- Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun
Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun, edited by Gregory S. Parks, is a compilation of works that highlights the history, illuminates significant contributions to social action and philanthropy, critiques social, racial, and stereotypical images and examines current issues and future directions regarding Black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs). Parks states that this book attempts to engage readers including BGLO members, campus administrators, and broader society in “critical BGLO scholarship” (p. 2). He invites a host of scholars to write chapters that are not only timely, but move BGLO discourse to the center of scholarly exchange.
Part I of the book focuses on the historical inception of BGLOs. The first seven chapters provide information about individuals who were instrumental in establishing collegiate BGLOs. Stefan Bradley chronicles the inception of Alphi Phi Alpha, the first incorporated collegiate fraternity for African Americans in chapter 1. Bradley notes that in the midst of the rise of African American intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois (a member), Alpha was founded under the leadership of seven college men whose purpose was racial uplift and creating a support system for African Americans at Cornell University. In chapter 2, Stephanie Evans shares the historical establishment of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in 1908 at Howard University. With its mission of “service to all mankind,” Evans provides a portrait of the 20 women who launched and incorporated the first sorority for African American collegiate women. In the third chapter, Judson L. Jeffries presents the history of Omega Psi Phi, explaining that administrators at Howard University were less than enthused about the prospect of having a black fraternity. Jeffries notes that through perseverance, three students and one faculty member, guided by a motto of “friendship is essential to the soul” wrote the plan for what would become Howard’s first fraternity.
The founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority are the focus of chapter 4. Jessica Harris discusses how its 22 founders endeavored [End Page 137] to create a sorority based upon sisterhood, scholarship and public service. She shares how these women became a force, most notably due to their presence in the women’s suffrage march of 1913. Matthew Hughey draws attention to the founders of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in chapter 5. He notes the significance of these organizations, founded in 1914 and 1920 respectively at Howard, as the first and only constitutionally bound groups among the nine major BGLOs. According to Hughey, the three Sigma founders were concerned with promoting an inclusive community. Instrumental to fostering this goal was the assistance they extended to help five undergraduate women establish Zeta Phi Beta, whose focus was to challenge the burgeoning elitism that they perceived in other sororities and to exemplify “finer womanhood.” In the sixth chapter, Michael Jennings describes the story of Kappa Alpha Psi at Indiana University in 1911 and provides an account of how ten men committed to service founded a fraternity for black college men amidst extreme racism and threat of violence. The seventh chapter, authored by Bernadette Pruitt, Caryn Neumann, and Katrina Hamilton, communicates the unique circumstances underlying the founding of Sigma Gamma Rho at Butler University in 1922. Their account of the seven schoolteachers, who formed a sorority for black women educators that later expanded to include women from all walks of life, provides a glimpse of the significant challenges (e.g. racism, hostility, discrimination) these women overcame to create an organization that defied the negative stereotypes that often defined black women’s experiences.
A major strength of Part I is the detailed accounts of eight of the nine BGLOs that comprise the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). Moreover, the histories are presented within a context that highlights the social and historical underpinnings that moved students toward creating BGLOs. Another comprehensive strength of Part I was the expatiation upon events and...