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Alpha Phi Alpha
The crest of Alpha Phi Alpha
Founded December 4, 1906 (1906-12-04) (103 years ago)
Cornell University
Type Service and Social
Scope International
Mission Statement
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. develops leaders, promotes brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our communities.
Motto First of All, Servants of All,
We Shall Transcend All
Colors  Black   Old Gold 
Symbol Great Sphinx of Giza
Flower Yellow Rose
Publication The Sphinx
Chapters 680+
185,000+ lifetime
Factoid The first inter-collegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans.
Aims Manly Deeds,
Scholarship, and
Love for All Mankind
Headquarters 2313 Saint Paul Street
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Homepage Alpha Phi
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has continued to supply voice and vision to the struggle of African Americans and people of color around the world. The Fraternity has long stood at the forefront of the African-American community's fight for civil rights.

Alpha Phi Alpha (ΑΦΑ) was founded on December 4, 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the founders are collectively known as the "Seven Jewels". Alpha Phi Alpha is the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established by African Americans. It uses motifs and artifacts from Ancient Egypt to represent itself and its archives are preserved at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

The fraternity expanded when additional chapters were chartered at Howard University and Virginia Union University in 1907. From 1908, Alpha Phi Alpha became the prototype for other Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs). The fraternity has over 185,000 members and has been open to men of all races since 1940. Today there are over 680 active chapters in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Caribbean, and Asia.

Alpha Phi Alpha evolved into a primarily service organization and provided leadership and service during the Great Depression, World Wars, and Civil Rights Movements, and addresses social issues such as apartheid, AIDS, urban housing, and other economic, cultural, and political issues affecting people of color. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial and World Policy Council are programs of Alpha Phi Alpha, and it jointly leads philanthropic programming initiatives with March of Dimes, Head Start, Boy Scouts of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Members of Alpha Phi Alpha include Jamaican Prime Minister Norman Manley, Nobel Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Olympian Jesse Owens, Justice Thurgood Marshall, United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, and Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. Numerous other American leaders are among the men who have adopted the fraternity’s principles—manly deeds, scholarship, and love for all mankind.




The Arts Quad of Cornell University in 1919. Cornell University was the site of the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., in 1905, although the organization would remain unnamed until 1906. (42°26′55″N 76°28′43″W / 42.448510°N 76.478620°W / 42.448510; -76.478620)

At the start of the 20th century, black students at American universities were often excluded from the personal and close associations the predominantly white student population enjoyed in fraternal organizations.[1] During the 1905–06 school year, predominantly white Cornell University saw the organization of the first Greek letter fraternity for black students, by black students. Alpha Phi Alpha was organized with the stated aim to provide a mechanism to build those associations and provide mutual support among African American students. At the outset, there was disagreement about the group's purpose: some wanted a social and literary club where everyone could participate, others a traditional fraternal organization. But there was general dissatisfaction with lack of access to a literary society, and members proposed to enlarge the functions of the group. The fraternal supporters were in the minority and the society thereafter worked to provide a literary, study, social, and support group for all minority students who encountered social and academic racial prejudice.[1]

The 1906 charter for ΑΦΑ's Alpha chapter at Cornell University.

At the first meetings during the 1905–1906 school year, members formed the nucleus of the organization's internal structure for the yet-unnamed "society". On October 23, 1906, Henry Arthur Callis and Eugene Kinckle Jones proposed that the organization be known by the Greek letters Alpha Phi Alpha, and Robert Harold Ogle proposed the colors black and old gold. The divisive issue of whether the terms "club" or "fraternity" should be used was still debated.[2]

By December 4, 1906, the decision was made: "fraternity". The earlier terms "club", "organization", and "society" were permanently removed.[2] The original founding members of the oldest collegiate Greek letter organization for Negro students, with the Great Sphinx of Giza as their symbol, were Henry A. Callis, Charles Henry Chapman, George Biddle Kelley, Nathaniel Allison Murray, Robert H. Ogle, Vertner Woodson Tandy, and James Morton. The latter would be replaced in 1952 with the name of Eugene K. Jones.[3]

Consolidation and expansion

Soon after the Cornell organization formed, members opened Alpha Phi Alpha chapters at other colleges and universities. Founders Jones and Murray chartered the second and third chapters at Howard University and Virginia Union University in December 1907. The charter at Howard made it the site of the organization of the first black Greek letter organization among historically black colleges.[4]

Chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha are given Greek-letter names in order of installation into the Fraternity. No chapter is designated Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet and traditionally used for "the end". Deceased brothers are described as having joined Omega Chapter.

The 1907 ΑΦA Constitution and Bylaws

The fraternity's constitution was adopted on December 4, 1907, limiting membership to "Negro male" students and providing that the General Convention of the Fraternity would be created following the establishment of the fourth chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.[5] The preamble states the purpose of Alpha Phi Alpha in part as:

To promote a more perfect union among college men; to aid in and insist upon the personal progress of its members; to further brotherly love and a fraternal spirit within the organization; to discountenance evil; to destroy all prejudices; to preserve the sanctity of the home, the personification of virtue and the chastity of woman.

On January 29, 1908 the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity was incorporated in the state of New York. The purpose and objective of the fraternity within these articles of incorporation were declared "educational and for the mutual uplift of its members."[5] The fraternity has established Alpha Phi Alpha Archives at Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center to preserve the history of the organization.[6]

The first General Convention of Alpha Phi Alpha, held at Howard University in 1908

The fraternity became international when it chartered a chapter at the University of Toronto in 1908 (although shortly thereafter the chapter became defunct and its seat was transferred to what is now Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas). Other international chapters have been chartered in London, Frankfurt, Monrovia, the Caribbean and South Korea.[7]

The first general convention assembled in December 1908 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., producing the first ritual and the election of the first General President of Alpha Phi Alpha, Moses A. Morrison.[8] Today, the office of the General President wields great influence beyond the fraternity, and each newly elected president is automatically considered one of the "100 most influential Black Americans."[9][10]

The fraternity established its first alumni chapter Alpha Lambda in 1911 in Louisville, Kentucky. It was again incorporated as a national organization on April 9, 1911, under the laws of Congress within the District of Columbia, under the name and title of The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.[11]

Alpha Phi Alpha member W. E. B. Du Bois was founder of the NAACP and its journal, The Crisis.

For 100 years Alpha Phi Alpha and its members have had a voice and influence on politics, current-affairs and key issues facing the world as founder and editor of national publications. The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was started by fraternity member W. E. B. Du Bois in 1910. In 1914, The Sphinx, named after the Egyptian landmark, began publication as the fraternity's journal. The Crisis and The Sphinx are respectively the first and second oldest continuously published black journals in the United States.[12] The National Urban League's (NUL) Opportunity Journal, was first published in 1923 under the leadership of Alpha founder Eugene Jones, with fraternity brother Charles Johnson as its executive editor.[13]

The Training Camp at Fort Des Moines during World War I was the result of the fraternity's advocacy in lobbying the government to create an Officers’ training camp for black troops. Thirty-two Alpha men were granted commissions (four were made Captains and ninety percent were First Lieutenants). First Lieutenant Victor Daly was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for his service in France.[14] Today, the fort is a museum and education center which honors the U.S. Army's first officer candidate class for African American men in 1917.[15]

While continuing to stress academic excellence among its members, Alpha's leaders recognized the need to correct the educational, economic, political, and social injustices faced by African-Americans and the world community.[16] Alpha Phi Alpha began its continuing commitment to providing scholarships for needy students and initiating various other charitable and service projects and evolved from a social fraternity to a primarily community service organization.[17]

Alpha Phi Alpha member and Harlem Renaissance entertainer Noble Sissle

History: 1919–1949

The Fraternity's national programs date back to 1919, with its "Go-To-High School, Go-to-College" campaign to promote academic achievement within the African-American community as the first initiative.[7]

The 1920s witnessed the birth of the Harlem Renaissance–a flowering of African-American art, literature, music, and culture which began to be absorbed into mainstream American culture. Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers Charles Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Noble Sissle, Countee Cullen and other members were entrepreneurs and participants in this creative upsurge led primarily by the African-American community based in Harlem, New York City. By the end of the 1920s, the fraternity had chartered 85 chapters throughout the United States and initiated over 3,000 members.[9]

I want the Fraternity to stand out in the affairs of the Nation.

Vertner W. Tandy,
ΑΦA Founder[18]

During the Great Depression, Alpha Phi Alpha and its members continued to implement programs to support the black community. The Committee on Public Policy, the Alpha Phi Alpha Education Foundation, and "The Foundation Publishers" were established at the 1933 general convention. The Committee on Public Policy took positions on numerous issues important to the black community. It investigated the performance of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal agencies to assess the status of the black population, both as to treatment of agencies' employees and in the quality of services rendered to American blacks.[19] Alpha men Rayford Logan and Eugene Jones were members of Roosevelt's unofficial Black Cabinet, an informal group of African American public policy advisors to the President.[20]

Part of a series on the
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Category | Wikiproject
General Presidents
Notable brothers
African American Firsts
World Policy Council
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial
National Pan-Hellenic Council
North-American Interfraternity Conference
March of Dimes
Head Start
Boy Scouts of America
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Related Topics
Jena Six
Murray v. Pearson

The Education Foundation was created in recognition of the educational, economic, and social needs of African Americans in the United States. The foundation, led by Rayford Logan, was structured to provide scholarships and grants to African American students. The Foundation Publishers would provide financial support and fellowship for writers addressing African-American issues. Historian and fraternity brother John Hope Franklin was an early beneficiary of the publishing company[9] and was the 2006 Kluge Prize recipient for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.[21]

In 1933 fraternity brother Belford Lawson, Jr. founded the New Negro Alliance (NNA) in Washington D.C. to combat white-run business in black neighborhoods that would not hire black employees. The NNA instituted a then-radical Don't Buy Where You Can't Work campaign, and organized or threatened boycotts against white-owned business. In response, some businesses arranged for an injunction to stop the picketing. NNA lawyers, including Lawson and Thurgood Marshall, fought back — all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States in New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co.[22] This ruling in favor of the NAACP became a landmark case in the struggle by African Americans against discriminatory hiring practices. Don't Buy Where You Can't Work groups multiplied throughout the nation.[a][23] The fraternity sponsors an annual Belford V. Lawson Oratorical Contest in which collegiate members demonstrate their oratorical skills first at the chapter level, with the winner competing at the District, Regional and General Convention.[24]

The fraternity began to participate in voting rights issues, coining the well-known phrase A Voteless People is a Hopeless People as part of its effort to register black voters. The Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy said "Alpha Phi Alpha...developed citizenship schools in the urban South and with its slogan "A Voteless People is a Hopeless People" registered hundreds of blacks during the 1930s, decades before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) launched their citizenship schools in the 1960s." The slogan is still used in Alpha Phi Alpha's continuing voter registration campaign.[7][25] Alpha Phi Alpha member and former Washington, D.C mayor Marion Barry was the first chairman of the SNCC.[26]

Alphamen led the way in achieving competitive glory for the nation as well as racial pride for black America.

Harold Rudolph Sims[27]

Seven Alpha men represented the United States at the politically-charged 1936 Summer Olympics: Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, Frederick Pollard, Jr., Cornelius Johnson, Archibald Williams, Dave Albritton, and John Woodruff.[27] In 1938, Alpha Phi Alpha continued to expand and became an international organization when a chapter was chartered in London, England.[28]

Alpha Phi Alpha supported legal battles against segregation. Some of its members who were trial lawyers argued many of the nation's major court cases involving civil rights and civil liberties. The case styled Murray v. Pearson (1935) was initiated by the fraternity and successfully argued by Alpha men Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston to challenge biases at the university which had no laws requiring segregation in its colleges. The fraternity assisted in a similar case that involved fraternity brother Lloyd Gaines. In Gaines v. Canada, the most important segregation case since Plessy v. Ferguson, Gaines was denied admission to the Law School at the University of Missouri because he was black.[29] Alpha men Houston and Sidney Redmon successfully argued "States that provide only one educational institution must allow blacks and whites to attend if there is no separate school for blacks."

In 1940, true to its form as the "first of first", Alpha Phi Alpha sought to end racial discrimination within its membership. The use of the word "Negro" in the membership clause of the constitution which referred to "any Negro male student" would be changed to read "any male student." The unanimous decision to change the constitution happened in 1945 and was the first official action by a BGLO to allow the admission of all colors and races.[30] Bernard Levin became the first non-black member in 1946, and Roger Youmans became the first non-black member to address the fraternity at the 1954 general convention.[31]

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the nation's entry into World War II, the fraternity fought to secure rights for its membership within the ranks of Officers in the Armed Forces. The type of warfare encountered evidenced the nexus between education and war, with illiteracy decreasing a soldier's usefulness to the Army that could only be addressed with the inclusion of a large number of college educated men among the ranks of officers. Alpha men served in almost every branch of the military and civilian defense programs during World War II. The leadership of the fraternity encouraged Alpha men to buy war bonds, and the membership responded with their purchases.[32] The fraternity's long tradition of military service has remained strong. Alpha's military leaders Samuel Gravely and Benjamin Hacker were followed by other fraternity members who lead and serve in the Armed Forces.

Paul Robeson

In 1946, fraternity brother Paul Robeson, in a Letter to the editor, published in The New York Times, referring to apartheid and South Africa's impending request to annex South-West Africa, a League of Nations mandate, appealed:

to my fellow Americans to make known their protest against such conditions to the South African Ministry in Washington; to send to the Council on African Affairs, an expression of support for these grievously oppressed workers in South Africa; to keep the South African situation in mind against the time when General Smuts will come to the United Nations Assembly to demand the annexation of South West Africa, which means more Africans for him to exploit.[33]

In 1947, Alpha Phi Alpha awarded Robeson the Alpha Medallion for his “outstanding role as a champion of freedom.”[b][33]

History: 1950–1969

The general convention in 1952 was the venue for a significant historical action taken regarding the Seventh Jewel Founder. The decision "of placing Brother [Eugene] Jones in his true historical setting resulting from the leading role which he had played in the origin and development of the early years of the fraternity history" was made by a special committee consisting of Jewels Callis, Kelly and Murray and fraternity historian Charles H. Wesley. James Morton was removed as a founder, yet continues to be listed as one of the first initiates. This convention created the Alpha Award of Merit and the Alpha Award of Honor, for appreciation of the tireless efforts on behalf of African Americans, and were awarded to Thurgood Marshall and Eugene Jones.[34][35]

God grant from this assembly, this noble assembly of fraternity men, some of the leaders of our nation will emerge.

In 1956, the fraternity made a "pilgrimage"[c] to Cornell in celebration of its Golden Jubilee which drew about 1,000 members who traveled by chartered train from Buffalo, New York to Ithaca. Fraternity brother Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary banquet, in which he spoke on the "Injustices of Segregation". There were three living Jewels present for the occasion, Kelly, Callis and Murray.[37]

Alpha Phi Alpha member Thurgood Marshall successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court case styled Brown v. Board of Education which declared segregation unconstitutional.

Alpha men were pioneers and at the forefront of the civil rights struggle renewed in the 1950s.[16] In Montgomery, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the people in the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a minister, and later as head of the SCLC. Birmingham saw Arthur Shores organize for civil rights in Lucy v. Adams. Thurgood Marshall managed the landmark US Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Court decided against segregation in public schools. Marshall employed mentor and fraternity brother Charles Houston's plan to use the de facto inequality of "separate but equal" education in the United States to attack and defeat the Jim Crow laws.[38] The actions by Alpha activists provoked death threats to them and their families, and exposed their homes as targets for firebombing.[39]

In 1961, Whitney Young became the executive director of the National Urban League. In 1963 the NUL hosted the planning meetings of civil rights leaders for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Alpha Phi Alpha delegation was one of the largest to participate in the March on Washington.[40]

Birmingham, Alabama residents viewing the bomb-damaged home of Arthur Shores, NAACP attorney and Alpha Phi Alpha member, on September 5, 1963. The bomb exploded the previous day.

In 1968, after the assassination of fraternity brother Martin Luther King, Jr., Alpha Phi Alpha proposed erecting a permanent memorial to King in Washington, D.C. The efforts of the fraternity gained momentum in 1986 after King's birthday was designated a national holiday. They created the "Washington D. C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc to collect funds of $100 million for construction.[41]

History: 1970–2000

Beginning in the 1970s, new goals were being introduced to address current environment. The older social programs and policies were still supported, however; under the direction of General President Ernest Morial the fraternity turned its attention to new social needs. This included the campaign to eliminate the ghetto-goal on numerous fronts with housing development and entrepreneurship initiatives.

Arguably the most recognized Alpha Phi Alpha member, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington.

The Federal Housing Act (of 1963) requested non-profit organizations to get involved with providing housing for low-income families, individuals and senior citizens. Alpha Phi Alpha was poised to take advantage of this program with government in improving urban housing living conditions. The Eta Tau Lambda chapter created Alpha Phi Alpha Homes Inc. with James R. Williams as the chairman to address these needs in Akron, Ohio. In 1971, Alpha Homes received an $11.5 million grant from HUD to begin groundbreaking on Channelwood Village with the Henry Arthur Callis Tower as it centerpiece. Channelwood contains additional structures named after General Presidents James R. Williams and Charles Wesley, and streets named for fraternity founders Tandy and Ogle. The Alpha Towers in Chicago and three other urban housing developments in St. Louis, Missouri— the Alpha Gardens, Alpha Towne and Alpha Village saw completion through Alpha Phi Alpha leadership.[42]

In 1976, the fraternity celebrated its 70th Anniversary with dual convention locations: New York City and Monrovia. The fraternity launched the Million Dollar Fund Drive with three prime beneficiaries—the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the National Urban League and the NAACP. The Executive Director of the NAACP stated, "Alpha Phi Alpha provided the largest single gift ever received by the civil rights group."[17]

In 1981, the fraternity celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in Dallas, Texas, featuring a presentation of the New Thrust Program consisting of the Million Dollar Fund Drive, the Leadership Development and Citizenship Institutes, and the quest to obtain a national holiday for fraternity brother Martin Luther King, Jr.[43]

We will go to great lengths to lend our voices, our time, our expertise and our money to solve the problems that humankind must solve as we move into the 21st century.

Henry Ponder, Ebony

As the 21st century approached, Alpha Phi Alpha's long-term commitment to the social and economic improvement of humanity remained at the top of its agenda. The fraternity's 28th General President, Henry Ponder, said "We would like the public to perceive Alpha Phi Alpha as a group of college-trained, professional men who are very much concerned and sensitive to the needs of humankind; We will go to great lengths to lend our voices, our time, our expertise and our money to solve the problems that humankind must solve as we move into the 21st century."[17]

In 1996, The World Policy Council (WPC) was created as a think tank to expand the fraternity's involvement in politics, and social and current policy to encompass important global and world issues.[9] The United States Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to permit Alpha Phi Alpha to establish a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King on Department of Interior lands in the District of Columbia.[44]

Twenty-first century

Alpha Phi Alpha member and Congressman Chaka Fattah.

In 2006, more than 10,000 Alpha Phi Alpha members gathered in Washington, D.C. to participate in the fraternity’s centennial convention to lay the groundwork for another 100 years of service. The fraternity developed a national strategic plan which outlines the processes that Alpha Phi Alpha will utilize in its continuing efforts to develop tomorrow's leaders, and promote brotherhood and academic excellence.[45] The Centenary Report of the World Policy Council was published in connection with the centenary of Alpha Phi Alpha.[46]

In 2007, General President Darryl Matthews addressed demonstrators at a protest rally touted as the new civil rights struggle of the 21st century. The rally for six black teenagers, the "Jena 6", was a poignant reminder of incidents which punctuated the civil rights struggles begun in the 1950s.[47]

The collapsed cupola of the Haitian National Palace (Presidential Palace) has become a symbol of the devastated 2010 earthquake hit nation.[48]

On the eve of the Inauguration of Barack Obama, the fraternity hosted a Martin Luther King Holiday program at the National Press Club "to honor yesterday's 'firsts'—those in history who paved the way for the nation to be able to celebrate the first African-American president."[49] Alpha Congressman Chaka Fattah said "The life and legacy of Dr. King [was] a predicate for the election of Barack Obama,” “The two are inextricably linked."[50] Alpha Phi Alpha responded to President Obama's clarion call to Americans to remake America by implementing a public policy program to focus on saving America’s black boys.[51] The fraternity appealed to President Obama to create a "White House Council on Men and Boys" and partner with Alpha Phi Alpha to specifically address the needs of this group on a national level.[52]

Alpha Phi Alpha responded to the 2010 Haiti earthquake by sending a humanitarian delegation of Alpha men to Haiti on a fact-finding mission to assess the situation and develop a long-term support plan for the Haitian people. The organization views its future plan to 'adopt' a school in Haiti as "a great opportunity for the first black intercollegiate fraternity to stand in solidarity with the first independent black Republic."[53]

National programs

Alpha Phi Alpha asserts that through its community outreach initiatives, the fraternity supplies voice and vision to the struggle of African Americans, the African diaspora, and the countless special problems that affect Black men.[17][54]

ΑΦA National Programs[55]
Mentoring World and National Affairs
Education Continuing the Legacy
Project Alpha Leadership Training Institute
Alpha Academy Go To High School, Go To College
Commission on Business A Voteless People is a Hopeless People
Alpha and the NAACP Alpha Head Start Academy
Cooperative Programs and Economic Development

The fraternity provides for charitable endeavors through its Education and Building Foundations, providing academic scholarships and shelter to underprivileged families.[5] The fraternity combines its efforts in conjunction with other philanthropic organizations such as Head Start, Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,[56] Project Alpha with the March of Dimes, NAACP, Habitat for Humanity, and Fortune 500 companies.

We must not shoot in the air, but accomplish results. Each chapter must put its part of the program over with interest and drive.

Lucius L. McGee,
10th General President ΑΦA[57]

Alpha's "Designated Charity" benefits from the approximately $10,000, one-time contribution fund-raising efforts at the fraternity's annual general convention.[17] The Fraternity also has made commitments to train leaders with national mentoring programs.[5]

The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation is a project of Alpha Phi Alpha to construct the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.[58]

Go-To-High School, Go-To-College

Established in 1922, the Go-To-High School, Go-To-College program is intended to afford Alpha men with the opportunity to provide young participants with role models. The program concentrates on the importance of completing secondary and collegiate education as a path to advancement and to provide information and strategies to facilitate success.[55]

Voter Education/Registration Program

The "A Voteless People is a Hopeless People" campaign poster was produced in the 1930s to raise awareness of the voting problems that African-Americans faced.

"A Voteless People is a Hopeless People" was initiated as a National Program of Alpha during the 1930s when many African-Americans had the right to vote but were prevented from voting because of poll taxes, threats of reprisal, and lack of education about the voting process. Voter education and registration has since remained a dominant focus in the fraternity's planning. In the 1990s the focus has shifted to promotion of political awareness and empowerment, delivered most often through use of town meetings and candidate forums.[55] Members are required to be registered voters, and to participate in the national voter registration program.[59]

The fraternity's Nu Mu Lambda chapter of Decatur, Georgia, held a voter registration drive in DeKalb County, Georgia in 2004, from which Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, rejected all 63 voter registration applications on the basis that the fraternity did not follow correct procedures, including obtaining specific pre-clearance from the state to conduct their drive.

The Court finds and hereby DECLARES that the rejection of voter registration applications on the grounds that they were submitted in a bundle, or by someone who was not a registrar or deputy registrar, violates the NVRA.

—U.S. Court of Appeals, Wesley v. Cox.[60]

Nu Mu Lambda filed Charles H. Wesley Education Foundation v. Cathy Cox on the basis that the Georgia Secretary of State's long-standing policy and practice of rejecting mail-in voter registration applications that were submitted in bundles and/or by persons other than registrars, deputy registrars, or the individual applicants, violated the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) by undermining voter registration drives. A Senior U.S. District Judge upheld earlier federal court decisions in the case, which also found private entities have a right under the NVRA, to engage in organized voter registration activity in Georgia at times and locations of their choosing, without the presence or permission of state or local election officials.[61]

Project Alpha

Alpha Phi Alpha, Iota Delta Lambda Chapter (Chicago) and the March of Dimes began a collaborative program called Project Alpha in 1980. The project consists of a series of workshops and informational sessions conducted by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers to provide young men with current and accurate information about teen pregnancy prevention. Alpha Phi Alpha also participates in the March of Dimes WalkAmerica and raised over $181,000 in 2006.[62]

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial

Memorial plaque on the location of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at the national mall

The campaign to erect a permanent memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most ambitious projects in the history of the fraternity. In 1996, the United States Congress authorized with Public Law 104-333 and President Bill Clinton confirmed the fraternity's request to establish a foundation (The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation) to manage the memorial's fundraising, design and construction.[58] Harry E. Johnson is the current president of the foundation and the 31st general president of Alpha Phi Alpha. The National Park Service will maintain the site.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial will be the first in the National Mall area to honor an African American, and King will be the second non-President to be commemorated in such a way. On December 4, 2000, Alpha Phi Alpha laid a marble and bronze plaque to dedicate the 4-acre (16,000 m2) memorial site that borders the Tidal Basin, within the sightline of the Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial.[63] The Ceremonial Groundbreaking took place on November 13, 2006 and the fraternity's goal was to dedicate the memorial in 2008 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of King's death.[64]

World Policy Council

General President Milton C. Davis established the World Policy Council in 1996 as a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank with a mission as stated in its centenary report “to address issues of concern to our brotherhood, our communities, our Nation, and the world.”[9][46]

Organizing a World Policy Council, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity suddenly made global headlines when the group asked Nigeria to release political prisoners.

Simeon Booker Jet [65]

The Council is headed by Ambassador Horace Dawson and communicates its position through white papers which are disseminated to policymakers, politicians, scholars, journalists, and chapters of the fraternity. Since its founding the Council has issued five reports on topics such as the AIDS crisis, Middle East conflict, and Nigerian politics.[9][65] The fifth report was published in 2006 and examines the Millennium Challenge, Hurricane Katrina and Extraordinary Rendition.[46]

Pan-Hellenic membership

The fraternity maintains dual membership in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC). The NPHC is composed of nine international black Greek-letter sororities and fraternities, and Alpha Phi Alpha is the only member founded at an Ivy League school. The council promotes interaction through forums, meetings, and other mediums for the exchange of information, and engages in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions.[66]

The NIC serves to advocate the needs of its member fraternities through enrichment of the fraternity experience; advancement and growth of the fraternity community; and enhancement of the educational mission of the host institutions.[67]


The chief significance of Alpha Phi Alpha lies in its purpose to stimulate, develop, and cement an intelligent, trained leadership in the unending fight for freedom, equality and fraternity. Our task is endless.

Henry A. Callis,
ΑΦA Founder
6th General President[68]

Alpha Phi Alpha's membership is predominantly African American in composition with brothers in over 680 college and graduate chapters in the United States, District of Columbia, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Europe, Asia and Africa. Since its founding in 1906, more than 175,000 men have joined the membership of Alpha Phi Alpha and a large percentage of leadership within the African American community in the 20th century originated from the ranks of the fraternity.[69][70]

John A. Williams wrote in his book The King that God Did Not Save, which was a commentary of the life of Alpha Phi Alpha member Martin Luther King, Jr., "a man clawing out his status does not stop at education. There are attendant titles he must earn. A fraternity is one of them."[40][46] The mystic of belonging to a Greek letter group still attracts college students in large numbers despite lawsuits that have threatened the very existence of some fraternities and sororities.[46] The fraternity currently disallows pledging activities and potential members are referred to as "Aspirants".

Membership intake

The pledge period is the time that a pledge or potential new member of the fraternity engages in before being initiated as a member. This period is the time the pledge learns of the organization's history, principles and tenacity of brotherhood. For more than nine decades an Alpha Phi Alpha Pledge was initially referred to as a "Sphinxman", and later an "Ape" during "Hell Week" when pledges were submitted to compounded endurances.[71] The fraternity currently only inducts members through an aspirant program and all membership intake activities for the fraternity are conducted by the National Intake Office and must occur in the presence of a National Intake Officer.[72]

In the selection of candidates for membership, certain chapters had not escaped challenges of racial stereotyping and allegations of colorism. In a biography of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the authors recounted how certain chapters of the fraternity used a "brown paper bag test" and would not consider students whose skin color was darker than the bag.[73] General President Belford Lawson, Jr. lamented this attitude and condemned initiation practices of snobbery and exclusivity, and said "Jesus Christ could not make Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity today; they would blackball Him because He was not hot enough."[74]

Let there be no complaints about brutality. The emphasis should be upon history and purposes of the Fraternity rather than upon physical punishment.

Rayford Logan,
15th General President ΑΦA [75]

There are periods in the history of the fraternity where hazing was involved in certain pledge lines. The fraternity has never condoned hazing, but has been aware of problems with "rushing" and "initiations" dated as far back as the 1934 General Convention when the fraternity founders communicated their concern with physical violence during initiation ceremonies.[76] At the 1940 General Convention, a pledge manual was discussed that would contain a brief general history, the list of chapters and locations, the achievements of Alpha men, outstanding Alpha men, and pledge procedures.[77]

Alpha Phi Alpha honorary member Hubert H. Humphrey was the 38th Vice President of the United States.

Hazing is now against the law in many U.S. states and the fraternity's official policy is that hazing is against the purposes and goals of the Fraternity and has been discontinued as a condition or manner of initiation into the membership of Alpha Phi Alpha. It is no longer legal within the organization for members to establish a pledge line or to require aspirants to the organization to submit to hazing. Individuals involved in hazing face severe disciplinary action by the fraternity.[72]

In 2001, the chapter at Ohio State University was suspended for two years by both the university and the national Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for hazing and other violations. In 2007, the chapter at Oklahoma State University–Stillwater was suspended for five years and members involved in hazing activities faced expulsion from Alpha Phi Alpha. The incidents involved prospective members injured seriously enough to require medical care.[78][79]

The fraternity once provided classifications for honorary and exalted honorary membership. Honorary members include Vice President Hubert Humphrey (who is Caucasian), jazz musician Duke Ellington, and activist W. E. B. Du Bois.[80] Frederick Douglass is distinguished as the only member initiated posthumously when he became an exalted honorary member of the fraternity's Omega chapter in 1921.[81]

Notable members

First African American Accomplishments
by Alpha Phi Alpha Men
Dennis Archer President–American Bar Association
Richard Arrington MayorBirmingham, Alabama
Edward Brooke State Attorney General,
U.S. Senator since Reconstruction
Willie Brown Mayor–San Francisco, California
Emanuel Cleaver Mayor–Kansas City, Missouri
E. Franklin Frazier President–American Sociological Association
Malvin Goode Reporter–American Broadcasting Company
Samuel Gravely Commandant of a U.S. Fleet
Charles Houston Editor–Harvard Law Review
Maynard Jackson Mayor–Atlanta, Georgia
Theodore M. Berry Mayor–Cincinnati, Ohio
John Johnson Forbes 400
Ernest Morial Mayor–New Orleans, Louisiana
Thurgood Marshall Justice–U.S. Supreme Court
Samuel Pierce Board of Director for Fortune 500 company
Fritz Pollard Head coach–National Football League
Chuck Stone President–National Association of Black Journalists

As BGLOs became a firm part of African American culture and Alpha Phi Alpha expanded to over 175,000 members, the fraternity was eager to list those who claimed affiliation.[46] In the United States, among professional black males, the fraternity claims 60% of doctors, 75% of lawyers, 65% of dentists, and 95% of black colleges have or had Alpha Men as their president.[83]

The fraternity's membership roster include activist Dick Gregory, Princeton Professor Cornel West, Congressman Charles B. Rangel, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce, entrepreneur John Johnson, athlete Mike Powell, musician Donny Hathaway, United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, the first Premier of Bermuda Sir Edward T. Richards, and Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.[84]

Roland Burris became the only black member of the 2009 U.S. Senate when he assumed the seat vacated by President Barack Obama.[85]

Alpha Phi Alpha member Marc Morial is the CEO of the National Urban League.

Alpha men were instrumental in the founding and leadership of the NAACP (Du Bois),[86] People's National Party (PNP) Norman Manley,[87] Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) (Jesse E. Moorland),[88] UNCF (Frederick D. Patterson),[89] and the SCLC (King, Walker and Jemison).[90] The National Urban League has had eight leaders in it almost 100 years of existence; Six of its leaders are Alpha men: George Haynes, Eugene Jones, Lester Granger, Whitney Young, Hugh Price and Marc Morial.

We are counting on Alpha men to show their true colors.

Antonio M. Smith,
17th General President ΑΦA[91]

From the ranks of the fraternity have come a number of pioneers in various fields. Honorary member Kelly Miller was the first African-American to be admitted to Johns Hopkins University. Todd Duncan was the first actor to play "Porgy" in Porgy and Bess. During the Washington run of Porgy and Bess in 1936, the cast—as led by Todd Duncan—protested the audience's segregation. Duncan stated that he "would never play in a theater which barred him from purchasing tickets to certain seats because of his race." Eventually management would give into the demands and allow for the first integrated performance at National Theatre.[92]

Charles Houston, a Harvard Law School graduate and a law professor at Howard University, first began a campaign in the 1930s to challenge racial discrimination in the federal courts. Houston's campaign to fight Jim Crow Laws began with Plessy v. Ferguson and culminated in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Ron Dellums' campaign to end the racist, apartheid policies of South Africa succeeded when the House of Representatives passed Dellums' anti-apartheid Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act calling for a trade embargo against South Africa and immediate divestment by American corporations.[d][93]

Alpha Phi Alpha member Edward Brooke is congratulated by President George W. Bush at the Ceremony for the 2004 Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The East Room of the White House.

Martin Luther King, Jr (honorary). was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." The Presidential Medal of Freedom, designed to recognize individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors", has been awarded to many members including Edward Brooke and William Coleman. The Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award of the United States Congress was awarded to Jesse Owens and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The Spingarn Medal, awarded annually by the NAACP for outstanding achievement by a Black American, has been awarded to brothers John Hope Franklin, Rayford Logan and numerous fraternity members.

Premier Norman Manley was a Rhodes Scholar (1914), awarded annually by the Oxford based Rhodes Trust on the basis of academic achievement and character. Randal Pinkett, Andrew Zawacki, and Westley Moore are other Rhodes Scholar recipients.

A portion of the Morial Convention Center Complex in New Orleans, namesake of Alpha Phi Alpha General President Ernest Morial

A number of buildings and monuments have been named after Alpha men such as the Eddie Robinson Stadium, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Whitney Young Memorial Bridge, and the W. E. B. Du Bois library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The United States Postal Service has honored fraternity members W. E. B. Du Bois, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson and Whitney Young with a commemorative stamp in their Black Heritage Stamp series.[94]

Egyptian symbolism

Alpha Phi Alpha chose to use Egyptian symbology more representative of the members' African heritage. The Great Sphinx and Great Pyramids of Giza are fraternity icons. (29°58′33″N 31°07′49″E / 29.97583°N 31.13028°E / 29.97583; 31.13028 (Great Pyramids of Giza))

Alpha Phi Alpha utilizes motifs from Ancient Egypt and uses images and songs depicting the Her-em-akhet (Great Sphinx of Giza), pharaohs, and other Egyptian artifacts to represent the organization. The Great Sphinx of Giza was made out of one unified body of stone which represents the fraternity and its members. This is in contrast to other fraternities that traditionally echo themes from the golden age of Ancient Greece. Alpha's constant reference to Ethiopia in hymns and poems are further examples of Alpha's mission to imbue itself with an African cultural heritage. Fraternity brother Charles H. Wesley wrote, "To the Alpha Phi Alpha brotherhood, African history and civilization, the Sphinx, and Ethiopian tradition bring new meanings and these are interpreted with new significance to others." The Great Pyramids of Giza, symbols of foundation, sacred geometry and more, are other African images chosen by Alpha Phi Alpha as fraternity icons.[95]

I have stood beside the Sphinx in Egypt in Africa in July on my third visit there, and I brought greetings to this silent historical figure in the name of Alpha Phi Alpha and I crossed the continent to Ethiopia.

Charles H. Wesley,
14th General President ΑΦA[96]

The fraternity's 21st General President, Thomas W. Cole once said, "Alpha Phi Alpha must go back to her ultimate roots; only then can she be nurtured to full bloom."[97] Fraternity members make pilgrimages to its spiritual birthplaces of Egypt to walk across the sands of the Giza Plateau to the Great Sphinx of Giza and the Great Pyramids of Giza, and to Ethiopia.[98]

Centennial celebration

Alpha Phi Alpha Board Members at Centennial Banquet, July 2006 in Washington, D.C.

Alpha Phi Alpha declared 2006 the beginning of its "Centennial Era" as it readied for its Centenary, framed by the slogan First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All. These preparations consisted of nationwide activities and events, including the commissioning of intellectual and scholarly works, presentation of exhibits, lectures, artwork and musical expositions, the production of film and video presentations and a Centennial Convention July 25–30, 2006, in Washington, D.C.

The 2006 Centennial Celebration Kickoff launched with a "pilgrimage" to Cornell University on November 19, 2005. That event brought over 700 fraternity members who gathered for a day long program. Members journeyed across campus and unveiled a new centennial memorial to Alpha Phi Alpha. The memorial—a wall in the form of a "J" in recognition of the Jewels—features a bench and a plaque and is situated in front of the university's Barnes Hall.[99]

Alpha Phi Alpha Men: A Century of Leadership, is a historical documentary on Alpha Phi Alpha's century of leadership and service. The film premiered February 2006 on PBS[16] as part of the 2006 Black History Month theme, "Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternal, Social and Civic Institutions."[100] In 2009, the fraternity donated its repository of interviews with prominent Alpha members that were collected for the documentary to Cornell University Library.[101]

Mr. Speaker, it is an honor and special privilege to address this great body on such an auspicious occasion. As a proud member of this fraternity, I feel special esteem in joining the entire House to recognize the historical significance of the centennial anniversary of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

The Centennial Convention, called Reflects on Rich Past, Looks Toward Bright Future, began on Capitol Hill with Congressman and fraternity member David Scott stating to the House of Representatives; "this week men from every discipline and geographic location convene to chart and plan for the fraternity’s future, celebrate its 100th anniversary, and reinvigorate its founding principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character, and the uplifting of humanity." The House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 384, approved 422-0, which recognized and honored Alpha Phi Alpha as the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans, its accomplishments and its historic milestone.[102]

Alpha Phi Alpha members were among the list of some of the 600 expected guests of lawmakers, prominent black leaders and civil rights veterans on the South Lawn of the White House as President George W. Bush talked about the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.

The resolution was co-sponsored by the eight members of the House of Representatives who are members of Alpha Phi Alpha which included Emanuel Cleaver, Robert Scott and Chaka Fattah. While in Washington, fraternity members such as National Urban League head Marc Morial and Congressman Gregory Meeks witnessed the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President George W. Bush in a signing ceremony at the White House. A tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. with an hour-long reflection at the site of the King Memorial was witnessed by Alpha's General President(s) and a host of the fraternity members assembled for the convention. Grammy Award winning singer Lionel Richie gave a performance for his fraternity at the John F. Kennedy Center.[103]

The House of Alpha, The Centennial Exhibit of Alpha Phi Alpha, opened its doors at the convention. Herman "Skip" Mason served as curator of the exhibit which has been described as a "fraternal masterpiece." The featured materials are part of the records of Alpha Phi Alpha, local chapters and the personal collection of fraternity members.[104] Mason was inaugurated as the fraternity's 33rd General President in January 2009.[105]

Alpha Phi Alpha launched the Black college Greek movement

Alpha Phi Alpha delegate’s pin from the 1940 Pan-Hellenic convention of ΆΚА, ΆΦΆ, and ΚΆΨ.

Blacks call themselves Greek because "Greece was a culturally diverse pluralistic society of various ethnic and racial groups—much like the United States of today. However, the citizens were mostly dark-skinned black and brown people" according to journalist and Alpha member Tony Brown.[106]

Alpha Phi Alpha is the first intercollegiate Greek-lettered fraternity in the United States established for people of African descent, and the paragon for the BGLOs that followed.[95] While Greek-letter type clubs (societies) by Blacks perhaps may have begun in the year 1903 at Indiana University in Bloomington when a club called Alpha Kappa Nu Greek Club formed to "strengthen the black's voice," there were too few registrants, and the club disappeared after a short time. There is no record of any similar organization at Indiana University until Kappa Alpha Nu (now Kappa Alpha Psi) was issued a charter in 1911.[107] Two Kappa Alpha Psi founders had prior interaction with the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter at Howard before transferring to Indiana University.[108]

Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded in 1908 at Howard as both the first African-American sorority and the first BGLO founded at a black college.[109] Four other BGLOs were in quick succession founded at Howard: Omega Psi Phi (1911), Delta Sigma Theta (1913), Phi Beta Sigma (1914) and Zeta Phi Beta (1920). Sigma Gamma Rho (1922) and Iota Phi Theta (1963) were founded at Butler University and Morgan State University respectively.[110]

In 1940 Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and Kappa Alpha Psi hosted conventions in the Municipal Auditorium of Kansas City, Missouri and held a historic joint BGLO session."[111]

First of All, Servants of All,
We Shall Transcend All

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Motto

Documentary films

  • Alpha Phi Alpha Men: A Century of Leadership, 2006, Producer/Directors: Alamerica Bank/Rubicon Productions


  • a. ^ The NNA estimated that by 1940, the group had secured 5,106 jobs for blacks because businesses could not afford to lose sales during the depression.[23]
  • b. ^ South Africa formally excluded Walvis Bay from the mandate and annexed it as a South African enclave. It took until after the date for the first fully democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 had been set, before sovereignty over Walvis Bay was formally transferred to Namibia at midnight on February 28, 1994.
  • c. ^ Darryl R. Matthews Sr., 32nd General President of the fraternity defined a pilgrimage as "a personal, spiritual, historic and significant journey, which one takes to a place and for a purpose that has profound meaning to that individual."[99]
  • d. ^ President Ronald Reagan vetoed The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986; however, Congress' override of his veto was the first presidential foreign policy veto in the 20th century.[93]


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  2. ^ a b Wesley 1981, op. cit., pp. 19–27.
  3. ^ Wesley 1981, op. cit., pp. 26–31, 92.
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  • Davis, Michael D.; Hunter R. Clark (2001). Thurgood Marshall: Warrior of the Bar, Rebel on the Bench. Replica Books. ISBN 0-7351-0097-7. 
  • Mason, Herman (1999). The Talented Tenth: The Founders and Presidents of Alpha (2nd ed.). Winter Park, FL: Four-G. ISBN 1-885066-63-5. 
  • Wesley, Charles H. (1981). The History of Alpha Phi Alpha, A Development in College Life (14th ed.). Chicago, IL: Foundation. ASIN: B000ESQ14W. 
  • Wesley, Charles H. (1950). The History of Alpha Phi Alpha: A Development in Negro College Life (6th ed.). Chicago, IL: Foundation. 

Further reading

  • Gourdine, Darrius Jerome (July 2006). Jewels: The Story of the Founding of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (1st ed.). Artisan House. ISBN 0975566008. 

External links


"A Century of Leadership" PBS Video

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