Essential Brotherhood: Langston and Thurgood

Langston Hughes, Omega Psi Phi

Several months ago, scholar, CEO and author of every college freshman’s bible, The Divine Nine (just a joke… kinda) published an article for entitled, “Stepping Into Irrelevance?”  In the article, he warned Black Greeks of the potential dangers that loomed if members do not reconsider the importance of service and active involvement past “strolling” and step-shows.  This article intends to remind us all both Greek and non-Greek of the contributions, legacies, and significance of fraternities and sororities.

This will be the first essay in a series discussing the importance and value of Black Greek Letter Organizations.  Let us consider for a while the importance of brotherhood.  The most important reason why I joined a Fraternity  (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated) was for the brotherhood!  You ask, “Couldn’t you get brotherhood by joining a social club? the NAACP, what about the other men in your dorm?”  Yes, I have received long lasting relationships by joining other clubs, student organizations etc… However, there is something about the tradition and bond FORGED out of joining a fraternity.. Maybe it was the two weekend retreat lol?…

Seriously though, I am speaking of a brotherhood that transcends a university campus, that transcends four years at a college, that wherever I go in the Country, I have a brother there.  I am speaking of a bond so strong, that one day my son will see me interact with my brothers and inquire of this special bond.  At Historically Black Colleges and Universities, BGLOs  have created a lasting tradition that since there induction have stretched beyond imagination.  Even though we all have pride in our respective Fraternities, it is important to stress how we have ALWAYS worked together to create the ultimate example of Black male brotherhood!

The best example is seen through the relationship between famous Harlem Renaissance writer and member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, Langston Hughes and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, Thurgood Marshall.  Hughes entered Lincoln University in the winter of 1925, at the time Hughes had already successfully published his highly acclaimed The Weary Blues.  On that same campus, in Hughes’s same dorm, just down the hall was a young eager student named Thurgood Marshall.

Nu Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha (Thurgood Marshall) at Lincoln

Now, back then, well pledging was legal and both Marshall and Hughes took part in the festivities!  Langston Hughes recalled:

“Hazing was terrific… Fraternity initiations occasionally sent agonized howls into the darkness around the countryside, whole woods and fields being available for the ordeal of brotherhood. The manhood rites of an African tribe could hardly have required more strength of the aspirants. When I was initiated, because I was a poet with my with my first book published and my name in the papers, each of my brothers to be was inclined to think every other brother would let me off easy. The result-each and every brother laid on with such a heavy hand, applying so many licks to be sure the poet would be well initiated, that I could scarcely walk for a week.
“A New Negro, huh?” Wham!
“The boy poet, heh?” Wham!

Juan Williams, author of Thurgood Marshall, American Revolutionary recalled, “”Once he became an Alpha, Thurgood delighted in the nasty tricks fraternity brothers would play on each other and on rival frats. I can throw water around a curve,” he later claimed with pride. Thurgood took to researching the best pranks….Thurgood personally took part in frat pranks such as shaving the heads of other students-against their will. And he used paddles to hit other students, often with too much enthusiasm”  Unfortunately, Marshall took it to far, and Marshall and his brothers were threatened with expulsion.

To the point of this article, the students banded together, forging relationships accross fraternal lines.  Williams wrote, “The boys were saved when one clever student decided that the administration might have some mercy on the troublemakers if they admitted to their crimes A confession was drawn up, and the twenty six sophomores, including Thurgood, signed it and were allowed to return to school. The student who had come with the bright idea was none other than Langston Hughes!

Later, Thurgood recalled, “Langston was at Lincoln with me. One of the greatest people I’ve ever known. He knew everything there was to be known. He’d been around the world twice before he was 21 on tramp steamers. He studied and he just self studied and then he went to Lincoln. He was a great guy. I liked him”

Marshall went on to join other prominent Alpha’s like Charles Hamilton Houston at Howard University and went on to lay the legal foundation to battle segregation.  However, the relationships these men forged at Lincoln in those years represent what fraternity is all about! We are so much more than step shows, so as we move into a new era let us remember what those who have come before us have endured and intended for us.

We are interested to hear your thoughts. Do you see Greek unity on your respective campuses?  Has your chapter done any collaborative events with other organizations?  If so, then what? If not, then why?

Onward and Upward


8 thoughts on “Essential Brotherhood: Langston and Thurgood

  1. I’d be interested to hear what your thoughts are regarding how Greeks can work across Pan Hell AND with non-Greeks to re-establish their station in the black community.

    IMO, Greeks, like the NAACP, Urban League, NCNW, and other civil rights organizations are facing an uphill battle because the ‘struggle’ has changed, and these organizations haven’t been flexible enough to meet the needs of the communities to which they are responsible. Without the community, these organizations are rendered useless.

  2. you already know how I feel about Africans calling themselves Greeks, running around barking and quoting the Greek alphabet, then claiming to study Egypt…I think it does more harm than good in the black community via elitism, and consequently separatism…Fraternities and sororities perpetuate a lot of the nonsense that goes on in Black America…Read “Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class,” by Lawrence Otis Graham. Now thats not to negate agency, because I became an alumni of NCCU with the help of some Deltas…

    • Kali, lol… You know I miss the good days at Central hashing out these lively debates and enlightening discussions. Before I light into you (lol) I want to ask maybe, a leading question… Aren’t you a member of Phi Alpha Theta?

  3. my God, I considered you have been going to chip
    in with some decisive brainstorm at the finish there, not leave it with ‘we leave
    it to you to decide’.

  4. This was very interesting. My grandfather attended Lincoln with both men, and was an Alpha as well. I enjoyed reading about the brotherhood that was formed between them.

  5. Pingback: From W.E.B. Du Bois to Cornel West: Civic Leaders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – GhanaMatters

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