Following is an essay by Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, published on March 11th in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Unite Rochester blog.
I am a proud Life Member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity which is one of the four major African American college fraternities in this country. The others are Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, and Phi Beta Sigma. There are also four major black sororities; Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta (my wife’s sorority), Sigma Gamma Rho, and Zeta Phi Beta. All of these organizations of African American college educated men and women were formed between 1906 and 1925. Those were the years that the historian Rayford Logan referred to as “the nadir” or the darkest and most dangerous years to be Black in America. Those were the years when lynch-mob justice against black men and women was a common occurrence. The singer Billie Holiday referred to lynchings in her famous song Strange Fruit where she talked about black bodies hanging from trees. The link between black Greek letter organizations and the cruelty of lynch mob justice came rushing to my mind when I heard the chant being invoked by members of a white fraternity at the University of Oklahoma. They seemed to rejoice over the fact that there would never be a n…….in their fraternity. They went on to sing, “You can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me. There will never be a n………in SAE.” In point of fact, the primary reason for the existence of my fraternity that was founded in 1911 on the campus of the University of Indiana is that some whites on that campus had the same sentiment if not the same song. African Americans were not allowed to pledge or join any of the white fraternities or sororities on that campus. Alpha Phi Alpha was the first black fraternity to be founded in 1906 on the campus of Cornell University where the very same policy prevailed; whites only! The recent events at the University of Oklahoma are a reminder of how systemic and far reaching racism, segregation, and discrimination have been in this country. It has not been a story that was .limited to sharecroppers, domestic workers, and Pullman porters. The story reached to kill off the American Dream that lived within those men and women even if it was never to be true for them and for their generation. Surely, they thought, if they could work hard enough to get their children accepted to a first-rate college or university the cycle of racism could be broken. Then their children arrive on the campuses of America’s premier places of higher education only to find the “Whites Only” signs hanging on the doors and in the hearts of so many of their classmates, teachers, and administrators. Members of black fraternities and sororities exist today because of the policies that stand behind that chant from Oklahoma. We decided that since there would never be a n…….in their fraternities, we would form our own. We are proud members of our Greek letter organizations. Our friendships and networks last throughout our lives. We seek each other out when our jobs move us from one town to another. I will always boast and brag about Kappa Alpha Psi, and I will always celebrate the unique contributions that members of black Greek letter organizations have made to this country. To list the men and women who have belonged to these fraternities and sororities would be to list a Who’s Who of many of the leading figures in African American history.
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