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African American Fraternities and Sororities

African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision

Tamara L. Brown
Gregory S. Parks
Clarenda M. Phillips
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 2
Pages: 552
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  • Book Info
    African American Fraternities and Sororities
    Book Description:

    The first African American fraternities and sororities were established at the turn of the twentieth century to encourage leadership, racial pride, and academic excellence among black college students confronting the legacy of slavery and the indignities of Jim Crow segregation. With a strong presence that endures on today's campuses, African American fraternities and sororities claim legendary artists, politicians, theologians, inventors, intellectuals, educators, civil rights leaders, and athletes in their ranks.

    In this second edition of African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision, editors Tamara L. Brown, Gregory S. Parks, and Clarenda M. Phillips have added new chapters that address issues such as the role of Christian values in black Greek-letter organizations and the persistence of hazing. Offering an overview of the historical, cultural, political, and social circumstances that have shaped these groups, African American Fraternities and Sororities explores the profound contributions that black Greek-letter organizations and their members have made to America.

    New in the second edition:• Examination of the relationship between Christian values and organizational identity• Investigation of hazing rituals• Survey of academic performance in black Greek-letter organizations• Discourse on notions of masculinity in black Greek-letter organizations• Accounts of the professional lives of black Greek luminaries

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3581-6
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction. Black Greek-Letter Organization Scholarship: A Look Backward, a Look Forward
    (pp. 1-8)
    Tamara L. Brown, Gregory S. Parks and Clarenda M. Phillips

    Scholarship on black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs), at least in any meaningful or public sense, is still new. Walter Kimbrough’sBlack Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities(2003) and Ricky Jones’sBlack Haze: Violence and Manhood in Black Greek-Letter Fraternities(2004) were among the first major contributions. Kimbrough’s work provided a useful and well-researched primer on BGLO life, while Jones’s book provided the first incisive analysis of the greatest challenge facing BGLOs—hazing. In 2005 we published our first edition ofAfrican American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Visionin an attempt to...

  5. 1 Pledged to Remember: Africa in the Life and Lore of Black Greek-Letter Organizations
    (pp. 9-32)
    Gloria Harper Dickinson

    This chapter elucidates the myriad ways “Africa” has been preserved and perpetuated in the rituals, public accounts, and service projects of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). Specifically, it explores three aspects of African connectivity to black sorority and fraternity life: conscious and unconscious African cultural continuities, deliberate emulations of African culture, and the presence of these organizations on the African continent. The fact that these patterns can be traced from the inception of black sororities and fraternities to the present underscores the contention that although the termAfrocentricwas not in vogue in 1906, when the first BGLO was founded, the...

  6. 2 The Origin and Evolution of College Fraternities and Sororities
    (pp. 33-62)
    Craig L. Torbenson

    On Thursday, the 5th of December in the year of our Lord God one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six and the first of the Commonwealth, a happy spirit and resolution of attaining the important ends of Society entering the minds of John Heath, Thomas Smith, Richard Booker, Armistead Smith, and John Jones, and afterwards seconded by others, prevailed, and was accordingly ratified. And for the better establishment and sanctitude of our unanimity, a square silver medal was agreed on and instituted, engraved on the one side with SP, the initials of the Latin Societas Philosophiae, and on the other, agreeable...

  7. 3 Faith and Fraternalism: A History
    (pp. 63-74)
    Jessica Harris and Said Sewell

    Like most American institutions, black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) did not come into existence in a vacuum. As BGLOs developed at the turn of the twentieth century, numerous elements converged to influence their identity and organizational arrangement. This chapter outlines some of the factors that contributed to these organizations’ religious identity. We contend that the relationship between BGLOs and Christianity is evinced in three distinct ways. First, the church was the cornerstone of the black community and likely provided some guiding principles for BGLO founders, most if not all of whom were Christian.¹ Second, Christianity provided a philosophical basis for the...

  8. 4 Black Fraternal and Benevolent Societies in Nineteenth-Century America
    (pp. 75-100)
    Anne S. Butler

    According to Monroe Work, editor ofThe Negro Year Book,black fraternal groups can be divided into two classes: benevolent societies and old-line, secret societies such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, and Elks.¹ Clearly delineating between the two classes is difficult, because both engaged in similar activities. However, benevolent societies (sometimes called benefit societies) offered open and mixed-gender memberships, had no secret rituals, and organized primarily to provide mutual aid and uplift activities at the community level. Along with fraternal groups, benevolent societies often provided substantial financial aid to members. In contrast, fraternal orders generally had restrictive memberships (male only)...

  9. 5 The Grand Boulé at the Dawn of a New Century: Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity
    (pp. 101-140)
    William H. Harris

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, the nation that had developed from the British colonies on the North American shores of the Atlantic Ocean had expanded to occupy the length and breadth of the continent. Indeed, the United States of America now spanned from sea to shining sea. On the Atlantic were metropolises such as Boston and New York City, while Los Angeles and San Francisco lay on the shores of the Pacific. In between, the great cities of Chicago and St. Louis, the luscious plains, the southern farmlands, and the vastness of Texas and the Southwest contributed to...

  10. 6 Education, Racial Uplift, and the Rise of the Greek-Letter Tradition: The African American Quest for Status in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 141-182)
    Michael H. Washington and Cheryl L. Nuñez

    In 1903, on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, a black-sponsored Greek-letter organization came briefly into being, with the purpose of strengthening the African American voice at the university and in the city. Alpha Kappa Nu is the first recorded collegiate black Greek-letter organization (BGLO) in the history of the United States. Very little is known about this early club, and there is no record of its having survived. Similarly, two years later, a second black Greek-letter fraternity, Gamma Phi, was founded on the campus of Wilberforce University in Ohio. Although it continued for nearly three decades, during which...

  11. 7 In the Beginning: The Early History of the Divine Nine
    (pp. 183-212)
    André McKenzie

    Greek-letter organizations have been part of the history of American colleges and universities since the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 at William and Mary College.¹ By 1850, national fraternity chapters were in existence at Amherst, Bowdoin, Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Western Reserve, and Miami of Ohio.² In 1851, at Wesleyan Female College, the first secret sister hood for college women was established.³ By 1910, there were thirty-two college fraternities, with 1,068 active chapters.⁴

    For black students attending the institutions where these organizations were present, invitations to join were not extended. Due to the pronounced racial segregation that was...

  12. 8 Lobbying Congress for Civil Rights: The American Council on Human Rights, 1948–1963
    (pp. 213-232)
    Robert L. Harris Jr.

    From December 27 to 31, 1952, six of the eight major black fraternities and sororities in the United States held an unprecedented joint meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, with 4,000 delegates in attendance. Members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho, and Zeta Phi Beta sororities and Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities scheduled their national conventions to take place at the same time. The purpose of the joint meeting was to (1) stimulate interest among their members for active support of the American Council on Human Rights (ACHR) programs, (2) demonstrate to the world the...

  13. 9 Academic Achievement of African American Fraternities and Sororities
    (pp. 233-248)
    Crystal Renée Chambers, MaryBeth Walpole and James Coaxum III

    In the fall of 1905, the six African American students who had begun attending Cornell University the previous year failed to return. Unlike other student organizations and secret societies of the times, the original black Greek entity, Alpha Phi Alpha, was founded in 1906 for the purpose of addressing what was essentially an administrative problem: student retention. Realizing that their classmates had left the university, the founders of Alpha Phi Alpha, along with other concerned students, created a group to support their peers academically and socially.¹ The goal was that no man be left behind.

    By improving students’ academic and...

  14. 10 Lucy Diggs Slowe: Not a Matron but an Administrator
    (pp. 249-266)
    Lisa Rasheed

    From 1922 to 1937, Lucy Diggs Slowe was the dean of women at Howard University. In addition to her personal constitution, Slowe developed her own style, ideas, and positions that pertained to leadership and professionalization in that capacity. That style was incubated in the urban centers of Baltimore and Washington, nurtured in the academies of Howard and Columbia Universities, perfected in practice as a public school educator, challenged through various contentions about her professional role and duties, and manifested in the legacy she left for others.¹ To better understand her legacy, it is important to examine her beginnings and the...

  15. 11 A Social History of Everyday Practice: Sadie T. M. Alexander and the Incorporation of Black Women into the American Legal Profession, 1925–1960
    (pp. 267-288)
    Kenneth W. Mack

    In April 1939, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, Pennsylvania’s first black female lawyer (and, at the time, its only one) began corresponding with several dozen of her counterparts practicing law in the United States. After slightly more than a decade of practice in Philadelphia, Alexander was on her way to becoming one of the most noteworthy women lawyers of her era. Having obtained her BS (1918), MS (1919), PhD (economics, 1921), and JD (1927) from the University of Pennsylvania,¹ she was already one of the most highly educated women of her time and one of the relatively few to establish a...

  16. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  17. 12 Sister Acts: Resistance in Sweetheart and Little Sister Programs
    (pp. 289-306)
    Mindy Stombler and Irene Padavic

    Fraternity “sweetheart” and “little sister” programs comprise large groups of women who affiliate with—but do not join—a given fraternity. In fact, these organizations are usually not sanctioned by national umbrella associations. Sweethearts and little sisters are responsible for tasks such as serving as hostesses at fraternity parties, fulfilling brothers’ community service obligations, acting as cheerleaders for intramural sports, and fund-raising. Such organizations associated with African American fraternities are considered “non-Greek” and have names that reflect the individual fraternities, such as Alpha Angels, Kappa Sweethearts, Que Pearls, Sigma Doves, and Iota Sweethearts. For purposes of this chapter, we use...

  18. 13 The Body Art of Brotherhood
    (pp. 307-330)
    Sandra Mizumoto Posey

    Branding is by no means new to the cultural landscape of the United States. It has been used to mark the ownership of slaves as well as cattle, and this is the iconography to which most people first turn when attempting to understand the practice. Branding in fraternal organizations in general, and in black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) in particular, has a long and living tradition, al though most people are probably unaware of it. Thus, its increasing presence in the public eye makes it seem like a new phenomenon, and it is indeed “some thing new to look at.” Although...

  19. 14 Calls: An Inquiry into Their Origin, Meaning, and Function
    (pp. 331-350)
    Marcella L. McCoy

    It is three o’clock on a Friday afternoon on the campus of Morgan State University in the late 1980s. Most classes have already been dismissed. The weather is warm, and members of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) are assembled amidst a large crowd of other students continually vying for spots that will provide a good view. Students dressed in T-shirts and jackets in color combinations of black and gold, pink and green, purple and gold, red and white, blue and white, blue and gold, and brown and gold await their entry onto the stepping platform. After a brief routine of calling...

  20. 15 Variegated Roots: The Foundations of Stepping
    (pp. 351-376)
    Carol D. Branch

    Cars prowl through the parking lot hoping to pounce on the closest open slot. Streams of young women, men, and families head toward the event arena. Along the way, verbal calls float in the air, the final run-through of an unseen team is heard, and the eyes are bombarded with waves of blue, red, black, pink, brown, and purple. The air is filled with a sense of anticipation about the coming hours. It is springtime, and for many black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs), that means one thing: the Long Beach Step Show.

    It is an hour before showtime on the campus...

  21. 16 What a Man: The Relationship between Black Fraternity Stereotypes and Black Sorority Mate Selection
    (pp. 377-394)
    Marcia D. Hernandez, Anita McDaniel, LaVerne Gyant and Tina Fletcher

    The black Greek-letter organization (BGLO) movement grew rapidly throughout the twentieth century, and these groups remain important for black cultural, political, and social life. Since their beginning, BGLOs have been defined by a tripartite identity. At the individual level, the organizations encourage members to excel, largely with respect to high academic achievement.¹ At the interpersonal level, BGLOs promote the development and maintenance of fictive kinship ties between individuals not related by blood or marriage.² Collectively, BGLOs share a similar mission of promoting racial equality and challenging discrimination via community service, civic action, philanthropy, and the shaping of public policy.³ In...

  22. 17 Racism, Sexism, and Aggression: A Study of Black and White Fraternities
    (pp. 395-424)
    Tyra Black, Joanne Belknap and Jennifer Ginsburg

    Rape has been cited as the most prevalent serious crime on college campuses.¹ Numerous studies report that college women are at significant risk of being raped,² and in a study of college men, one third of those questioned admitted that they would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it.³ In the past two decades, a considerable amount of research has documented the problem of rape in fraternities.⁴ This chapter summarizes that research, which has been conducted almost exclusively within the white Greek system.⁵ We then report the findings of our study on fraternities and aggression,...

  23. 18 The Empty Space of African American Sorority Representation: Spike Lee’s School Daze
    (pp. 425-444)
    Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

    Director Spike Lee established himself as a popular auteur and cultural icon in 1986 with the release of his filmShe’s Gotta Have It.Lee thus has a great deal of cinematic credibility in the imaging of African American life. His 1988 filmSchool Dazeis the only major motion picture in which black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) are the central subject. The film thus operates almost entirely alone in representing African American college students and their Greek-letter organizations.¹ The film is also the subject of a book by Lee andVillage Voicewriter Lisa Jones, titledUplift the Race: The...

  24. 19 “Bloody, but Unbowed”: Making Meaning of “Invictus” and “If—” for the Shaping of a Collective Black Greek Identity
    (pp. 445-476)
    Rashawn Ray, Danielle Heard and Ted Ingram

    “Out of the night that covers me” and “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs” are two memorable strings of words that many members of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) recall from their initiation processes.¹ “Invictus,” written by William Ernest Henley, and “If—,” written by Rudyard Kipling, have become staples of black Greek life. Reciting these poems expeditiously during a probate, or “come out” show, often raises the stock of an initiation line. Some members can actually recite stanzas from these poems more quickly and efficiently than they can the founders of their organizations....

  25. 20 The Continuing Presence of Hazing during the Fraternity Membership Intake Process Post 1990
    (pp. 477-496)
    Jerryl Briggs

    Some form of hazing has existed in black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) for decades, and even 100 years after their creation, hazing is more prevalent than ever.¹ Hazing is often referred to as the biggest problem facing these organizations because their extinction is looming if this practice persists. Wrongful-death lawsuits against BGLOs have resulted in large settlements: a $2.25 million judgment against Kappa Alpha Psi in 1997 for the death of Michael Davis, a $500,000 judgment against Alpha Phi Alpha for the death of Joel Harris in 1990, and the $100 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed against Alpha Kappa Alpha for the...

  26. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 497-510)
  27. List of Contributors
    (pp. 511-514)
  28. Index
    (pp. 515-528)