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African American Fraternities and Sororities

The Legacy and the Vision

Tamara Brown

Publication Year: 2005

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Copyright page

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pp. iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-7

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...

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1 Pledged to Remember: Africa in the Life and Lore of Black Greek-Letter Organizations

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pp. 11-36

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...

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2 The Origin and Evolution of College Fraternities and Sororities

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pp. 37-66

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...

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3 Black Fraternal and Benevolent Societies in Nineteenth-Century America

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pp. 67-94

According to Monroe Work, editor of The 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...

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4 The Grand Boule at the Dawn of a New Century: Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity

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pp. 95-136

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...

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5 Education, Racial Uplift, and the Rise of the Greek-Letter Tradition: The African American Quest for Status in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 137-180

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...

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6 In the Beginning: The Early History of the Divine Nine

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pp. 181-210

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...

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7 Lobbying Congress for Civil Rights: The American Council on Human Rights, 1948–1963

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pp. 211-229

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...

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8 Sister Acts: Resistance in Sweetheart and Little Sister Programs

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pp. 233-268

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...

Photo insert

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9 The Body Art of Brotherhood

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pp. 269-294

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...

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10 Calls: An Inquiry into Their Origin, Meaning, and Function

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pp. 295-314

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...

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11 Variegated Roots: The Foundations of Stepping

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pp. 315-340

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...

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12 Sisterly Bonds: African American Sororities Rising to Overcome Obstacles

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pp. 341-359

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...

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13 Racism, Sexism, and Aggression: A Study of Black and White Fraternities

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pp. 363-392

A significant factor in the relationship between fraternities and rape is alcohol consumption. Large-scale studies of white Greek and non-Greek men and women on college campuses indicate that white Greek men drink significantly more than any other group, white Greek women drink more than white non-Greek women, and white non-Greek men and white Greek women consume similar levels...

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14 How Black Greek-Letter Organization Membership Affects College Adjustment and Undergraduate Outcomes

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pp. 393-416

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...

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15 The Empty Space of African American Sorority Representation: Spike Lee’s School Daze

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pp. 417-436

Director Spike Lee established himself as a popular auteur and cultural icon in 1986 with the release of his film She’s Gotta Have It. Lee thus has a great deal of cinematic credibility in the imaging of African American life. His 1988 film School Daze is the only major motion picture in which black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) are the central subject. The film thus operates almost entirely...

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16 "In the Fell Clutch of Circumstance": Pledging and the Black Greek Experience

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pp. 437-464

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...

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Future Directions

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pp. 465-470

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...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 471-484


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pp. 485-488


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pp. 489-496

E-ISBN-13: 9780813172033
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123448

Page Count: 512
Publication Year: 2005