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Alpha Phi Alpha

Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, The Demands of Transcendence

Gregory S. Parks
Stefan M. Bradley
Foreword by Michael Alexander Blake
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Alpha Phi Alpha
    Book Description:

    On December 4, 1906, on Cornell University's campus, seven black men founded one of the greatest and most enduring organizations in American history. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. has brought together and shaped such esteemed men as Martin Luther King Jr., Cornel West, Thurgood Marshall, Wes Moore, W. E. B. DuBois, Roland Martin, and Paul Robeson. "Born in the shadow of slavery and on the lap of disenfranchisement," Alpha Phi Alpha -- like other black Greek-letter organizations -- was founded to instill a spirit of high academic achievement and intellectualism, foster meaningful and lifelong ties, and racially uplift those brothers who would be initiated into its ranks.

    In Alpha Phi Alpha, Gregory S. Parks, Stefan M. Bradley, and other contributing authors analyze the fraternity and its members' fidelity to the founding precepts set forth in 1906. They discuss the identity established by the fraternity at its inception, the challenges of protecting the image and brand, and how the organization can identify and train future Alpha men to uphold the standards of an outstanding African American fraternity. Drawing on organizational identity theory and a diverse array of methodologies, the authors raise and answer questions that are relevant not only to Alpha Phi Alpha but to all black Greek-letter organizations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3457-4
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editors’ Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Michael Alexander Blake

    When I was asked to write the foreword for this book dealing with the organizational identity of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I was humbled and reflective. I thought about my time and leadership within the fraternity and my similar experiences in state and federal government. These experiences provided me with the opportunity to evaluate different ways of organizing people while also creating an effective organization to meet the needs of the organization’s members and society at large. As I type these words, however, I realize that too often we, as leaders, speak of our hopes and desires for the...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated—the sole intercollegiate black Greek-letter organization (BGLO) to be founded at an Ivy League institution—had its beginnings at the turn of the twentieth century at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. At the nadir of American race relations and just a year after the Niagara Conference (the precursor to the NAACP), seven young black men sought to build a brotherhood. On Tuesday, December 4, 1906, they did just that—they founded a fraternity predicated on personal excellence, largely demonstrated by high academic achievement; the development and maintenance of meaningful fictive kinship ties; and engagement...

  6. Part 1. Organizational Identity:: Framework, Construction, and Projection

    • 1 What We Mean by Organizational Identity
      (pp. 9-22)
      Y. Sekou Bermiss

      An organization’s identity is defined as the set of characteristics that are central, distinctive, and enduring to its members.¹ The construct traces its roots to social psychologists John Turner and Henri Tajfel, whose work on group dynamics in the late 1970s and 1980s became the cornerstone of social identity theory.² One of the critical insights from Turner and Tajfel’s work is the suggestion that an individual’s personal identity often extends to others within a social context, thus shifting that individual’s perception of self as an individual to a perception of self as an example of a social category.³ This intertwining...

    • 2 Defining the “Alpha” Identity
      (pp. 23-50)
      Felix L. Armfield, Stefan M. Bradley, Kenneth I. Clarke Sr., Gregory S. Parks and Jeremy M. Harp

      What is Alpha? And inasmuch as Alpha the organization is defined by the sum total of its membership, what isanAlpha? The wordalphais defined as the beginning, the first.¹ It is also the highest ranked or most dominant individual of one’s sex—for example, the alpha male.² Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson’s work on alpha males in the corporate setting is instructive in this regard. They analyzed a host of alpha male attributes and evaluated the value and risk of those attributes to an organization. They found that alpha males are self-confident and opinionated, they act decisively...

    • 3 The Complexities of Alpha Phi Alpha’s Contemporary Image Projection
      (pp. 51-64)
      Gregory S. Parks and Joanna S. Hunter

      As delineated in the first two chapters of this volume, organizations—like people—have identities. These identities are fashioned from a host of elements and may be understood via a variety of methodologies. Fraternal organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha are no exception. The ritual, songs, poems, aims, motto, mission statement, history, and lived and shared experiences of members help elucidate what that identity is. The authors of chapter 2 cast a retrospective eye on the constituent features the Jewels expressly and implicitly relied on to create Alpha. But a prospective look, focusing on the images and iconography Alpha has...

  7. Part 2. Men Who Shaped the Identity

    • 4 Progenitors of Progress: A Brief History of the Jewels of Alpha Phi Alpha
      (pp. 67-92)
      Stefan M. Bradley

      Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., ranks among the most enduring and influential black organizations in the nation and perhaps the world. What started as a study group transformed into an entity that has provided leadership on issues of education, politics, and the well-being of African Americans. The vision for such an entity began with the founders of the fraternity. The Jewels (a title that members bestowed on the founders) of Alpha were ambitious college men who not only excelled in their professional lives but also became servants of larger black America.¹

      To fully understand the importance of Alpha Phi Alpha,...

    • 5 Those Who Carried the Torch: The General Presidents of Alpha Phi Alpha
      (pp. 93-186)
      André McKenzie

      In providing a thorough analysis of an organization’s identity, an examination of its leadership is critical. This chapter examines the past general presidents of Alpha Phi Alpha and the role they played in shaping and defining the Alpha identity. From Moses A. Morrison, elected in 1908, to Darryl R. Matthews Sr., whose term in office ended 100 years after Morrison’s election, thirty-two men have carried the presidential torch of Alpha.¹ Y. Sekou Bermiss notes in chapter 1 that “an organization’s identity is defined as the set of characteristics that are central, distinctive, and enduring to its members.” As such, it...

  8. Part 3. Internal Mechanisms that Define the Identity

    • 6 The Quest for Excellence: Reviewing Alpha’s Legacy of Academic Achievement
      (pp. 189-206)
      Ralph E. Johnson, Crystal Chambers and MaryBeth Walpole

      Since its inception in 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity has made scholarship and high academic performance one of its cornerstones.¹ In fact, the men who would become the fraternity’s founders first began meeting casually to support and encourage one another in their pursuit of an Ivy League education. Since then, academic excellence and exemplary scholarship have been intentional and deliberate tenets of the fraternity, as evidenced by the words of Jewel Henry Arthur Callis: “Alpha Phi Alpha was born in the shadows of slavery, on the lap of disenfranchisement. We proposed to foster scholarship and excellence among students; to bring...

    • 7 “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” Authenticating the Racial, Religious, and Masculine Dimensions of Brotherhood within Alpha Phi Alpha
      (pp. 207-230)
      Rashawn Ray and Kevin Walter Spragling

      Despite the interest in Greek life,¹ there is still limited knowledge about the experiences and treatment of organizational members who do not fit the traditional norms of the group.² As a result, an assumption is made that these members’ experiences are similar to those of members who do fit the traditional norms. To fill this gap in knowledge, this chapter investigates the experiences of members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., who self-identify as non-Christian, nonblack, or nonheterosexual. This study is not about how nonnormative members interact with nonmembers but about the experiences of nonnormative members within the organization and...

  9. Part 4. External Mechanisms that Define the Identity

    • 8 Alpha Phi Alpha, the Fight for Civil Rights, and the Shaping of Public Policy
      (pp. 233-262)
      Robert E. Weems Jr.

      This chapter examines Alpha Phi Alpha’s involvement in the twentieth-century black freedom struggle. Alpha’s role in this phenomenon consisted of two distinct (and sometimes interconnected) dynamics. First, Alpha Phi Alpha as anorganizationpromoted important civil rights initiatives. The fraternity’s historic “Education for Citizenship” campaign (“A Voteless People Is a Hopeless People”) exemplifies this reality. In addition, Alpha Phi Alpha sought to positively influence public policy as it relates to persons of African descent. Second,individual membersof Alpha Phi Alpha assumed leadership positions in the broad-based struggle for African American freedom, justice, and equality. Such persons included W. E....

    • 9 Setting an Example: The Philanthropic Contributions of Alpha Phi Alpha
      (pp. 263-276)
      Michael J. Myers II and Marybeth Gasman

      When most Americans, regardless of racial background, think about philanthropy, they tend to visualize wealthy white men—the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Fords of the world. Too often, African Americans are seen as the recipients of philanthropy rather than the givers. And in fact, when asked if they are philanthropic, many black people say no, considering their giving to the church and the community as charity or just part of life. Although this perspective is admirable, when the philanthropic efforts of African Americans are not captured by historians, philanthropy scholars, and national surveys, the myth that African Americans are not givers...

  10. Part 5. The Processes that Shape the Identity:: Constraining and Enabling Factors

    • 10 The Harms and Hazards of Hazing: Medical, Sociocultural, and Legal Perspectives
      (pp. 279-312)
      Richard J. Reddick, Kelso Anderson, Terrence L. Frazier and Derrick Jenkins

      Arguably, the most prominent aspect of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) in the past twenty-five years is the harrowing tragedy of hazing incidents that have cost the lives of college students. Since 1989, at least five young men and women have died as a result of hazing gone awry as they attempted to join BGLOs.¹ These deaths, of course, are the pinnacle of the spectacle; in many other cases, new or aspiring members have suffered severe injuries, and journalists have reported beatings that led to hospitalization, critical bruising, broken bones, and even organ failure.² The legacy of BGLOs—one based on...

    • 11 Hazing and Pledging in Alpha Phi Alpha: An Organizational Behavior Perspective
      (pp. 313-350)
      Oscar Holmes IV

      For decades, organizational behavior (OB) scholars have researched issues pertaining to a variety of organizations (e.g., private, for-profit, nonprofit, and governmental agencies). Their research findings have undoubtedly contributed to our knowledge and understanding of the complex dynamics of organizations. However, OB scholars have made few attempts to study the complexities of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). In fact, the chapter by eminent OB scholars Laura Morgan Roberts and Lynn Perry Wooten is one of the only works that deals specifically with BGLOs.¹ Their important contribution connects the positive organizational scholarship movement within management literature with many of the outstanding achievements BGLOs...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 351-356)

    Without question, seven visionary men founded Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity on a set of noble ideals. Over time, scores of men have shepherded the fraternity along a path of accomplishment and contribution to broader society. The sons of Alpha, too, have added greatly to the fraternity’s legacy. The crucial question, however, is not what Alpha was in 1906 or 1956. Rather, the question is, what is Alpha today? Is Alpha on a trajectory consistent with the identity propounded by the Jewels in 1906? Can Alpha adequately answer the challenge of the founders? Are the fraternity and its members too reverent...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 357-358)
  13. Appendix A. Alpha Phi Alpha General Secretaries and Executive Directors
    (pp. 359-359)
  14. Appendix B. Editors in Chief of The Sphinx
    (pp. 360-360)
  15. Appendix C. Prominent Alpha Phi Alpha Members
    (pp. 361-376)
  16. List of Contributors
    (pp. 377-384)
  17. Index
    (pp. 385-394)