National History

The Founding of Alpha Phi Alpha

The most remarkable leadership in the African American community in the 20th century has without question come from the ranks of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Since its founding on Tuesday, December 4, 1906, the Fraternity has supplied voice and vision to the struggle of African-Americans and people of color around the world.

Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity in the United States established for men of African descent, was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York by seven college men who recognized the need for a strong bond of Brotherhood between African Americans. The visionary founders, known as the “Jewels” of the Fraternity, are: Henry Arthur Callis, Charles Henry Chapman, Eugene Kinckle Jones, George Biddle Kelley, Nathaniel Allison Murray, Robert Harold Ogle and Vertner Woodson Tandy.

The Fraternity initially served as a study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice– educationally and socially–at Cornell. During those beginning days, the Jewels and early leaders of the Fraternity worked to lay a solid foundation for Alpha Phi Alpha’s principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character and the uplifting of humanity.

The certificate of incorporation for the organization was filed and recorded in the office of the Secretary of the State of New York as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. on January 29, 1908. The Fraternity was again incorporated on April 3, 1914, under the laws of the District of Columbia. The purpose and object of the Fraternity were declared to be “educational and for the mutual uplift of its members.” The constitution, adopted on December 14, 1907, provided that following the establishment of the fourth chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the general organization of the Fraternity would be set up.

Soon after the founding at Cornell, Alpha Phi Alpha chapters were developed at other colleges and universities– many of them traditionally black schools.

On December 28, 1908, the Fraternity’s first general convention assembled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The convention expressed the hope that “the influence of Alpha Phi Alpha would reach every (African American) college and university in the land, to bring together under one band and with one bond of fraternal love, all the worthy leading college men wherever found, to form, as it were, a link to join them together.”

The first general convention and subsequent conventions have continuously exhorted chapters and members to remember that “manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind” are the aims of the Fraternity.

While continuing to stress academic excellence and pursuit among its members, the Fraternity also recognized the need to help correct the educational, economic, political and social injustices faced by African Americans.

The Fraternity’s national programs date back to 1919, when Alpha Phi Alpha introduced its “Go-to-High School, Go-to-College” campaign to increase the education level of the African American community. Alpha Phi Alpha later took the lead in the voting rights struggle for African Americans and coined the nationally famous phrase: “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People” as part of its effort to register black voters. The slogan remains the battle cry today for Alpha voter registration efforts.

Alpha Phi Alpha has long stood at the forefront of the African-American community’s fight for civil rights and human dignity. From the Fraternity’s ranks have come outstanding civil rights leaders such as: W.E.B. DuBois, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Edward Brooke, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Andrew Young, William Gray, Paul Robeson, Julius Chambers, Maynard Jackson and many others. The Fraternity’s leadership development and community service training for young men has made Alpha Phi Alpha the most prestigious organization of its kind today.

Today, Alpha Phi Alpha continues its commitment to the African American community through the Fraternity’s Education and Building foundations which provide scholarships to outstanding students and shelter to underprivileged families. The Fraternity also has dedicated itself to training a new generation of leaders with national mentoring programs and partnerships designed to ensure the success of our children and youth. The Jewels of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. were no ordinary achievers. Given racial attitudes in 1906, their accomplishments were monumental.