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Family and friends paid tribute to Frances Cress Welsing at a memorial service at Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest D.C. March 19. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Thousands recently filled the sanctuary of the Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest D.C. to pay tribute to the life of renowned scholar, psychologist Frances Cress Welsing. The race theorist, who spent a lifetime examining systemic racism and its impact on the mental well-being of Blacks, died Jan. 2, after suffering from a stroke. She was 80 years old.

The Rev. Willie Wilson celebrated Welsing during the ceremony on March 19 for establishing what he termed “guerilla hermetics” or the ability to impact those suffering under White supremacy, teach them how to protect themselves, and fight against race-related adversity without outside influence. “Dr. Welsing was the Harriet Tubman of racism and White supremacy, leading Black people and people of color out of the grips of bigoted systems,” Rev. Wilson said. “We used to believe that if we weren’t being lynched or physically assaulted, we were not experiencing racism; it wasn’t until Dr. Welsing, that we began to talk about racism in terms of it being an all-encompassing system.”

Welsing provided psychiatric services to the D.C. government, including St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for 27 years. It was at St. Elizabeth’s that many in attendance of her memorial service spoke most passionately about her legacy.

Charged with examining the court’s cadre of detainees to determine their fitness for trial, execution, and treatment (usually lobotomies), Welsing designed a methodology among the mostly Black inmates to determine how race impacted their commitments that ultimately saved their lives. “They wanted to give me the electric chair, but in order to get life instead, I needed at least one therapist to advocate on my behalf that I was no threat,” WPFW radio host Rhozier “Roach” Brown said at Welsing’s service. “Dr. Welsing was able to get the sentence reduced to life, but then during my confinement, St. Elizabeth’s was going to give me a frontal lobotomy because I was organizing the inmates. I understood that the hospital was using these operations not as treatment, but as punishment. Once again, Dr. Welsing kept that from happening. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Brown said that Welsing often counseled patients scheduled for execution until days before their deaths, encouraging them, while fighting with administrators to stave off the decisions. Welsing also maintained a private practice in the District, treating what many describe as racism-induced malaise – depression, aggression and acting out in children and young adults, as well as anxiety.

Journalist and attorney Claude Matthews said, throughout their 45-year friendship, he remembers most of her interactions with children and the elderly. “She had the ability to talk to everybody and make everyone feel they were the focus of her attention whether it was the parking lot attendant, someone at the hospital, or a child,” Matthews said. “She made you feel that in those 30 seconds or 40 seconds that there was nothing more important than her time with you.”

Welsing’s memorial was held a day after what would have been her 81st birthday, with family members, including her sister Lorne Cress Love, in attendance. A Chicago-native, Welsing gained notoriety for her theory of racism-white supremacy known as the “Cress Theory of Color Confrontation.” Her 1991 book “The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors” defined cast racism as a global White fear of genetic annihilation.