or clinic to which I had presented myself offered any employment.

I believe Dr. King’s message reached many people as well as psychologists. Following the 1963 March and speech, I became visible and offers of employment as a psychologist in other settings became a viable option. However, I remained in Nashville during that time and began a satisfying career that took me into a variety of psychological and mental health settings spanning almost five decades.

What is the challenge before the field of psychology to help realize Dr. King’s “Dream”?

During my career, which dovetails nicely with the March and speech, I observed many efforts, some significant, to get beyond the juxtaposition of “…content of character” and “…color of skin,” but they didn’t continue for very long.

It is my opinion that at the next 50th year observance of the Dream, the nation, psychology included, may still be facing the challenges of “character” and “color” that emanated from Dr. King’s speech.

Psychology is so much, but it is individual psychologists that ultimately determine the field and what it does. It is my firm belief that until there are significant numbers of psychologists who are people of color, the field will continue its fitful starts and stops in addressing the issues of the Dream.

We want to hear from you! Tell us in the comments:

  • What do you think psychology can do to keep Dr. King’s “Dream” alive?

You may also be interested in:

  • Dr. King’s address at 1967 APA Convention challenging social science to engage in the Civil Rights movement
  • And social justice for all – 2011 APA President Melba Vasquez, PhD outlines psychology’s role in promoting social justice


  1. The older I get, and I getting pretty old, it becomes more and more important to do what I can do to leave a better world for my children, and theirs, & for all children everywhere. Because I am old, mostly what I do is run my mouth, or fingers as it may be.

    We can not change the past, & as a country we have done some terrible things, but we, now, as a nation, can certainly commit to ‘walk our talk’ … of equality, and justice for all; for ALL!

    We can stand up, we can march, we can be counted.

    Wrote more about the ‘Dream’ at: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-true-majority-america

    Best wishes to all the marchers, and THANK YOU!


  2. Good morning everyone. I do the psychotherapist in Italy in a beautiful town called Spoleto in Umbria. I think in addition to psychologists of color occorroo more psychologists in the public sector and in parliament. We have an economy that favors the rich, the banks and economists and lawyers. Perhaps we need to put more architects to have a more beautiful, more personal trainers to organize a more respectful, and some psychologist for a happier world. To continue to dream
    Christian Cursi, psicoloterapeuta, Italy. Ask me in friendship facabook


    1. Excuse, me.
      The is meaning of words ” occorroo ” and “psicoloterapeuta ” ? Please would like explanation.
      And, “We have an economy that favors the rich, the banks and economists and lawyers.”
      In this sentence, I guess, you do not understand the spirit that you want to tell future generations of Dr.King.


  3. Of course it hasn’t died–that’s too extreme. But I argue in my book “Integration: The Psychology and Mythology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and His (Unfinished) Therapy With the Soul of America” that it’s unfinished. And just today, I was at the March on Washington where hundreds of thousands of citizen therapists are working towards more healing!


  4. There are various kinds in ” Minority” and the “Minority group”, but it is common to receive discrimination and prejudice.
    However, the person who appealed for liberation from earnest and faithful discrimination such like a Dr.King exists in that.
    It is impossible to me, to understand a race problem and bias case of America completely.
    However, there is common denominator, between his belief and my belief for psychology. It is a wish of social peace to push forward, even if below adverse circumstances.
    Probably while he movement, he hoped peace of the justice and social peace that expected.
    I do not mind even anonymity, but I also expect peace. Therefore I study psychology.

    This is my dream.


  5. Dr. King would probably be appalled by much of what he sees ongoing in Black circles.

    Psychology institutionally and individually can further Dr. King’s wonderful Dream by trumpeting the importance of self-reliance and individual responsibility, encouraging and assisting Black families in remaining together, teaching and role modeling adaptive behavior, eschewing out of wedlock births, gangs, drugs, pernicious rap music, and glorifying gun culture. Merely throwing more money at the problem has empirically been shown to be doomed to failure. The victim stance must be attacked, and replaced with the concept of resilience and survival.

    The current education system must be modified to make schools and learning safe and adaptable to where students are now, which may also involve giving parents choice of schools.

    We must recognize and publicly expose when the current Black racial equality leaders employ twists of logic and double standards to somehow “compensate” for inequality, maintaining the status quo, in the process filling their own personal coffers. APA can go a long way to counter the media’s continuing condoning of biased selective and destructive reporting which enables Black helplessness.

    Our President must finally begin to make and support frequent public efforts to encourage the above and stop pandering to old often tried and usually untrue counterproductive efforts. He could work with the APA to spread the message, perhaps by appointing a White House Commission. President Obama is in a unique position to help change old cognitions to ones more reality based and proven to be adaptive.

    Sanford W. Bloom, Ph.D.


    1. Dear Sanford W. Bloom, Ph.D.

      I agree your comment.
      Probably important will be ” Adaptation”, at a public place (visualization). The adaptation is a wide sense, too. However, It became the hint for me.
      Thanks so much.


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