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*In my Beyonce voice* “Move out the way! I’m with my Greeks and we all need space!”

Right after the start of the new year, you may notice your social media timelines flooded with Black people rockin’ Greek paraphernalia, doing strolls and chants and celebrating rich and sacred history. That’s because five of the nine Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) – including mine – were founded in January, aka Divine 9 Season.

Throughout the month – starting with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated – you’ll see the Sigmas, Alphas, AKAs, Zetas and Deltas celebrating their Founders’ Day, honoring the principles of their organizations that were all started over 100 years ago. These institutions were born out of adversity, in culture and with distinction. They represent great pillars of service in our communities today. 

The history of Black Greek Letter Organizations

BGLOs were launched on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the early 1900s to create spaces for Black students to build and strengthen professional and social bonds.

They combated racism as, at the time, many campus membership organizations excluded Black people. Most importantly, BGLOs were built on the principles of  educational advancement and attainment, scholarship and service to promote excellence in the Black community.

Then, on May 10, 1930, The National Pan-Hellenic Council Inc. (NPHC) was formed on the campus of Howard University. It was chartered by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. In 1931, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., joined the council, followed by Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. in 1937. The NPHC incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois in 1937 and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., joined the NPHC as its ninth affiliate member in 1997.

Over time, the cluster of organizations became known as the “Divine 9”, yielding some of the most influential leaders of color in healthcare, fashion, business, global affairs, politics and more. Also, leaders from the Divine 9 have been credited with pushing some of the most transformative change in our communities and throughout the world.

Alexis Reliford writes:

“Alpha Kappa Alpha pushed anti-lynching legislation in 1921 and created the first congressional lobby for a racial minority group’s civil rights in 1938. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. played a critical role in the Women’s Suffrage March in 1913, ensuring women’s right to vote. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first Black greek-letter fraternity, launched a voter-education program called “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People,” way back in the 1930s when Black citizens faced extraordinary voter suppression efforts. The list goes on. “

Late congressman and civil-rights icon John Lewis was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Shirley Chisholm, a member of Delta Sigma Theta, was the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination of a major political party. House Majority Whip James Clyburn is an Omega man.

The first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, was a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Raphael Warnock are also brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha and the leaders of the iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Last but not least, our nation’s first Black Woman Vice President, Kamala Harris, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Other Black Greek giants include W.E.B. DuBois, AL Roker, Toni Morrison, Arthur Ashe, Corretta Scott King, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou and an endless list of celebrities and entertainers.

With our unique culture and history, Black Greek Organizations are often imitated but can’t be duplicated. So we pay homage to our Frat, Sorors and Founders, not just in January but throughout the entire year on these founding days:

  • December 4, 1906 – Alpha Phi Alpha, Cornell University
  • January 15, 1908 – Alpha Kappa Alpha, Howard University
  • January 5, 1911 – Kappa Alpha Psi, Indiana University
  • November 17, 1911 – Omega Psi Phi, Howard University
  • January 13, 1913  – Delta Sigma Theta, Howard University
  • January 9, 1914 – Phi Beta Sigma, Howard University
  • January 16, 2020 – Zeta Phi Beta, Howard University
  • November 12, 1922 – Sigma Gamma Rho, Butler University
  • September 19, 1963 – Iota Phi Theta, Morgan State University

Salute to all of my fellow Greeks! And as a Finer Woman of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, I can’t leave here without sending a Zzzzzzz-Phi to my Sorors and Dove Love to my brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated!

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...