Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun

Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun

Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun

Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun

Synopsis

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

Excerpt

Julianne Malveaux

If you were to call the roll of prominent African American people, the prevalence of sorority or fraternity affiations would underscore the importance of black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) in African American life. Te father of African American intellectuals, W. E. B. DuBois, was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, as was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Te first African American woman to earn a PhD in economics was also the first national president of Delta Sigma Teta Sorority Inc. Delta’s political footprint is well documented, what with the civil rights work of its tenth president, Dorothy Irene Height; the pioneering legal work of fourteenth president and attorney Frankie Muse Freeman; the phenomenal and historic leadership of Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan; the educational leadership of its seventeenth president, Mona Humphries Bailey; and the social action and civic participation of twenty-frst president Marcia Fudge.

My obvious pride at the accomplishments of my sisters in the nation’s largest African American sorority may be obvious, but no Greek-letter organization is missing from this honor roll of African American notables. Novelist Toni Morrison and tennis pioneer Zina Garrison are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Novelist Zora Neal Hurston was a member of Zeta Phi Beta. Omega Psi Phi Fraternity can claim Dr. William H. (“Bill”) Cosby, the reverend Jesse Jackson, and the extraordinary poet Langston Hughes. Wall Street pioneer and billionaire reginald F. Lewis was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and labor activist A. Philip Randolph was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. Whether the sector is academia, arts, culture, journalism, science, or sports, there are African Americans of achievement who have belonged to Greek-letter organizations.

Why, then, has there been so little scholarship about these organizations? Do college rituals, ofen shrouded in secrecy and controversy (e.g., branding, hazing), make such organizations more likely targets of ridicule than scholarship? Do the loyalties that some scholars have to their organizations dampen intellectual curiosity about them? Do national organizations seek and encourage scholarship, or do they avoid and discourage it, based on their own lack of knowledge about the outcomes that unbiased studies might provide? Certainly, there is . . .

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