Fraternity in the Civil Rights Movement

So I have once more been reading about issues with Greek Life across the country. I have been viewing and reviewing Greek Life positions and taking time to try and discover what the future is for these once grand organizations in our country.

Whats that you say? When have these organizations ever done anything worth while?

Well, we could discuss statistics about North-American Interfraternity Conference, but I personally would prefer to recognize a different part of Greek Life. This part is often not given the appreciation it truly deserves. This blog will go no where near eradicating that, but still has some important points to maintain.

I am of course referring to organizations known as National Pan Hellenic Council Fraternities and Sororities. Just as with any other organization, we can admit these groups have their own issues. As opposed to recruitment, members go through a process called intake. Today, and due to popular media, we generally associate these processes with late nights, early morning, and step shows. That may be involved, but is far from the entire picture.

And so we come to the organizations themselves. The oldest is called Alpha Phi Alpha, founded in 1906 at Cornell University. Oddly enough, Cornell is one of two private universities which fall into the often misunderstood category known as Land Grant Institutions. And in 1890, the same year the second Morrill Act passed which required institutions receiving lang grant funds to either allow Black students or else split the funding with another institution (this was shortly before Plessy V Ferguson declared Separate but Equal), well in that year of 1890, the first Black students appear on the roll of Cornell.

So we come to the first of these organizations and their impact on the Civil rights movement. Alpha Phi Alpha boasts three well recognized names to their rolls: Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and WEB Du Bois. All three are names often noted for their impact on the country, but they are far from the only ones.


We also have Kappa Alpha Psi. The Kappas were founded in 1911 at Indiana University. The organization boasts its own list of prominent names, but you may have to take time searching them. This says nothing about the organization, but perhaps more about your own understanding of history? Those names are Donald Hollowell (best known for his work to desegregate the University of Georgia), William Robert Ming (a member of the Brown v. Board Litigation team), and Percy Sutton (a freedom rider who defended Malcom X in Court as well as the highest-ranking African American elected official in NYC in 1966 as the President of the Manhattan Boroughs).


Omega Psi Phi came next as far as founding dates, founded in 1911 at Howard University. The names that come with this organization may be well known too: Jesse Jackson, Bayard Rustin, and Langston Hughes.


Then we come to Phi Beta Sigma, founded in 1914 also at Howard University. Once more these are names you should but may not recognize: Dr. Huey P Newton (co-founder of the Black Panthers) and A Philip Randolph (organizaed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Poters, first African American Labor Union).

The final Fraternity in the National Pan Hellenic Council is Iota Phi Theta, founded in 1963. The organization, formed by twelve men who would be considered ‘non-traditional’ students came together just three weeks after MLK’s “I Have a Dream” Speech to found this organization in the midst of the Civil Rights movement chaos.

In short, it cannot be denied that Fraternities have profound effects on the country and world. The question I ask is if the current membership realize this and are living up to it? I ask that of my own organization while holding up these shining examples of the legacy that Fraternity must live up to if they wish to survive.



About rigsurfer

A Brother of Delta Upsilon International Fraternity, Inc., Joined in Fall 2010. Completed a B.A. in English at North Carolina State University in 2013 and received a M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration at Texas Tech University in 2015. Passionate about Leadership and Diversity as well as Ducks, Scooby Doo, and reading.
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