Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Cultural Solidarity and the Free Space of the Black Fraternity

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Cultural Solidarity and the Free Space of the Black Fraternity

Article excerpt


From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, Neoclassicism began to gain popularity among European societies. "Neoclassicism"1 is the name given to the distinct movement in decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw upon Western classical art and culture (usually that of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome). As a response to the Neo-Classical Movement, African American students in predominantly white colleges and historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) began to apply for and gain membership in Greek fraternities and sororities.2 Once denied access to join Eurocentric Greek organizations, the necessity of a parallel Greek organization that mirrored African American social experience came into existence for African Americans.

Accordingly those organizations that were previously denied to Black students due to racial barriers and concurrent black codes soon became available.3 Due to social mobility, status, and other privileges associated with membership into one of these organizations, many young African Americans began to gravitate toward the Black Letter Organizations in the hopes of transcending racial discrimination.4

In 1776 when Phi Beta Kappa became the first Greek-letter fraternity established at William and Mary College, it became an organization which evolved to become the standard for excellence in collegiate academics that spurred the formation of other fraternal organizations.5 Thus, Greek-letter fraternities soon became a common site at many colleges and universities around the nation. Helen Horowriz author of the book, Campus Life writes:

The fraternity had great appeal. For those undergraduates with the wealth, inclination, and leisure to join, the new Greek-lettered organizations gave a new area of privacy away from college eyes. In colleges founded by protestant denominations that demanded abstinence and self-denial, members could break the official code among trusted brothers. Fraternities provided the economic and social basis for feasts, strong drink, loose talk about women, card playing and gambling.6

Over time as the Greek-letter organization became more common; they evolved out of the image of Phi Beta Kappa. And between the years 1906 and 1920, seven of the nine most prominent Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities were created at the collegiate level. The first of these African American fraternities was Alpha Phi Alpha, founded in 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.7 Soon Alpha Kappa Alpha became the first Greek sorority for African American women formed in 1908 on the campus of Howard University in Washington D.C.8 The fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi was chartered at Indiana University-Bloomington, in the spring of 1911.9 Another fraternity named Omega Psi Phi was established at Howard University in the winter of 1911.10 The sorority named Delta Sigma Theta was also incorporated on the campus of Howard University in 1913.11 Additionally, the fraternity of Phi Beta Sigma was formed on the campus of Howard University in 1914;12 its sister sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, was incorporated at Howard in 1920.13 The early history of the college fraternal system lays the groundwork for the rise of various fraternities and sororities of the Black Greek-letter organizations.14

Hence, the purpose of this study is to explore and determine how the agency of African people has created a conscious attitude responsible for the development of a culture of mass protest. Within such organizations it is up to the individual members to choose which cultural elements they prefer to embody. And although a Black organization can exhibit both African and European cultural elements, it is ultimately the individuals within the organizations prerogative to gravitate toward a cultural identity that resonates most with its members.

And furthermore, the purpose and aim of this article is to refute the racist attitudes which seek to marginalize the African American community and to examine the aforementioned critical areas which gave birth to the creation of the first Black Greek-letter organizations, and to demonstrate how the Black Greek-letter organization emerged as a social organ of protest within the African American community. …

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