Honoring Black Social Work Pioneers

As Black History Month ends and Social Work Month begins, we honor Black leaders who critically influenced the field of social work and whose legacies continue to shape the services provided by CASES to individuals impacted by the criminal justice system. CASES currently employs about 75 social workers deployed across our programs, including

  • Providing in-court screening, advocacy, and support as Court Representatives in CASES’ range of jail and prison alternatives
  • acting as a “primary person” for young people engaged in case management services as part of our youth alternative-to-incarceration programs
  • delivering intensive treatment and support services to clients in the community as members of CASES’ multiple mobile treatment teams

Over the years, CASES has expanded our clinical services capacity primarily through increasing the number of social workers on our program staff, with the goal of helping criminal justice system-involved youth and adults to have the support they need to address challenges while building skills and leveraging strengths to achieve stability and success in the community. CASES is committed to delivering the best care to our clients and to honoring the visionary spirit of trailblazers like George Edmund Haynes, Thyra J. Edwards, and Mamie Phipps Clark who challenged entrenched injustices and inequalities within various public systems to promote the success of disadvantaged communities in and outside of the United States.

George Edmund Haynes (1880-1960) co-founded the National Urban League (NUL) in New York City in 1910 to address the needs of Black people who lacked sufficient social services due to racial discrimination. A graduate of Fisk University, Yale University, and the New York School of Philanthropy, Haynes became the first black American to earn a PhD from Columbia University after completing his dissertation in sociology and social administration in 1912. Though supported by social workers, the NUL was formed when social work was still a budding field dominated by White individuals. Its initial aid efforts included vocational training, working with employers and unions to open job opportunities, and ensuring landlords kept housing fairly priced and in good condition.

Thyra J. Edwards (1897-1953) studied at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, the University of Chicago, and Brookwood Labor College. Her interests in child welfare concerns led her to the International People’s College in Elsinore, Denmark, where she studied on a fellowship from the American Federation of Labor. At a time when the U.S. social work profession thought Black social workers should focus solely on serving Black clients, Edwards was dedicated to working with people of all backgrounds. By the end of World War II, Edwards was the Executive Director of the Congress of American Women. In 1953, she initiated the first Jewish child care program in Rome to assist Holocaust victims. Her views are akin to many principles currently articulated by the Council of Social Work Education.

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) was a psychologist who focused on the development and racial consciousness of Black children. She studied at Howard University before receiving a PhD from Columbia University in 1943. With her husband, Kenneth Clark, Mamie is best known for providing the research on race and childhood development that was influential in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case in 1954. In 1946, Clark opened the Northside Testing and Consultation Center (now called the Northside Center for Child Development), the first full-time institution in Harlem to offer psychological and casework services to local Black children and families.