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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: 2005
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    African American Fraternities and Sororities
    Book Description:

    African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision explores the rich past and bright future of the nine Black Greek-Letter organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. In the long tradition of African American benevolent and secret societies, intercollegiate African American fraternities and sororities have strong traditions of fostering brotherhood and sisterhood among their members, exerting considerable influence in the African American community, and being on the forefront of civic action, community service, and philanthropy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Arthur Ashe, Carol Moseley Braun, Bill Cosby, Sarah Vaughan, George Washington Carver, Hattie McDaniel, and Bobby Rush are among the many trailblazing members of these organizations. The rolls of African American fraternities and sororities serve as a veritable who's who among African American leadership in the United States and abroad. African American Fraternities and Sororities places the history of these organizations in context, linking them to other movements and organizations that predated them and tying their history to one of the most important eras of United States history -- the Civil Rights struggle. African American Fraternities and Sororities explores various cultural aspects of these organizations such as auxilliary groups, branding, calls, stepping, and the unique role of African American sororities. It also explores such contemporary issues as sexual aggression and alcohol use, college adjustment, and pledging, and provides a critique of Spike Lee's film School Daze, the only major motion picture to portray African American fraternities and sororities as a central theme. The year 2006 will mark the centennial anniversary of the intercollegiate African American fraternity and sorority movement. Yet, to date, little scholarly attention has been paid to these organizations and the men and women who founded and perpetuated them. African American Fraternities and Sororities reveals the vital social and political functions of these organizations and places them within the history of not only the African American community but the nation as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7203-3
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-8)
    Tamara L. Brown

    The year 2006 will mark the centennial anniversary of the intercollegiate black Greek-letter organization (BGLO) movement in the United States. Born at the dawn of the twentieth century, these organizations not only served to solidify bonds among African American college students but also had (and continue to have) a vision and a sense of purpose: leadership training, racial uplift, and high scholasticism. It is no accident that many of the best and brightest African American leaders came from the ranks of these organizations. Dr. Charles Drew (who discovered a way to separate red and white blood cells) and Dr. Mae...


    • 1 Pledged to Remember: Africa in the Life and Lore of Black Greek-Letter Organizations
      (pp. 11-36)
      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...

    • 2 The Origin and Evolution of College Fraternities and Sororities
      (pp. 37-66)
      Craig L. Torbenson

      Thus begin the minutes describing the organization of Phi Beta Kappa, considered the first Greek-letter fraternity in the United States. Today there are more than 200 national fraternity and sorority organizations that are classified as social fraternities, in contrast to professional fraternities, honor societies, and recognition societies that also use Greek letters. This is, however, only part of the story; nearly ninety other national social organizations no longer exist. About 9 percent of these social fraternities and sororities are considered black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). From their inception, most fraternities and sororities had to withstand tremendous pressure for their removal from...

    • 3 Black Fraternal and Benevolent Societies in Nineteenth-Century America
      (pp. 67-94)
      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)...

    • 4 The Grand Boulé at the Dawn of a New Century: Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity
      (pp. 95-136)
      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...

    • 5 Education, Racial Uplift, and the Rise of the Greek-Letter Tradition: The African American Quest for Status in the Early Twentieth Century
      (pp. 137-180)
      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...

    • 6 In the Beginning: The Early History of the Divine Nine
      (pp. 181-210)
      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 sisterhood 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 characteristic...

    • 7 Lobbying Congress for Civil Rights: The American Council on Human Rights, 1948–1963
      (pp. 211-230)
      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...


    • 8 Sister Acts: Resistance in Sweetheart and Little Sister Programs
      (pp. 233-252)
      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...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. 253-268)
    • 9 The Body Art of Brotherhood
      (pp. 269-294)
      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, although 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 “something new to look at.” Although many inside...

    • 10 Calls: An Inquiry into Their Origin, Meaning, and Function
      (pp. 295-314)
      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...

    • 11 Variegated Roots: The Foundations of Stepping
      (pp. 315-340)
      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...

    • 12 Sisterly Bonds: African American Sororities Rising to Overcome Obstacles
      (pp. 341-360)
      Clarenda M. Phillips

      During the first quarter of the twentieth century, African American female college students created their own sororities to survive and thrive in institutions of higher education and the greater U.S. society. Although African American sororities came into existence after white fraternities and sororities and after African American fraternities, to view their formation as a reaction to the existence of these other exclusionary organizations is simplistic and erroneous. Rather, African American sororities emerged out of their members’ desire to have organizations that could effectively meet their needs and advance their agendas.

      African American women’s experiences in the United States led them...


    • 13 Racism, Sexism, and Aggression: A Study of Black and White Fraternities
      (pp. 363-392)
      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,...

    • 14 How Black Greek-Letter Organization Membership Affects College Adjustment and Undergraduate Outcomes
      (pp. 393-416)
      Shaun R. Harper, Lauretta F. Byars and Thomas B. Jelke

      College attendance and degree attainment typically afford young women and men access to professional career opportunities, economic stability, and social networks with educated others. Graduates are more likely than those who do not pursue postsecondary education to assume leadership positions in their communities, the workplace, and professional organizations; this is especially true for advanced degree holders. Conversely, those who decide against college participation or choose to withdraw before graduation typically face economic hardship, limited career advancement, and few societal leadership opportunities. Given this and the opportunity gaps that currently exist among different racial and ethnic groups in the United States,...

    • 15 The Empty Space of African American Sorority Representation: Spike Lee’s School Daze
      (pp. 417-436)
      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...

    • 16 “In the Fell Clutch of Circumstance”: Pledging and the Black Greek Experience
      (pp. 437-464)
      Gregory S. Parks and Tamara L. Brown

      Despite their long history of civic involvement, community service, and philanthropy, what most people know about black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) is limited to two areas: stepping and pledging, particularly those mentally and physically violent aspects of the latter known as hazing. Without question, pledging has become a contentious issue for both BGLO members and nonmembers alike. In this chapter, we set out to shed light on this topic by first tracing the history of pledging in general and within BGLOs in particular. Next, we highlight the long-standing concern about, and opposition to, pledging, particularly its more violent aspects. We then...

    (pp. 465-470)
    Tamara L. Brown, Clarenda M. Phillips and Gregory S. Parks

    Without question, black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) have made substantial contributions to African American history and advancement. Founded upon the principle of racial uplift, BGLOs, for nearly a century, have lent their collective muscle to the fight for economic, educational, and social progress for African Americans in the face of unimaginable racism, discrimination, and oppression. Yet for too long their collective stories have been untold, and their substantial role in the leadership development and high scholasticism of some of this country’s greatest inventors, scientists, and innovators has been unknown. It is our hope that this book, though far from an exhaustive...

    (pp. 471-484)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 485-488)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 489-496)