TO THE NINES: A Closer Look at the Women of the NPHC
You may have recently seen viral images of Black sorority women “strolling to the polls” or Vogue magazine’s February cover featuring Vice President Kamala Harris surrounded by pink and green, a nod to her membership with Alpha Kappa Alpha. Though Harris’ sorority affiliation has put a recent spotlight on the Divine Nine, the influence and political clout of Black fraternities and sororities date to the early 1900s. They have played a significant role in shaping African American culture and history in the United States and Canada.
The Divine Nine includes the following National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations:
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (1906)
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. (1911)
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. (1911)
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. (1914)
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. (1963)
These nine groups have been pivotal in the educational advancement of more than a million Black men and women. The loyalty shared by each group’s members is unmatched by nearly any other membership organization.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., established in December 1906 at Cornell University, was the first Greek-letter collegiate Black fraternity to establish chapters on multiple campuses. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the first Black sorority, was founded in January 1908 at Howard University. Within a year, AKA had established Howard’s first organizational scholarship.
As the women’s suffrage movement gained momentum, the 22 founding members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Women’s Suffrage March of 1913. This helped pave the way for some of the most powerful, change-making Black women throughout history.
Even though it was 52 years later before the Voting Rights Act removed barriers that prevented them from casting their vote, Black sorority women like Ida B. Wells, Alice Dugged Cary and Hallie Quinn Brown continued to fight for a better quality of life for women.
In 1945, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.—alongside fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.—established the American Council on Human Rights with the goal to “mobilize the influence and resources of its members in the struggle for justice and equal opportunity for all U.S. Citizens.” The ACHR participated in filing civil rights cases, including 1954’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education.
Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Black sororities developed programming to sponsor job training and educational programming. Today, programs include Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.’s Stork’s Nest with the March of Dimes, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.’s Youth Symposium, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.’s Delta Homeownership Initiative and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s #CAP program to help young people navigate the college entry process. These women work tirelessly to revitalize communities, fund scholarships and cultivate professionals through mentorship and sponsorship.
Though not part of the NPHC, other Black Greek-letter organizations have been founded and followed the path set by the Divine Nine by promoting service, scholarship and fellowship among students and professionals of color around the world.
Even if you don’t share a campus or alma mater with these organizations, we encourage you to learn more about their history, traditions and culture.
READ: 9 Things You May Not Know About the History of the Divine Nine
LISTEN: A Conversation with Lawrence Ross About the History and Unity of the Divine Nine
LEARN: 3 Ways to Share Stepping/Strolling Traditions Without Cultural Appropriation