Thursday, 28 February 2013


Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Well, today marks the end of Black History Month; so it seems fitting to profile its origins and its founder, in my final post for this year.  I originally posted this in 2011; but given this year's theme on education, it seemed very appropriate to refresh it and re-publish it.

For the past three years, I have written and published a daily Black History Month blog post, during the month of February. On a personal note, I hope that you have enjoyed seeing Black History through my 'lens'.  To be honest, it has actually been rather hard work to research and write them each day - especially after I have spent a very long day at the office, and also often had a charitable/extra-curricular activity, after work.  However, it has been thoroughly enjoyable because I have learned so much; and I feel that these stories need to be told to new audiences.  For those of you who have read the blog posts, commented on them (here, or on Facebook), ‘liked’ a post on Facebook, become a ‘Follower’,  forwarded the link to friends and family,  or sent me an email with your own thoughts or congratulations, I truly thank you, and am humbled by your response and encouragement.  

I now feel as though I need to move onto the next stage with the blogs, so today's post will be my last.  There will be no blog next year.  Many of you have continued to suggest that I publish a book of my posts; so watch this space, because I will most likely do that!

Remember that Black History is everyone’s history; and it is not just for one month. It’s for life.  Thanks again!  Zena


Black History Month began as Negro History Week in the second week of February, 1926, to honor the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass.  It was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, African-American historian/educator, author and journalist.

President Abraham Lincoln
Frederick Douglass

Carter was born the son of freed slaves, in December, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia. As a teenager, Carter helped his family to make ends meet by working as a sharecropper, miner and garbage truck driver. This meant that he was not able to attend school on a regular basis, so he educated himself until the age of 20, when he was finally able to attend Douglass High School, in Fayette CountyWest Virginia. Carter was a very bright student and was able to earn his High School diploma in less than two years.  He subsequently earned a Bachelor of Literature Degree from Berea College in Kentucky, after teaching in Fayette County for three years.

A young Carter G. Woodson

Students at Berea College

A few years later, Carter was sent, by the U.S. War Department, to the Philippines to be a school supervisor, where he spent four years.  He simultaneously took correspondence courses from the University of Chicago. Carter finished his Masters Degree in History, Romance Languages and Literature from there, physically on campus in 1908 – but not before traveling throughout AfricaAsia and Europe, and studying for a short time at The Sorbonne, in ParisFrance (now Paris University). In 1912, Carter earned his Doctorate in History at Ivy League School, Harvard University – becoming the second African-American (behind W.E.B. DuBois) to earn a Ph.D. at the prestigious institution. After earning his Doctorate, Dr. Woodson continued teaching in the public school system, later joining the faculty at Howard University, in Washington DC, as a professor – eventually being promoted to Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

University of Chicago

Howard University

By this time, Dr. Woodson had observed that African-American history was either ignored or misrepresented in most textbooks; so he began extensive research. In 1915, he published his first book, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. That same year, in Chicago, he also co-founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History ((ASNLH) which later became The Association for the Study of African-American Life and History), along with colleague, Alexander L. Jackson, and three other associates. The next year, Dr. Woodson launched the Journal of Negro History, a scholarly publication. To date, it has never missed an issue, despite The Great Depression, loss of support from foundations and two World Wars. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African-American History and continues to be published. Dr. Woodson also formed the African-American-owned, Associated Publishers Press in 1921, which produced several of his own works, including The History of the Negro Church (1921), The Negro in Our History (1922) and The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933). After founding the ASNLH, Dr. Woodson also became very active in Black organizations, such as the NAACP, the National Urban League and the Friends of Negro Freedom. Very passionate about ‘the cause’, he made proposals to the NAACP to acquire new members and gain strength. The NAACP did not welcome his ideas and made that very clear.  The leaders were concerned that White businessmen would be unhappy with the NAACP’s escalation. Dr Woodson’s response was, “I am not afraid of being sued by White businessmen. In fact, I should welcome such a law suit. It would do the cause much good. Let us banish fear. We have been in this mental state for three centuries. I am a radical. I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me." At that time, there were no men ‘brave’ enough to help him. This disagreement actually led to Dr. Woodson ending his affiliation with the NAACP.

2002 edition when renamed to The Journal of African-American History
2010 edition

However, Dr. Woodson’s commitment to African-American history, and to improving the lives of African-Americans, had not waned.  He decided to commit the rest of his life to his research – often working 18 hours per day and accumulating a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications.  During the 1920s, Dr. Woodson received tens of thousands dollars from several, White philanthropists to fund the ASNLH’s various efforts.

In 1926, Dr. Woodson wanted to formalize his commitment, so he lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African-American history, which began in February 1926, with Negro History Week. By the early 1930s, Dr. Woodson relied upon Black communities throughout the country to maintain his organization’s activities; but he had many detractors – White and Black – who did not believe that African-American history should be separately recognized or celebrated.  Dr. Woodson was not to be deterred. In 1937, he created The Negro History Bulletin to be used as a study guide for Negro History Week (and beyond) and throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Woodson spoke at countless elementary and high schools, Negro History Week events and at the graduation ceremonies for many Historically-Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

Negro History Week Bulletin with comments from President Truman

In the decades which followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing annual proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the Civil Rights Movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month across the country. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month, in 1976, calling upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." Since then, every American President has designated February as Black History Month (which is often now called African-American History Month) and endorsed a specific theme. This year’s theme focuses on President Abraham Lincoln and the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (click here to read President Obama’s Proclamation for 2013).

Dr. Woodson worked tirelessly until his sudden death at the age of 74, in 1950.  He is buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Maryland. To this day, there are people who think that celebrating Black History is not necessary. Thankfully, there are many more – including myself – who do. The Father of Black History left a timeless legacy, from which we have learned – and will continue to learn – amazing facts and stories about how Black people around the world have helped to shape all history.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography Channel, History Channel,, CNN, Google Images

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


During this month, I have already profiled an African-American sorority and fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Phi Alpha, respectively.  They are two of nine members of The National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc. (NPHC).

Alphas & Deltas
The other seven sorority and fraternity members are: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. The nine NPHC organizations are sometimes collectively referred to as the Divine Nine.

In May 1930, on HBCU, Howard University’s campus, NPHC was formed. Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternities, and Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta and Zeta Phi Beta Sororities were founding members; Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternities joined the next year; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority joined in 1937; and finally, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity completed the list of member organizations in 1997.
Member organizations were founded as follows:

·      Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 1906, Cornell University, presently 730+ chapters
·      Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, 1908, Howard University, presently 950+ chapters
·      Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, 1911, Indiana University, presently 720+ chapters
·      Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, 1911, Howard University, presently 750+ chapters
·      Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, 1913, Howard University, presently 950+ chapters
·      Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, 1914, Howard University, presently 740+ chapters
·      Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, 1920, Howard University, presently 800+ chapters
·      Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, 1922, Butler University, presently 500+ chapters
·      Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, 1963, Morgan State University, presently 300+ chapters

The National Pan-Hellenic Council was established in an era when racial segregation and disenfranchisement were a blight on the African-American community. The establishment of each of the Black fraternities and sororities, that comprise the NPHC, was a true indication that despite the obstacles, African-Americans refused to accept the label of ‘inferior’. Neither the NPHC, nor its member organizations, discriminate on the basis of race or religion.
The stated purpose and mission of the organization in 1930 was “Unanimity of thought and action as far as possible in the conduct of Greek letter collegiate fraternities and sororities, and to consider problems of mutual interest to its member organizations.”
NPHC promotes interaction through an annual convention, forums, meetings and other mediums for the exchange of information and engages in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions. While each, constituent member organization determines its own strategic direction and program agenda, including promoting community awareness and action through educational, economic, and cultural service activities, today, the primary purpose and focus of NPHC remains camaraderie and academic excellence for its members and service to the communities they serve.

There is not enough room to highlight all other seven members; but I encourage you to visit to learn more about each of them.

However, two of the organizations that I want to briefly highlight are: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. I also want to highlight a Greek-lettered organization that is not part of NPHC: Sigma Pi Phi (aka The Boulé, which means, “a council of noblemen").

Sigma Pi Phi (The Boulé)

Sigma Pi Phi is the first African-American Greek-lettered organization. Founded in 1904, in Philadelphia, by two doctors, a dentist and a physician, including Henry McKee Minton, the fraternity quickly established chapters in Chicago and Baltimore.

Henry Minton

Founded as an organization for professionals, Sigma Pi Phi never established college chapters, and eliminated undergraduate membership during its infancy. However, Sigma Pi Phi has always had a congenial relationship with collegiate Black Greek-Letter Organizations, as many members of Sigma Pi Phi are members of both.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a member of Sigma Pi Phi, as well as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Sigma Pi Phi, 1912

Other members include(d): co-founder of the NAACP, W.E.B. DuBois; former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young; American Express Chairman and CEO, Kenneth Chenault; Tennis Pro, Arthur Ashe, and Baseball Pro, Hank Aaron.

Kenneth Chenault

Arthur Ashe
Hank Aaron

Members of Sigma Pi Phi have provided leadership and service for over a century, and have addressed social issues such as urban housing, and other economic, cultural, and political issues affecting people of African descent. However, The Boulé is also open to members of all races, as can be demonstrated by its well-known Jewish member, Jack Greenberg, who succeeded Thurgood Marshall as General Counsel of the NAACP.

Jack Greenberg

The Boulé now has only over 5,000 members and 126 chapters, throughout the United States and the West Indies, as membership is highly exclusive.

Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA)

Alpha Kappa Alpha is the first Greek-lettered sorority established and incorporated by African-American college women.  Founded in January 1908, at HBCU, Howard University, by a group of nine students, led by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, the women wrote the sorority's constitution, devised the motto, and chose its signature colors of pink & green.

Ethel Hedgeman Lyle

The mission of AKA is to cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, to promote unity and friendship among college women and alumnae, to study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women in order to improve their social stature, to maintain a progressive interest in college life, and to be of service to all mankind.

Alpha Kappa Alpha continued to grow at Howard. By the end of the 1911–1912 school year, there were more than twenty members of the sorority, and the organization had become an influential part of student life at Howard.  One year later, some members claimed that they wanted to make more of the sorority and that they wished for the organization to have a greater impact beyond the walls of Howard University. In January 1913, these women voted to transform the original Alpha Kappa Alpha into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.  However, to this day, both sororities are very close and work harmoniously.

AKA grew nationally. The sorority played an active role in voicing concerns of the day, including the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March. In addition, the Sorority helped to support members by providing scholarship funds for school and foreign studies.

AKAs have also established community programs, such as the Mississippi Health Clinic, with Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee appointed as the director.  The program has been recognized as the first mobile health clinic in the United States, assisting approximately 15,000 people and helping to decrease cases of diphtheria and smallpox, as well as improve nutritional and dental practices. Sorors have also influenced Federal legislation by Congressional lobbying through the National Non-Partisan Lobby on Civil and Democratic Rights.

Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee

Mississippi Health Project

AKA Day at The Capitol

Financially, Alpha Kappa Alpha expanded funding for projects in 1953 through the creation and trademark of a fashion show called Fashionetta.

Alpha Kappa Alpha celebrated their centenary with a year-long commemoration, in 2008. AKA’s accomplishments were heralded by the United States Congress, with Hillary Clinton and and sorority member, US Representative, Sheila Jackson-Lee, who both agreed to pass legislation in both Houses of the United States Congress to commemorate the sorority's founding.  In addition, the toy company, Mattel, designed a Barbie collectible doll fashioned with a pink and green evening gown.

AKA Barbie

Consisting of college-educated women of many diverse backgrounds from around the world, including every race, the Sorority serves through a membership of more than 250,000 women in over 900 chapters in the United States and several other countries.  Eleanor Roosevelt was an honorary member of AKA.

Sheila Jackson-Lee w/Sorors and Nancy Pelosi

Kappa Alpha Psi (The Kappas)

Kappa Alpha Psi is a collegiate Greek-lettered fraternity with a predominantly African-American membership. Since the fraternity's founding on January 5, 1911 at Indiana University Bloomington, the fraternity has never limited membership based on color, creed or national origin. The founders of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, were led by Elder Watson Diggs, also affectionately know as ‘The Dreamer’.

Within two years, there were chapters across the country in both predominantly White colleges, as well as predominantly Black colleges and universities.
The Kappas 1922

The motto of the Fraternity is: “Training for Leadership since 1911.”

The fraternity was actually founded as Kappa Alpha NuHowever, when Elder, while observing a young initiate compete in a track meet, overheard White fans referring to him as a "Kappa Alpha Nig", Elder led a campaign to rename the Fraternity. The resolution to rename the group was adopted in December 1914, and Kappa Alpha Psi has been the official name since April 1915.

The Kappas sponsor programs providing community service, social welfare and academic scholarship, such as the United Negro College Fund and Habitat for Humanity, primarily through the Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation, which was established in 1981 and conceived by Dr. Oliver S. Gumbs.

Guide Right is the Fraternity's National Service Program. Its purpose is for the educational and occupational guidance of youth, primarily inspirational and informational in character. Its reach extends to high schools and colleges, alike. In the latter, giving due attention to the needs of undergraduate Kappas.

Additionally, The Kappa League was founded in 1970 by the Los Angeles Alumni chapter, under the direction of Leon W Steward. The Kappa League comprises a series of activities designed to help young, male, high school  students to develop their leadership talents. The goal of The League is to help the students achieve worthy goals for themselves and to make meaningful contributions to their communities.

Kappa Alpha Psi celebrated its 100th anniversary in January 2011, and is distinguished as only the second, predominantly African-American collegiate fraternity to do so.

The Fraternity has over 150,000 members with 720+ undergraduate and alumni chapters in every state of the United States, as well as international chapters in the United Kingdom, Germany, Korea, Japan, Germany, US Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Nigeria and South Africa.  

Some notable members include(d): Tennis Pro, Arthur Ashe; Basketball Pro, Wilt Chamberlain;  Film Director, John Singleton; and Robert Johnson, CEO of BET.

Wilt Chamberlain

John Singleton

Being members of these Sororities and Fraternities has given hundreds of thousands of (primarily) people of color, a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, a sense of community and a sense of family.  Over one hundred years later, and these ‘gifts’ are just as important, today, as they were then.

Sources: Wikipedia, NPHC, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Google Images