Alpha Kappa Alpha
Background and Summary
Alpha Kappa Alpha is the first Greek-lettered sorority established and incorporated by African-American college women. The sorority was founded on January 15, 1908, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. by a group of nine students, led by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle. Forming a sorority broke barriers for African-American women in areas where little power or authority existed due to a lack of opportunities for minorities and women in the early twentieth century. Alpha Kappa Alpha was incorporated on January 29, 1913.
Consisting of college-educated women of African, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic descent, the sorority serves through a membership of more than 200,000 women in over 975 chapters in the United States and several other countries. Women may join through undergraduate chapters at a college or university, or through a graduate chapter after acquiring a college degree.
Since being founded over a century ago, Alpha Kappa Alpha has helped to improve social and economic conditions through community service programs. Members have improved education through independent initiatives, contributed to community-building by creating programs and associations – such as the Mississippi Health Clinic – and influenced federal legislation by Congressional lobbying through the National Non-Partisan Lobby on Civil and Democratic Rights. The sorority works with communities through service initiatives and progressive programs relating to education, family, health, and business.
Alpha Kappa Alpha is part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). The current International President is Barbara A. McKinzie, and the sorority's document and pictorial archives are located at Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
In Spring 1907, Ethel Hedgeman led the efforts to create a sisterhood at Howard University. A Howard faculty member, Ethel Robinson, encouraged Hedgeman by relating her own experiences in a sorority at Brown University. Hedgeman was also inspired by her future husband George Lyle, who was a charter member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity's Beta chapter at Howard in 1907. To implement her idea, Hedgeman began recruiting interested classmates during the summer of 1907.
Eventually, nine women including Hedgeman were involved in the instrumental phases of organizing Alpha Kappa Alpha in Fall 1907. With Hedgeman serving as the temporary chairperson, the women wrote the sorority's constitution, devised the motto and colors, and named the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. Later in 1908, seven sophomore honor students expressed interest and were accepted without initiation. The first initiation was held in a wing of Miner Hall on Howard University on February 11, 1909. On May 25, 1909, Alpha Kappa Alpha held the first "Ivy Day", a celebration which included planting ivy at Miner Hall.
At the time, Alpha Kappa Alpha existed as one chapter at Howard University with a ritual and sponsored social events. No plan of nationalizing or incorprorating the organization existed. Alpha Kappa Alpha continued to grow at Howard. In October 11, 1912, twenty-two members were initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha. Seven officers were elected: Myra Hemmings, president; Ethel Black, vice-president, Edith Young, secretary; Jessie Dent, corresponding secretary, Winona Alexander, custodian; Frederica Dodd, sergeant-at-arms, and Pauline Minor was the treasurer. The twenty-two were dismayed at progress and wanted to reorganize the sorority.
According to Delta Sigma Theta historian Paula Giddings, the group of members wanted to establish a national organization, enlarge the scope of activities of the sorority, change its name and symbols, and be more politically oriented. When Nellie Quander, a graduate member, heard about changing the sorority name, she disagreed and gave the other women a deadline to stop the efforts to reorganize the sorority. However, the twenty-two declined and instead formed Delta Sigma Theta on January 13, 1913.
Later Quander, along with five other sorority members, led an initiative to incorporate Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority as a perpetual body on January 29, 1913. The organization was nationally incorporated in Washington, D.C., as a non-profit under the name Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated on January 30, 1913. During the same year the sorority began using Greek names for officers.
Alpha Kappa Alpha continued to grow nationally. A second chapter at the University of Chicago in was chartered in fall 1913. The sorority played an active role in voicing concerns of the day. The women marched in the 1913 Women's Suffrage March.In addition, Alpha Kappa Alpha helped to support members by providing scholarship funds for school and foreign studies. Alpha Kappa Alpha began to unite members at the annual Boulé, the sorority's governing body. The sorority's pledge was written by Grace Edwards and was adopted by the 1920 Boulé. In addition, the sorority's crest was designed by Phyllis Wheatley Waters and accepted in the same Boulé. A year later, at the 1921 Boulé, the Ivy Leaf was designated as "the official organ of Alpha Kappa Alpha," and Founders' Week, paying honor to ¢K¢'s founders was established. Pearls were first introduced to the sorority in the same year. The sorority membership pin was accepted in the following Boulé in Kansas City, Missouri. At the 1947 Boulé, pins for honorary members were designed and approved.
On May 10, 1930, Alpha Kappa Alpha, along with the fraternities Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi and sororities Delta Sigma Theta and Zeta Phi Beta, formed the National Pan-Hellenic Council at Howard University. Consisting of nine predominately black fraternities and sororities, NPHC promotes interaction through forums, meetings, and other mediums for the exchange of information, and engages in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions.
Throughout the Great Migration, members assisted the Travelers Aid Society, to help thousands of Southern Blacks adjust to Northern society, find housing and navigate around the city. They also volunteered at the Freedman's Hospital.
In April 1933, during the Great Depression, International President Ida Jackson visited All Saints Industrial School in Lexington, Mississippi. She found difficult conditions in the Mississippi Delta. Some of the teachers themselves did not have an education past the seventh grade. African Americans were trying to make a living sharecropping on plantation land as agricultural prices continued to fall. In summer 1934, Ida Jackson initiated the Summer School for Rural Teachers to train future teachers. She worked with a total of 22 student teachers and 243 school children. In addition, she held night classes for 48 adults. By obtaining 2600 books for the school's library, Jackson made it "the largest library owned by white or colored in all Holmes County."
In summer 1935, Ida Jackson focused on poverty and established a regional health clinic. She had acquired $1,000 from the Boulé to fund the project in December 1934. The clinic evolved into the Mississippi Health Project, with Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee appointed as the director.
The Mississippi Health Project brought primary medical care to the rural Black population across the state for six summers. The program has been recognized as the first mobile health clinic in the United States, assisting around 15,000 people in the Mississippi Delta.The project was noted for helping to decrease cases diphtheria and smallpox in the region and to improve nutritional and dental practices throughout rural Mississippi.
Led by incorporator Norma Elizabeth Boyd, the sorority created the National Non-Partisan Lobby on Civil and Democratic Rights in 1938, later renamed the National Non-Partisan Council on Public Affairs. It was the first full-time congressional lobby for minority group civil rights. Throughout the organization's life, the Non-Partisan Council worked with the NAACP, National Urban League, The United Office and Professional Workers of America, The National Association of Graduate Nurses, the American Federation of Churches, the Colored Women's Club, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Auxiliary, and the New York Voter's League. The NPC was dissolved on July 15, 1948, by twelfth Supreme Basileus Edna Over Gray-Campbell. A year later, Alpha Kappa Alpha was the first sorority to apply for life membership in the NAACP.
To replace the NPC, in August 1945, Alpha Kappa Alpha established the American Council on Human Rights (ACHR). The council made recommendations to the government concerning civil rights legislation.The ACHR was proposed at the 1946 Boulé. In October 1946, Alpha Kappa Alpha was the first sorority to obtain observer status at the United Nations. On January 15, 1948, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho sororities and Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma fraternities were charter members of the ACHR. Kappa Alpha Psi later was included in March 1949.
On September 1, 1945, Alpha Kappa Alpha established The National Health Office in New York City. The National Health Office coordinated activities with local chapters and worked with the ACHC to promote health initiatives before Congress, increase the number of student nurses, and improve the state of health programs at historically Black Colleges and Universities. The National Health Office was dissolved in 1951, as its goals were incorporated into the sorority's international program.
Throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies, members helped to sponsor job training, reading enrichment, heritage, and youth programs. By encouraging youth to improve math, science, and reading skills, the sorority continued a legacy of community service and pledged to enrich the lives of others. Financially, Alpha Kappa Alpha expanded funding for projects in 1953 through the creation and trademark of a fashion show called FashionettaTM. Politically, ACHR continued lobbying for equality concerning civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s. According to Collier-Thomas, the ACHR drew attention to legislation concerning education, transportation, employment, and improving equality in the armed forces and public places. The ACHR participated in filing civil rights cases in amicus curiae with Bolling v. Sharpe and 1954's Brown v. Board of Education. However, as a whole, ACHR voted to dissolve operations in 1963.
Alpha Kappa Alpha contributed programs for inner city youth by capitalizing on political gains in the White House. On August 20, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, which allowed the creation of the Job Corps. The sorority wanted to operate a job training center for students. Led by president Julia Purnell, ¢K¢ negotiated with the Office of Economic Opportunity to operate a women's center from October 1964 to January 1965. Alpha Kappa Alpha was awarded a US$4 million grant to operate the Cleveland Job Corps on February 12, 1965, becoming the first sorority to operate a federal job training center. Beginning in 1965, the Cleveland Job Corps trained female high school dropouts, aged 16 to 21, with job and an educational skills. In 1976, the Cleveland Job Corps accepted males. The sorority operated the Cleveland Job Corps until 1995.
The sorority educated the community through highlighting the accomplishments of notable individuals by publishing The Heritage Series between 1968 to 1972.These pamphlets were a series of biographies of top African-American women. Altogether, the entire collection contained "Women in the Judiciary", "Women in Politics", "Women in Medicine", "Women in Business", and "Women in Dentistry". Alpha Kappa Alpha also donated $20,000 for preserving Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth place in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early 1970s. In 1978, during the sorority's seventieth anniversary, the Memorial Window at Howard University was dedicated to the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Surviving founders Lavinia Norman and Norma Boyd attended the celebration of unveiling the Memorial Window, designed by Lois Mailou Jones.
Soon after the sorority's 75th anniversary, Alpha Kappa Alpha contributed funds to decrease Africa's poverty with the establishment of African Village Development Program (AVDP). As a conjoint program with Africare, the sorority sought to decrease poverty in African villages.In collaboration with the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH), the sorority built ten schools in South Africa after apartheid ended, and it donated computer technology to the region.
Throughout the 1990s, the sorority continued to provide after-school mentoring programs, such as ON TRACK. ON TRACK, an acronym which stands for "Organizing, Nurturing, Team building, Respecting, Achieving, Counseling and Knowing," was designed to help the progress of 20,000 third graders who were at-risk of failing their education. Sponsored by Daimler Chrysler, ON TRACK was designated to "improve communication, academics, physical and emotional health, peer leadership, etiquette, and interpersonal relationships." In addition, programs such as the Ivy Reading AKAdemy and Young Authors Program improved elementary reading comprehension skills, while P.I.M.S. highlighted programs in math and science.
In 1999, the sorority adopted a strict anti-hazing policy which is against "underground hazing, financial hazing, pre-pledging, post-pledging and post-initiation pledging." On September 9, 2002, 22 year-old Kristin High and 24 year-old Kenitha Saafir drowned at Dockweiler State Beach at the Pacific Ocean on a night of high surf.The Los Angeles Police Department determined that the deaths were accidental. The families of the young women said the two California State University students were interested in joining Alpha Kappa Alpha and had been involved in activities. However, the chapter at Cal State-Los Angeles had been suspended by the national sorority since 2000 due to "minor pledging infractions."
Kristin High's family filed a US$100 million wrongful death lawsuit against Alpha Kappa Alpha on September 23, 2002 in Los Angeles District Court. The suit claimed that the two women lost sleep while performing tasks for the members of an underground chapter of the sorority, carried out physical exercises on the beach, and were wearing jogging clothes and tennis shoes in the water, hindering their ability to remain afloat. According to the lawsuit, the two women were "blindfolded and tied by their hands and their bodies and led into the rip tide conditions of the ocean." The family and Alpha Kappa Alpha settled out of court.
The sorority responded to the call for help in fall 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, by raising money for a disaster relief fund. In July 2007, through Habitat for Humanity, the sorority helped build a house in New Orleans for a family that survived Hurricane Katrina. The sorority continues to assist the community by initiating service-related projects.
In addition to educational programs, Alpha Kappa Alpha contributed to drawing awareness to health-related issues, such as AIDS, sickle cell anemia, breast cancer, and the importance of staying in shape. Recently, the sorority has supported the efforts of justice for the Jena Six. Also, the sorority connects to the past by partnering with African Ancestry. Sorority members may use African Ancestry's DNA testing to find genealogical data for themselves and their families. The purpose of the partnership is to help members trace family connections through the world as well as in Africa, to embrace African-American culture and the larger community.
Alpha Kappa Alpha is celebrating their centenary with a year-long commemoration in 2008. The celebration will also coincide with the sorority's biennial Boulé. Internationally, some Alpha Kappa Alpha members began marking the festivities by making a pilgrimage to Howard University from January 12 to January 15, 2008.The activities included sorority members financially donating $1 million dollars in scholarship funds to Howard University, contributing libraries for Middle School for Mathematics and Science and Asbury Dwelling for Senior Citizens, and unveiling a digital version of the entire Ivy Leaf publication. In addition, sorority undergraduate and graduate members who were not available to attend ceremonies in Washington, D.C., held celebrations in local cities. From July 11 to July 18 in Washington, D.C., Alpha Kappa Alpha will hold their 63rd Boulé. A town hall meeting with the public, a unity march in conjunction with other NPHC members, and a concert featuring R&B Grammy Award winning singer Patti LaBelle are some of the events which will occur at the Boulé.
Alpha Kappa Alpha's accomplishments are being heralded by the United States Congress, with Senator Hillary Clinton and sorority member Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee agreeing to pass legislation in both houses of the United States Congress to commemorate the sorority's founding. In addition, the toy company Mattel is designing a Barbie collectible doll fashioned with a pink and green evening gown.
Alpha Kappa Alpha reports a membership of over 200,000 college-trained women around the world. The sorority has over 49,000 active members who comprise a diverse constituency, from educators to heads of state, politicians, lawyers, medical professionals, media personalities, and corporate managers. Graduate members constitute the largest percentage of membership. Alpha Kappa Alpha has 950 chapters, located in the United States, the Caribbean, Canada, Germany, Korea and Japan.
The term soror, derived from the Latin for "sister", is used between members of the sorority. Membership of the Directorate includes the Board of Directors. For graduate chapters, "Omega" is added to distinguish those which consist of college graduates from undergraduate chapters. "Supreme," as a term, is amended to an international officeholder, such as Supreme Basileus. Deceased members are referred to as "Ivies Beyond the Wall".
Honorary membership is Alpha Kappa Alpha's highest honor. For example, Jane Addams, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is among the first honorary members.Eleanor Roosevelt, a former First Lady and wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was made an honorary member. Senator Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and wife of President Bill Clinton, initially accepted honorary membership into Alpha Kappa Alpha, but later declined due to the sorority's exclusive requirements preventing acceptance into other NPHC organizations.
The Ivy Leaf Pledge Club was the official pledge club of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.The club consisted of potential candidates who were interested in joining the sorority. Interested members would join the pledge club before being inducted into the sorority.
In addition, according to Graham, the sorority would have "Pledge Week", a period where a candidate's grades and behavior were reviewed by chapter members. Candidates who withstood this period were initiated into the sorority. Membership interest is processed by an interest meeting, known as a "rush". After the candidate receives an official letter from the sorority, she can participate in the membership intake process. Prospective members must have a C+ average prior to their membership submission as well as have a record in community service. If a prospective member has graduated, that member could be invited to join the sorority at the discretion of the graduate chapter.
The Boulé is the regulating institution of the sorority and currently meets every two years. Throughout the years, notable individuals such as civil rights activists (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins) and political figures (former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter) were speakers at past Boulé conferences.
Some Famous Members:
Coretta Scott King
Bebe More Campbell
Jewell Jackson McCabe
Sharon Pratt Kelly
Sources: wikipedia.org; Anderson, James D. (1988). The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; McNealey, Earnestine G. (2006). Pearls of Service: The Legacy of America’s First Black Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; Parker, Marjorie H. (1958). Alpha Kappa Alpha: 1908–1958. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; Parker, Marjorie H. (1966). Alpha Kappa Alpha: Sixty Years of Service. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; Parker, Marjorie H. (1979). Alpha Kappa Alpha: In the Eye of the Beholder. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; Parker, Marjorie H. (1990). Alpha Kappa Alpha Through the Years: 1908–1988. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; Parker, Marjorie H. (1999). Past is Prologue: The History of Alpha Kappa Alpha 1908–1999. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; Brown, Tamara L., Parks, Gregory and Phillips, Clarenda M. (2005) African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky; Ross, Jr., Lawrence (2000). The Divine Nine: The History of African-American Fraternities and Sororities in America. New York: Kensington.
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