Alpha Phi Alpha (ΑΦΑ) is the first intercollegiate fraternity established by African Americans. Founded on December 4, 1906, on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Alpha Phi Alpha has initiated over 175,000 men into the organization and has been open to men of all races since 1940. The fraternity utilizes motifs and artifacts from Ancient Egypt to represent the organization and preserves its archives at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
The founders, Henry Callis, Charles Chapman, Eugene Jones, George Kelley, Nathaniel Murray, Robert Ogle, and Vertner Tandy, are collectively known as the "Alpha Phi Alpha founders". The fraternity expanded when a second chapter was chartered at Howard University in 1907. Beginning in 1908, Alpha Phi Alpha became the prototype for other Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO). Today, there are over 680 active Alpha chapters in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia, the West Indies, and the Virgin Islands.
Alpha Phi Alpha evolved into a primarily service organization and has provided leadership and service during the Great Depression, World Wars, 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 the fraternity 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 and Rhodes Scholar 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.
At the start of the 20th century, black students attending American universities were often excluded from the personal and close associations the predominantly white student population enjoyed in existing fraternal organizations. During the 1905–06 school year, Cornell University witnessed the organization of the longest active Greek letter fraternity for black students, by black students. Alpha Phi Alpha was organized with the stated desire of providing 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 desired to organize a social and literary club where all persons could participate. Others in the group supported a traditional fraternal organization. The overwhelming sentiment was 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 organized with the intention of providing a literary, study, social, and support group for all minority students who encountered social and academic racial prejudice.
At the first meetings during the 1906 – 1907 school year, members formed the nucleus of the organization's internal structure for the yet-unnamed "society". On October 23, 1906, Henry A. Callis and Eugene K. Jones, acquainted with the Greek language, proposed that the organization be known by the Greek letters Alpha Phi Alpha, and Robert H. Ogle proposed the colors to be old gold and black. The fraternity was still in process of formation and the divisive issue of whether the terms "club" or "fraternity" be used was debated within the group.
By December 4, 1906, the members' views changed and the decision was made to become a fraternity. The prior designations of "club", "organization", and "society" were permanently removed. The original founding members of the oldest collegiate Greek letter organization for Negro students, with the Great Sphinx of Giza (built by Pharaoh Khafre) as their symbol were Henry A. Callis, Charles H. Chapman, George B. Kelley, Nathaniel A. Murray, Robert H. Ogle, Vertner W. Tandy, and James Morton. The latter would be replaced in 1952 with the name of Eugene K. Jones.
The fraternity's constitution was adopted on December 14, 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. 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.
Howard University, on December 20, 1907, where founders Jones and Murray chartered the fraternity's second chapter, (Beta), was the site of the organization of the oldest black Greek letter organization among historically black schools. Jones and Murray established (Gamma) on December 30, 1907 at Virginia Union University. The fraternity has established an Alpha Phi Alpha Archives at Howard University in Washington, D.C. to preserve the history of the organization.
The Secretary of State of New York accepted the incorporation of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity on January 29, 1908. The purpose and objective of the fraternity within these articles of incorporation was declared to be "educational and for the mutual uplift of its members."
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, England, Frankfurt, Germany, Monrovia, Liberia, the Caribbean and South Korea.
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. 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."
The fraternity established its first alumni chapter Alpha Lambda in 1911 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Fraternity 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.
For nearly 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 official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was started by fraternity member W.E.B. DuBois in 1910. In 1914, The Sphinx, named after the Egyptian landmark, began publication as the fraternity's official journal. Still published, The Crisis and The Sphinx are the first and second oldest continuously published black journals in the United States, respectively. 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.
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. 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.
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. Alpha Phi Alpha began its continuing commitment of 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.
Frederick H. Miller, 3rd General President of Alpha Phi Alpha once said,
The Fraternity's national programs date back to 1919 with the "Go-To-High School, Go-to-College" campaign to promote academic achievement within the African-American community being the first initiative.
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. DuBois, 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. The fraternity had charted 85 chapters throughout the United States and initiated over 3,000 members by the end of the 1920s.
During the Great Depression, Alpha Phi Alpha and its members continued to implement programs which it deemed affected 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 issues many in the black community deemed important. The first investigation of the committee was of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal agencies. The committee's agenda was to determine the status of the black population, both as to treatment of agencies' employees and in the quality of services rendered to American blacks. Fraternity members Rayford Logan and Eugene Jones were members of Roosevelt's unofficial Black Cabinet. The Education Foundation was created in recognition of the increasing 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.
The New Negro Alliance (NNA) was founded in 1933 by fraternity brother Belford Lawson, Jr. 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. This became a landmark case in the struggle by African Americans against discriminatory hiring practices, and Don't Buy Where You Can't Work groups multiplied throughout the nation. 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.
The fraternity began its participation in the voting rights debate and coined 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 has 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 remains in Alpha Phi Alpha's continuing voter registration campaign. Alpha Phi Alpha member Marion Barry was the first chairman of SNCC.
At the 1936 Summer Olympics, three fraternity brothers represented the United States: Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Dave Albritton In 1938, Alpha Phi Alpha continued to expand and once again became an international organization as it extended its roster of chapters to London, England and 1936 gold medal Olympian John Woodruff became a member of the fraternity.
Alpha Phi Alpha supported legal battles against segregation and Alpha trial lawyers argued many of the nation's major court cases involving civil rights and civil liberties. The case of Murray v. Pearson (1935) was initiated by the fraternity and successfully argued by Alpha men Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston to successfully 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. Alpha brothers 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." This was the first official action by a BGLO to allow the admission of all colors and races. The constitutional change was approved in 1945 and Bernard Levin became the first non-black member when he was initiated into the Theta chapter on June 21, 1946. The 1954 general convention was the site for Roger Youmans, from the Upsilon chapter, to become the first non-black member to address the fraternity. 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. The fraternity's long tradition of military service has remained strong to the United States and the world. Alpha's military leaders Samuel Gravely and Benjamin Hacker are followed by other fraternity members who lead and serve in the Armed Forces.
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: In 1947, Alpha Phi Alpha awarded Robeson the Alpha Medallion for his “outstanding role as a champion of freedom.”
In 1956, the fraternity made a "pilgrimage" 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. (Sigma Chapter) 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.
Alpha men were pioneers and at the forefront of the civil rights struggle begun in the 1950s. 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 while Thurgood Marshall was engaging in the fight for desegregation and integration in the landmark case of the United States Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education. 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. The actions by Alpha activists solicited deaths threats to them and their families and exposed their homes as targets for firebombing.
In 1961, Whitney Young became the executive director of the National Urban League, and 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.
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 became a national holiday and led to the creation of The Washington D. C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc to collect funds of $100 million for construction.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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. The United States Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to permit Alpha Phi Alpha to establish a memorial on Department of Interior lands in the District of Columbia.
The fraternity threatened a boycott of the 2007 film Stomp the Yard because of trademark infringements of fraternity paraphernalia. Alpha Phi Alpha also denounced the movie because it did not want to be associated with a film that juxtaposed gang membership with that of a Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO). The fraternity rescinded its boycott decision when Sony Pictures and Screen Gems agreed to the removal of all references, in the film, to Alpha Phi Alpha.
On September 20, 2007, General President Darryl Matthews addressed the more than 10,000 demonstrators assembled during the protest rally for the "Jena 6", a group of six black teenagers who have been arrested and charged with crimes related to their alleged involvement in the assault of a white teenager in Jena, Louisiana. The rally, touted as the new civil rights struggle of the 21st century was a poignant reminder of incidents which punctuated the civil rights struggles begun in the 1950s. Matthews' speech, entitled We Demand Justice for the Jena 6! stated "for over 100 years brothers of Alpha have given of their time, talent and treasury to combat the sinister forces of injustice and unfairness, so prevalent during the years of Jim Crow, as well as the denial of civil rights to some," and closed with a quote from a notable Alpha and civil rights activist,
|ΑΦA National Programs|
|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. 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, Project Alpha with the March of Dimes, NAACP, Habitat for Humanity, and Fortune 500 companies.
Alpha's "Designated Charity" benefits from the approximately $10,000, one-time contribution fund-raising efforts at the fraternity's annual general convention. The Fraternity also has made commitments to train leaders with national mentoring programs.
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.
"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. Members are required to be registered voters, and to participate in the national voter registration program.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.”
The Council is headed by Ambassador Horace Dawson and communicates its position through white papers which are disseminated to policymakers, politicians, scholars, journalist, 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. The fifth report was published in 2006 and examines the Millennium Challenge, Hurricane Katrina and Extraordinary Rendition.
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.
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." 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. The fraternity currently disallows pledging activities and potential members are referred to as "Aspirants".
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 were expelled and are no longer considered members of Alpha Phi Alpha. The incidents involved prospective members injured seriously enough to require medical care.
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. DuBois. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Alpha men were instrumental in the founding and leadership of the NAACP (DuBois), People's National Party (PNP) Norman Manley, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) (Jesse E. Moorland), UNCF (Frederick D. Patterson), and the SCLC (King, Walker and Jemison). 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.
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.
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.
Martin Luther King, Jr. 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. Prime Minister 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 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. DuBois library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The United States Postal Service has honored fraternity members W.E.B. Dubois, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson and Jesse Owens with a commemorative stamp in their popular Black Heritage Stamp series.
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. 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.
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. Fraternity members organize travel to Egypt to walk across the sands of the Giza Plateau to the Great Sphinx of Giza and the Great Pyramids of Giza.
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.
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 as part of the 2006 Black History Month theme, "Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternal, Social and Civic Institutions.
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.
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.
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. At the 102nd Anniversary Convention in July, 2008, Mason was elected and announced as the 33rd General President-elect of the fraternity.
The first successful attempt in founding a collegiate Black Greek letter Organization (BGLO) by African Americans is accomplished in 1906 by 7 college students (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity) on the predominantly white college campus of Cornell University. Alpha Phi Alpha is also the first Greek letter organization established at a historically black college in 1907 at Howard University. Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded in 1908 at Howard as the first among African-American sorority and among BGLOs founded at a black college.
BGLOs may have begun in the year 1903 on the Indiana University Bloomington campus, but there were too few registrants to assure continuing organization. In that year a club was formed called Alpha Kappa Nu Greek Club to "strengthen the black's voice", but 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. Two of the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi had prior interaction with Alpha Phi Alpha and its Beta chapter while students at Howard University before transferring to Indiana University.
The other BGLOs to come in succession with four additional being founded at Howard University, namely, 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.
1940 was a milestone year for BGLOs as Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, and Kappa Alpha Psi hosted conventions in the Municipal Auditorium of Kansas City, Missouri and participated in a historic joint session.
Alpha Phi Alpha holds the historic position as the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity in the United States established for people of African descent, and the paragon for the remaining BGLOs to follow. Historian Charles H. Wesley, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, authored The History of Alpha Phi Alpha, A Development in College Life and asserts that Alpha Phi Alpha was the first Greek-letter organization among black college students.
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.
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."
Alpha Phi Alpha
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