This article is part of Blavity U Spirit Week 2023.
Black Greek Life is essential for campus life at any college or university. The National Panhellenic Council, often called the “Divine Nine”, includes nine organizations whose members serve as pillars of service and excellence within their schools and communities. Sororities and fraternities included are:
- Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
- Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
- Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
- Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
- Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.
These Black Greek Letter organizations provided support and resources to young black students who were denied access to white clubs and organizations on college campuses.
Since their creation, these nine organizations have reached hundreds of thousands of members, thanks to several global chapters. They work alongside other organizations to promote the advancement of Black and marginalized communities, focusing on education, economics and awareness. Each organization within the NPHC has its traditions and history that only members are privileged to know, but there are some notable factors that the public can enjoy.
Here are some fun and historical facts about the fraternities and sororities that make up the “Divine Nine.”
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Alpha Phi Alpha was the first collegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for black men in 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
The brotherhood of its seven founders now has nearly 300,000 members worldwide. Their founders and members are full of men of remarkable achievement and pioneers in their respective fields.
According to Web on black America, one of its founders, Eugene Jones, became the first executive director of the National Urban League, part of President Roosevelt’s black cabinet. George Kell was the first black engineer licensed in New York and a renowned architect; Vertner Tandy was credited with building Madam CJ Walker’s mansion.
Notable members include Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and WEB Du Bois.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Alpha Kappa Alpha became the first collegiate Greek letter sorority for black women in 1908 at Howard University in Washington, DC. The small group of pioneer women now has nearly 300,000 members with more than 1,000 chapters.
In 2020, sorority is brought to the forefront thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris, who became a member of the organization in 1986 while attending Howard University. In 2023, AKA became the first Black women’s sorority to own and operate a banking entity. THE For members only was inaugurated in Chicago at the sorority’s annual leadership conference.
Notable members include Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks and Phylicia Rashad,
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
The second oldest historically black collegiate fraternity in Greek letters is Kappa Alpha Psi. Established in 1911 on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Kappa Alpha Psi was the first black fraternity to be recognized as a national society. Since then, the organization’s membership has grown to 150,000 men worldwide.
The one in the group founding name was Kappa Alpha Nu, but it was later changed to Kappa Alpha Psi after their previous monir was used as a racial slur.
Notable members include Tavis Smiley, Cedric The Entertainer and Marc Lamont Hill.
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Omega Psi Phi is the first fraternal organization founded on the campus of a historically black college. In 1911, Omega Psi Phi was founded in the science building at Howard University. On 250,000 men have been initiated in over 750 Omega Psi Phi chapters worldwide.
The organization has a long history of service to the United States. According to AJC.com, Omega’s men met with President Woodrow Wilson during World War I about the need for black officers to receive training. This initiative resulted in the creation of the Military Officer Training Center in Des Moines.
Notable members include Rickey Smiley, Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Harvey
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Formed in 1913, Delta Sigma Theta was the second black women’s collegiate Greek letter sorority formed at Howard University. Delta Sigma Thea has completed 300,000 initiated members and over 1,000 chapters.
In early 2003, Delta became the first black Greek-letter organization to be named a non-governmental organization to the United Nations. Dark past says Gillian Sorensen, assistant secretary to the attorney general for external affairs, asked members to “monitor the situation of women and children around the world and join with other NGOs to ensure that the UN honors its commitments “. Delta members have been granted special consultative status, allowing them to supervise, provide expertise and implement international agreements.
Notable members include Pinky Cole, Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm.
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
Phi Beta Sigma was founded by three young Howard University students in 1914. Since then, 225,000 men have become members of the fraternity, serving in more than 599 chapters.
With service and community support deeply enriched in their mission, the men of Phi Beta Sigma returned to help others build their organizations. In 1920, they helped found Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. The two organizations became the first and only members of the Nine Divines to be constitutionally linked, making them true “brothers and sisters”.
Notable members include Congressman Jerry Lewis, Al Roker and Terrance Howard.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Zeta Phi Beta jjoined the roster of Howard University organizations in 1920. Five women established the organization with the help of the men of Phi Beta Sigma. Their membership has since grown to over 100,000 members around the world.
Zeta Phi Beta was the first sorority to establish a chapter in Africa, the first to form auxiliary groups, and the first to be constitutionally linked to a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated.
Notable members include Sheryl Underwood, Zora Neale Hurston and Syleena Johnson.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
In 1922, Sigma Gamma Rho became the only sorority for black women that was not formed at an HBCU. The organization’s first chapter was launched at Butler University in Indianapolis. The sorority now has more than 85,000 members and 500 chapters in the United States, Bahamas, Bermuda, Virgin Islands, Canada, Germany and Korea.
Sigma Gamma Rho was the first organization started by graduate students. The seven founders had the foresight to form the organization as a sorority for educators.
Notable members include MC Lyte, Kelly Price and Hattie McDaniel.
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.
Iota Phi Theta is the youngest of the Divine Nine. The fraternity was established in 1963 on the campus of Morgan State University. Although reasonably new compared to other organizations, the fraternity has more than 75,000 members and 301 chapters worldwide.
According to Web on black America, the 12 founders of Iota Phi Theta prided themselves on being different from traditional students. They were older than most of their college peers and wanted to form an organization that would support older students, husbands, and fathers.
Notable members include TC Carson, Bishop Talbert W. Swan II and NBA Hall of Fame inductee Elvin Hayes.
Are you a member of the Divine Nine? Show your pride in the comments!