This article is a part of Blavity U Spirit Week 2023.
Black Greek life is essential to campus life at any college or university. The National Pan-Hellenic Council, often referred to as the “Divine Nine,” comprises nine organizations with members who serve as pillars of service and excellence within their schools and communities. The 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 for young Black students who were denied access to white clubs and organizations on college campuses.
Since their inception, these nine organizations have grown to membership numbers in the hundreds of thousands, thanks to several worldwide chapters. They work alongside other organizations to promote progression for Black people 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 facts and history 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 has now grown to nearly 300,000 members worldwide. Their founders and members are full of men with stellar accomplishments who are pioneers in their respective areas.
According to Black America Web, one of its founders, Eugene Jones, became the first Executive Director of the National Urban League, which is part of President Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet. George Kell was the first Black licensed engineer in New York and acclaimed architect; Vertner Tandy was credited with constructing Madam C.J. Walker’s mansion.
Notable members include Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and W.E.B. 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, D.C. The small group of pioneering women has grown to almost 300,000 members with over 1,000 chapters.
In 2020, the sorority was thrust into the spotlight 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 sorority for Black women to own and operate a banking entity. The For Members Only Credit Union was opened in Chicago during 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 collegiate historically Black Greek Letter Fraternity is Kappa Alpha Psi. Formed in 1911 on the campus of Indiana University-Bloomington, Kappa Alpha Psi was the first Black fraternity to be recognized as a national corporation. Since then, the organization’s membership has grown to boast 150,000 men worldwide.
The group’s founding name was Kappa Alpha Nu, but it was later morphed into Kappa Alpha Psi after their prior 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 inside the Science Building at Howard University. Over 250,000 men have been initiated in the 750-plus chapters of Omega Psi Phi worldwide.
The organization has a long history of service in the U.S. According to AJC.com, Omega men met with President Woodrow Wilson during World War I regarding the need for Black officers to receive training. This initiative resulted in the creation of the military officer training facility 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 collegiate Greek-letter sorority for Black women formed at Howard University. Delta Sigma Thea has over 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-Government Organization at the United Nations. Black Past states that Gillian Sorensen, the assistant secretary attorney general for external affairs, asked members to “monitor the status of women and children around the world and bind together with other NGOs to ensure that the UN honors its commitments.” Delta members were granted Special Consultative Status, allowing them to oversee, 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 students at Howard University in 1914. Since then, 225,000 men have become fraternity members, serving in over 599 chapters.
With service and community support deeply enriched in their mission, the men of Phi Beta Sigma reached back to help others build their organizations. In 1920, they helped form Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, the two organizations became the first and only members of the Divine Nine to be constitutionally bound, 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 joined the list of organizations at Howard University in 1920. Five women chartered the organization along with the assistance of the men of Phi Beta Sigma. Their membership has since reached over 100,000 members across the world.
Zeta Phi Beta was the first sorority to charter a chapter in Africa, the first to form auxiliary groups and the first to be constitutionally bound 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 supports over 85,000 members today and 500 chapters in the U.S., Bahamas, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Canada, Germany and Korea.
Sigma Gamma Rho was the first organization launched by grad students. The seven founders had intuitions of forming 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 formed in 1963 on the campus of Morgan State University. Although reasonably new compared to other organizations, the fraternity has over 75,000 members and 301 chapters worldwide.
According to Black America Web, Iota Phi Theta’s 12 founders prided themselves on being different from the traditional college students. They were older than many of their college peers and wanted to form an organization that supports older students, husbands and fathers.
Notable members include T.C. 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!