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Black Greek-letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century

Our Fight Has Just Begun

Gregory Parks

Publication Year: 2008

During the twentieth century, black Greek-Letter organizations (BGLOs) united college students dedicated to excellence, fostered kinship, and uplifted African Americans. Members of these organizations include remarkable and influential individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, novelist Toni Morrison, and Wall Street pioneer Reginald F. Lewis. Despite the profound influence of these groups, many now question the continuing relevance of BGLOs, arguing that their golden age has passed. Partly because of their perceived link to hip-hop culture, black fraternities and sororities have been unfairly reduced to a media stereotype—a world of hazing without any real substance. The general public knows very little about BGLOs, and surprisingly the members themselves often do not have a thorough understanding of their history and culture or of the issues currently facing their organizations. To foster a greater engagement with the history and contributions of BGLOs, Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun brings together an impressive group of authors to explore the contributions and continuing possibilities of BGLOs and their members. Editor Gregory S. Parks and the contributing authors provide historical context for the development of BGLOs, exploring their service activities as well as their relationships with other prominent African American institutions. The book examines BGLOs’ responses to a number of contemporary issues, including non-black membership, homosexuality within BGLOs, and the perception of BGLOs as educated gangs. As illustrated by the organized response of BGLO members to the racial injustice they observed in Jena, Louisiana, these organizations still have a vital mission. Both internally and externally, BGLOs struggle to forge a relevant identity for the new century. Internally, these groups wrestle with many issues, including hazing, homophobia, petty intergroup competition, and the difficulty of bridging the divide between college and alumni members. Externally, BGLOs face the challenge of rededicating themselves to their communities and leading an aggressive campaign against modern forms of racism, sexism, and other types of fear-driven behavior. By embracing the history of these organizations and exploring their continuing viability and relevance, Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century demonstrates that BGLOs can create a positive and enduring future and that their most important work lies ahead.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

If you were to call the roll of prominent African American people, the prevalence of sorority or fraternity affiliations would underscore the importance of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) in African American life. The father of African American intellectuals, W. E. B. DuBois, was...

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pp. xv-xvi

The task of researching and writing about black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) is a difficult one that is as much political as it is scholarly. BGLO leaders at every level, as well as rank-and-file members, have a vested interest in making sure that their organizations are represented in the...

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pp. xvii-xviii

First and foremost, all praises are due to the Creator. Thank you to my parents, sisters, and other relatives who provided tremendous support throughout this project. Thanks to Jen for consistently being there with support, encouragement, and advice. My Alpha brothers have also been...

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pp. 1-16

Here we are, approximately 100 years from the time black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) began. During much of the twentieth century, these groups loomed large and cast a long shadow across the American landscape. They brought together a cadre of men and women...

Part I

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pp. 17-18

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1 The First and Finest

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pp. 19-40

In creating a fraternity at a starkly white Ivy League university (Cornell), Alpha Phi Alpha’s founders (affectionately known as the Jewels) were part of a black intelligentsia that created opportunities for black people in the United States. Established in 1906 as the first incorporated...

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2 The Vision of Virtuous Women

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pp. 41-66

This chapter traces the lives of the founders, original members, and incorporators of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority: the twenty “Pearls.” The sorority brought together like-minded women from disparate paths to celebrate scholarship and provide dedicated “service to all mankind.” On January...

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3 The Last Shall Be First

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pp. 67-74

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. has the distinction of being the first black fraternity founded at a historically black college. Within its ranks are some of the most highly regarded men in the fields of education, science, medicine, music, architecture, and civil rights. The men...

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4 Women of Vision, Catalysts for Change

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pp. 75-94

This chapter traces the lives of the twenty-two founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. In 1913, these twenty-two Howard University students embarked on a journey that forever changed the trajectory of the black sorority movement. Together, they formed an organization dedicated...

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5 Constitutionally Bound

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pp. 95-114

Of all the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations,1 only two can claim an authentic brother-sister association: Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. Seven years after the founding of Phi Beta Sigma, its sister sorority was organized and set...

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6 The Pride of All Our Hearts

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pp. 115-124

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. was founded on the campus of Indiana University on January 5, 1911. In describing the early years of the fraternity, its official history book asserts,...

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7 Seven Schoolteachers Challenge the Klan

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pp. 125-140

In the 1920s, African Americans found themselves the targets of widespread racial bigotry. Only a few years earlier, in 1918, scholar-activist W. E. B. DuBois, editor of the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, had urged blacks to “close ranks” and, at least for the time being, support the...

Part II

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pp. 141-142

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8 A Narrative Critique of Black Greek-Letter Organizations and Social Action

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pp. 143-168

Despite the varying colors, hailing calls, founding dates, and names, many things link black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). Beyond the aesthetic or descriptive elements on which their petty rivalries are based, there is a prevailing commitment to racial uplift embodied....

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9 Black Feminist Thought in Black Sororities

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pp. 169-186

To many people, the idea of an essay on black feminist thought in black sororities is problematic. Sororities have a reputation—not entirely deserved—for being conservative organizations that engage chiefly in social activities. Many African American women, many of whom belong or belonged to historically black sororities, refuse to identify as...

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10 Giving and Getting

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pp. 187-210

African American giving is rooted in efforts to overcome oppression. The history of black philanthropy shows that those who gave did so to help others in the community. In response to pleas by influential community members, African Americans gave to causes that made....

Part III

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pp. 211-212

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11 Strategic Essentialism and Black Greek Identity in the Postmodern Era

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pp. 213-232

An organization is essentially a reflection of its members’ needs at a specific historical moment. Human needs in both the modern and postmodern eras have included a sense of belonging, self-validation, and space for self-actualization. Organizational membership facilitates...

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12 “I’ve Got All My Sisters with Me”

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pp. 233-250

This chapter explores the history and themes of black women’s organizations, in particular, social and civic organizations. Historically, the ability of black women to engage in social and civic activism has been hampered by their exclusion from those organizations founded or dominated...

Part IV

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pp. 251-252

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13 Sisterhood beyond the Ivory Tower

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pp. 253-272

Black sorority members share an understanding that membership is something one grows in to, not out of. Most of the active members of black sororities are in graduate chapters, not undergraduate...

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14 Exploring Black Greek-Letter Organizations through a Positive Organizing Lens

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pp. 273-288

From their inception, black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) have provided a forum for African Americans to fulfill their personal need for affiliation and belongingness, to develop leadership abilities, and to collectively engage in social action for the betterment of the black...

Part V

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pp. 289-290

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15 Not on My Line

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pp. 291-312

No issue is more controversial or taboo in black fraternities than male homosexuality. As John, a third-year brother and business major, remarked, “That shit is just wrong, you know. You can’t bring that shit anywhere near us. No, no, no, no.” For John and the other brothers we...

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16 “I Did It for the Brotherhood”

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pp. 313-344

In May 1904, Philadelphia bore witness to the birth of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the first black Greek-letter organization (BGLO). Since their genesis a century ago, BGLOs have based their ideals on a synthesis of different organizational models and traditions. BGLOs incorporate...

Part VI

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pp. 345-346

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17 Eating Disorders within African American Sororities

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pp. 347-364

In mainstream American society, female beauty or attractiveness is typically defined by thinness.1 For example, studies indicate that the body sizes of winners of the Miss America pageants and of Playboy centerfolds have been steadily decreasing over the...

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18 Modern Fraternities, Ancient Origins

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pp. 365-384

There has always been a certain tendency in modern Western culture to disparage and dismiss the values and customs of the past; to view with condescension and scorn the lifeways, practices, and cultural perspectives of ancient and traditional peoples. This attitude of derision...

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19 “ ’Cuz I’m Young and I’m Black and My Hat’s Real Low?”

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pp. 385-418

On a spring day in 2006, I was walking across the campus of the University of Virginia on my way to a regular meeting with a friend of mine, a young African American professor. Our weekly conversations generally ran the gamut from critical theory to the iconography of Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, from Africana philosophy to campus racism, from our take...

Part VII

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pp. 419-420

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20 Black and White Greeks

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pp. 421-436

Although the histories and traditions of black and white Greek-letter organizations are distinct, these organizations are also similar. Undergraduate Greek-letter groups, whether historically black or white, have enough in common that the suggestion that the two systems work together is not...

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21 Advising Black Greek-Letter Organizations

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pp. 437-458

The saga of the American college fraternity and sorority is replete with triumph and tragedy. It is one that speaks of the exuberance of youth and their desire for meaningful relationships. Moreover, the saga speaks of the human need to care for others and the reciprocal need to feel...

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pp. 459-460

The recent mobilization of thousands of African Americans to protest the unequal treatment of six black teens in Jena, Louisiana, illustrates the importance of black Greek-letter organizations...


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pp. 461-464


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pp. 465-490


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pp. A-K

E-ISBN-13: 9780813172958
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124919

Page Count: 508
Publication Year: 2008