NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Esther Jones Langston, PhD, MSW
Esther Jones Langston

Pioneering Contributions  

Esther Jones Langston, PhD, MSW, has been a pioneer in teaching, research and community activism for more than 50 years. Her primary focus is social, economic and environmental justice where she has provided testimony to city, county, state, national, and international political entities.
Langston has had many “firsts” over her professional career. She was the only Black Social Worker in the State of Nevada from 1970-1972. She was the first African American woman to be employed within the Nevada Higher Education System. Her appointment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) was a first, followed by her being the first African American to become a full professor and a department chair. She broke new ground for other Blacks and ethnic minorities to become part of UNLV. This is a social justice accomplishment knowing so few Black Americans were progressing through academia during the early 1970s. She served as a role model to several generations of Black social workers by her presence at a predominantly white institution. She has taught and mentored numerous BSW and MSW students over the course of her career.  

Langston was the primary curriculum lead in establishing the BSW and MSW programs at UNLV. She secured a grant to hire a Black faculty member and provide student stipends for students for African Americans and Native Americans. She converted a mobile trailer into an office and traveled to sections of Las Vegas, with students in field practicum, to provide services to the residents in those areas who lacked transportation. She collaborated with other social service agencies to provide a staff member to assist the residents in completing the required forms for service. It is important to note that Langston was training social work students at that time to meet the client where they are, provide culturally competent services, and to advocate for all peoples. 

As the only Black MSW in the state of Nevada, she was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force for Mental Health. Her primary contribution to this task force was to ensure that providers were sensitive to the needs of Black people. She developed and provided training to agencies to include services that were sensitive to this population. In the beginning of the AIDS epidemic she partnered with the medical profession to provide services to this population and their families. Her work in these areas has earned her many awards.  

Career Highlights

Langston is Professor Emeritus and Director Emerita at the UNLV. She has held various positions within these roles for 50 years. Considering the political climate of the 1960s-1970s, Langston experienced a challenging yet successful trajectory through academia, community practice, and international service. She was the first African American woman to be employed as a BSW Lecturer within the Nevada system of higher education at UNLV. She was the first African American to earn tenure (1974) and later became a full professor (2003). And, Langston was the first African American academic department head at UNLV from 1998-2006. These “firsts” within a historically white institution were significant. She challenged the system by demonstrating her knowledge, values and skills to dispel the “affirmative action hire” label. 

In Women of Color as Social Work Educators (2006), Langston described her role as an educator for the countless students she taught. She stressed the need for all students to serve as “advocates for social change and economic justice and to provide culturally competent services” (p. 52). Langston saw gaps in curriculum in programs and in the UNLV system that could be improved. She initiated a feasibility study and wrote the proposal for an MSW program at UNLV (1985). Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation for the MSW program was granted in 1990 and continues to be accredited today. Her successful grant writing skills for child welfare initiatives while at UNLV should be noted as well. Financial awards from local, state, and national sources exceeded $20 million between 1974-2004. She worked tirelessly during the early years of her academic career to develop a practice and research agenda focusing on the needs of women and children, Black Americans, AIDs, and the aging populations. 
Langston was selected as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in the 1980s, at a time when this graduate study and research program did not accept many U.S. ethnic minorities. Langston visited Russia, India, Korea, and Bangladesh. She began her work in Africa in 1974 and served in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Liberia, Ghana, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana. The primary focus of her work was women and AIDS, empowering women, conflict resolution and inclusiveness of civilians especially women in decision making processes.

Over the years, Langston co-founded the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers (1975). During this time, she participated in the development of CSWE Accreditation Standards and Ethnic Content in Social Work Education (1978) as a representative of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW). This was a political opportunity to address curriculum equity that was absent at that time. 
Her national and international service spans decades. Langston served as President of the Nevada Chapter of NASW (1996-1998; 2000-2002; and 2012-2014). Her involvement with the National Association of Black Social Workers began in 1971. She also was an NASW Board of Directors member (2009-2011). Langston served as a CSWE site visitor at 37 programs (1972-2005). Her CSWE service also includes membership on the Commission on Diversity, Social and Economic Justice 2004-2010 and 2016-present. This includes her active participation with the CSWE Black Educators Council. 

Perhaps, three of her most significant and personally rewarding highlights include being named the NASW Social Worker of the Year Nevada Chapter in 1994 and 2003 and the Distinguished Professor/Director Emeritus by UNLV in 2008. Continuing her work ethic and commitment to service, she serves as the Director of the Family Support Service Division, Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach UNLV.

Biographic Information

Langston was born in Shreveport, Louisiana to Frank and Daisy Jones; the last of four children. She began school at four years-of-age and graduated from the Booker T. Washington High School in Shreveport. She attended Grambling State University and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Wiley College. She received her MSW from San Diego State University, Third Year Certificate in Social Work and a Certificate in Gerontology from the University of Southern California. Langston received her PhD from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1982. 

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • 2020—City of Las Vegas Pioneer Educators 
  • 2010—Lifetime Achievement Award NASW Nevada
  • 2010—Lifetime Achievement Award—Baccalaureate Program Directors
  • 2010—Mildred Joyner Gerontology Award 
  • 2008—Awarded Distinguished Professor Emeritus University of Nevada Las Vegas
  • 2008—President Excellence Award Baccalaureate Program Directors
  • 2007—Listed in Who Are African Americans in Las Vegas
  • 2005—Las Vegas Community Peace Award 
  • 2003—Social Worker of the Year NASW Nevada Chapter
  • 2002—West Coast Black Publishers’ Community Service Award —Rose Award for Academic Achievement
  • 2001—Nevada’s Black Pioneer Award
  • 2001—University System 2001 Outstanding Honoree
  • 2000—Inducted into Phi Kappa Phi
  • Student Focus Award —UNLV Alumni Association
  • 1998—Citizen of the Year—Theta Chapter Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
  • 1994—Social Worker of the Year—NASW Nevada Chapter
  • 1991—Elected to Wiley College Educators Hall of Fame
  • 1982—Social Worker of the Year—National Association of Black Social Workers
  • 1974—Listed in Personalities of the West Black Americans Award 

Selected Educational Awards:

  • 1989-1994—Fulbright Scholar USSR, India and Ghana
  • 1998—Baccalaureate Program Directors—International Association Social Work Research, National Institute on Mental Health Summer. Intensive Faculty Development Program—Cornell University.
  • 1980-1979—NIMH Stipend for Doctoral Studies, University of Texas at Arlington
  • 1974-1972—Recipient of NICHD Stipend for Doctoral Education at University of Southern California
  • 1968-1970—Recipient of State of Nevada Graduate Stipend for Master's Education, San Diego State University

Significant Publications 

  • Langston, E. (2006). "And still I rise: My personal journey in higher education". In H. F. O. Vakalahi, S. H. Starks and C. O. Hendricks (Eds.) Women of Color as Social Work Educators: Strengths and Survival. Council on Social Work Education: Alexandria, Virginia.
  • Langston, Esther. (1982). “Access and Utilization for Social Services: Multi-Purpose Senior Center and Legal Services,” in E. Percil Stanford, Ed., Trends and Status of Minority Aging, San Diego California Campanile Press.
  • Langston, Esther. (1982) “Models for Linking Informal and Formal Support Systems,” in E. Percil Stanford, Ed., Trends and Status of Minority Aging, San Diego, California Campanile Press.
  • Langston, Esther. (1980) "Policy Impact on Training,” in E. Percil Stanford, Ed., Research and the Minority Aged, San Diego, California Campanile Press.
  • Langston, Esther. (1980) “Kith and Kin” Natural Support Systems for the Black Aged: Policy and Service Implications in E. Percil Stanford, Ed., Ratifications of Minority Aged Issues for the 80's, San Diego, California Campanile Press.
  • Langston, Esther. (1980) Annotated Bibliography and Teaching Guide on Black Aging in a Manual to Facilitate the Infusion of Ethnic Minority Aging Content into the Base of Social Work Education Curriculum, Dr. Richard Greene and Dr. E. Percil Stanford, New York:  Council on Social Work Education.
  • Langston, Esther. (1980) “The Dual Perspective: Educating for Practice with the Minority Aging,” in A Manual to Facilitate the Infusion of Ethnic Minority Aging Content into the Base of Social Work Education Curriculum, New York:  Council on Social Work Education.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.