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  • Implications of Adlerian Theory for an Understanding of Civil Rights Problems and Action
  • Kenneth B. Clark (bio)

The following is an address to the American Society of Adlerian Psychology, 15th Annual Meeting, New York, Academy of Medicine, May 26, 1967, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Alfred Adler's death, May 28, 1937. Minor adaptations have been made to spelling and formatting.

Without question, the most significant and persistent influence on my own thoughts and activities as a social psychologist has been the social dynamic theories of Alfred Adler. I was introduced to the writings of Adler by Professor Francis Cecil Sumner (1895–1954), who initiated me into the field of psychology when I was an undergraduate at Howard University during the early 1930s. The late Professor Sumner was one of the wisest, most scholarly students of psychology I have ever known. He shared with Alfred Adler the fact of being woefully underestimated and unsung, while more flamboyant, fashionable, or deliberately obscure or detached social and psychological theorists were being lionized by intellectual faddists and cults. He also shared with him the view that a relevant psychology must be concerned with the destiny and fulfillment of man and society, and the profound hope that man had the capacity to use his rational powers to develop a just and viable society. An idea of Professor Sumner's thinking can be gained from his survey of European psychology on the topic of "Religion and Psychiatry." He found secular and ecclesiastical psychotherapy to agree on the notion of "the losing of one's soul in order to save it" (Sumner, 1946, p. 817), and he quotes among others an Adlerian version of this insight, namely, the recognition of "the healing power of a courageous subd[u]ing of egotism in service to society" (p. 816).

While I was still an undergraduate, Sumner's interpretation of psychodynamic theories—and particularly the clarity with which he presented and interpreted Adlerian theory—struck a response within me which caused me to decide to become a psychologist instead of a physician. In looking back on the basis of this decision of a college junior, the following factors seem salient: [End Page 276]

Adlerian theory provided me with the unifying approach to the problems of the nature of the human predicament and its personal and social paradoxes which I was desperately seeking.

Adlerian theory made it possible for me to see the unity among the various ways in which man sought understanding and mastery of his physical and social environment through religion, philosophy, and science.

Adlerian theory made it possible for me to see and believe in the social, moral, and technological relevance of the field of psychology.

My introduction to the theories of Alfred Adler was a turning point in my personal and intellectual life. Adlerian ideas have dominated my professional writings and my actions as a person and as a psychologist from my undergraduate days up to the present.

It seems necessary to introduce this discussion of the role of the theories of Alfred Adler in the American civil rights movement with these personal observations because my own involvement in the civil rights movement has been primarily as a psychologist who has sought to bridge the gap between psychological theory, insights, and findings on the one hand, and civil rights policy and action on the other hand. To the extent that I have been able to make any contribution to the theoretical and moral assumptions upon which the struggle for racial justice in America has been based, it has been primarily through the appropriate modification and use of the Adlerian perspective and conceptual framework. To the extent that Adlerian theory influenced my own thinking and research, and to the extent that my thoughts and writings have influenced in any way the civil rights movement, determines, at least in part, the extent to which the ideas of Alfred Adler have contributed to the accelerated quest for racial justice in America.

Understanding and Coping With Racial Hostility

Basic Adlerian ideas concerning the deep feelings of inferiority which plague man and the various devices by which he seeks to compensate for the gnawing sense of self-doubt have general implications...


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