There are many historically Black fraternal organizations that have highly esteemed members across the country. There’s Congressman John Lewis, a member of Phi Beta Sigma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Phylicia Rashad, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and so many more great people.
Here are a few things you may not know about the history of black Greek letter organizations:
1.) The first and oldest successful African-American collegiate fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, was formally established as a fraternity at Cornell University in 1906.
2.) Black fraternities and sororities were based on existing fraternities and sororities, but cultural additions were made including calls, open hand signs, and step shows. While these organizations are social in nature, many African-American fraternal organizations were formed with an emphasis on public service and civil rights.
3.) The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) is a collaborative organization of nine historically African American, international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities. The nine NPHC organizations are sometimes collectively referred to as the “Divine Nine”.
4.) The NPHC was formed as a permanent organization on May 10, 1930 on the campus of Howard University, in Washington, D.C. with Matthew W. Bullock as the active Chairman and B. Beatrix Scott as Vice-Chairman. NPHC was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois in 1937. The National Pan-Hellenic Council was established in an age when racial segregation and disenfranchisement plagued African Americans, the rise of each of the black fraternities and sororities that make up the NPHC bore witness to the fact that despite hardships African Americans refused to accede to a status of inferiority.
5.) The founding members of the NPHC were Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta. The council’s membership expanded as Alpha Phi Alpha (1931), Phi Beta Sigma (1931), Sigma Gamma Rho (1937), and Iota Phi Theta (1997) joined this coalition of Black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs).
6.) As commonly misconceived, neither the NPHC, nor its member national or chapter organizations discriminate on the basis of race or religion. It is usually required by university policies that no organization discriminates on the basis of race or religion.
7.) A historically black fraternity voted to induct former President Bill Clinton as an honorary member. Phi Beta Sigma voted Clinton in as the first U.S. president to be inducted into a historically black fraternity. Stevie Wonder, Al Roker, the Rev. Al Sharpton and jazz musician Ramsey Lewis are also honorary members of Phi Beta Sigma.
8.) One of the first acts by the newly established Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was to participate in a 1913 Washington, D.C., suffrage march. The 22 founders of Delta Sigma Theta would face racism from white suffragettes who required the sorority members to assemble in a space reserved for blacks. The Deltas, though, refused to march in the back of the parade.
9.) In the 1920s, Alpha man Thurgood Marshall, the future associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Omega man Langston Hughes, the brilliant American writer, were great friends at Lincoln University. Marshall was known to participate in pranks against other fraternities, yet it was a prank gone wrong that got him expelled. It was only with the help of Hughes, who came up with the idea of having Marshall and his cohorts write a confession letter, that Marshall was readmitted.
10.) In 1972, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority purchased the home of late Alpha Phi Alpha member Martin Luther King Jr., and donated it to his wife, Alpha Kappa Alpha soror Coretta Scott King. At the time, the $20,000 donation was the largest by an African-American organization. The money was used to refurbish the home, which was still occupied by the King family.