A brief history behind these organized powerhouses and their contributions to American culture
Why Were They Created
In the early 19th century, social Greek organizations, known as sororities and fraternities, began forming on college campuses across the United States to provide a sense of community and unique opportunities for students. These organizations were often highly exclusive and barred membership to students of certain genders or races, specifically Black students.
The Divine Nine
At the start of the 20th century, a small number of Black students came together from mainly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to form their own sororities and fraternities. These organizations are known collectively as the National Pan-Hellenic Council or the “Divine Nine”. Each of these organizations were established with unique core values but shared a common goal: to educate and uplift the Black community from racial inequities.
- Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founded 1906, Cornell University
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Founded 1908, Howard University
- Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Indiana University
- Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Howard University
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Founded 1913, Howard University
- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Founded 1914, Howard University
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Founded 1920, Howard University
- Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Founded 1922, Butler University
- Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Founded 1963, Morgan State University
Contributions to American History
Members of these sororities and fraternities were also heavily involved in several social justice movements such as the Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter. These organizations have made significant strides to help unite Black communities across the US and continue to collectively organize to serve various social causes.
Alpha Phi Alpha
- Barry Jenkins – Won the Best Picture Oscar for directing Moonlight.
- Rafael Warnock – First African American to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.
Alpha Kappa Alpha
- Kamala Harris – First African American elected to the U.S. Vice Presidency.
- Phylicia Rashad – Emmy-nominated and Tony-award winning actress.
Kappa Alpha Psi
- Marquise Goodwin - American football wide receiver and Track and Field Olympian.
- Bernard A. Harris Jr. - First African American to walk in space.
Omega Psi Phi
- Charles Bolden Jr. - Former 12th Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
- Michael Jordan – American businessman and six-time NBA Championship winner.
Delta Sigma Theta
- Shirley Chisholm – First Black woman elected to the United States Congress; First Black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States.
- Marcia Fudge – Former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and nominee for US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Phi Beta Sigma
- Kwame Nkrumah – First Prime Minister and President of Ghana.
- Richard Sherman – Five-time Pro Bowl NFL cornerback and philanthropist.
Zeta Phi Beta
- Zora Neale Hurston – Acclaimed author, anthropologist, and filmmaker frequently cited as one of the pre-eminent writers of 20th century African American literature.
- Dionne Warwick – Six-time Grammy Award-winning singer and actress. One of the most charted female vocalists of all time.
Sigma Gamma Rho
- Hattie McDaniel – First African American to win an Oscar for her role in Gone with the Wind.
- MC Lyte – Hip Hop pioneer and the first solo female rapper to release a full album.
Iota Phi Theta
- Terrence Connor Carson – Jazz vocalist and actor best known for his portrayal on hit sitcom Living Single.
For the past century, Black Greek organizations have created safe spaces for young Black adults to excel in college, help unite Black communities across the country with service and have laid the foundation for Black people to connect with each other for professional opportunities. These organizations deserve to be honored this Black History Month for their legacy of excellence.
2021 Black History Month campaign
Make sure to check out our other entries in YES Prep's 2021 Black History Month campaign, by clicking here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Department of Organizational Strategy, Initiatives, and Culture (OSIC) was established in 2017 to oversee YES Prep functions which speaks to organizational development and cultural foundation of YES.