Ask any member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated what makes their fraternity so prestigious, on cue, we will initiate a cipher of amazing accomplishments, the fact that we were the “first” frat, and a rehearsed list famous Alpha men. A much tougher question would be to list the chapter and year that “famous person” crossed and even more challenging would be to delve deeper into the involvement that particular individual had within the Fraternity.
One of the most famous brothers of the Fraternity, was W. E. B. Du Bois, the first African American to graduate from Harvard with a doctorate, famous sociologist, and author of what seems like hundreds of articles and books. Although, Du Bois received his Doctorate from an Ivy League school, he received his first degree from an HBCU and spent the majority of his teaching career at Wilberforce (although very briefly) and Atlanta University. Du Bois also taught a year at Tuskegee… YES Booker T. Washington’s school
Du Bois joined the Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated at the University of Michigan in 1909, the same year Du Bois also played a key role in founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Several excerts from President Skip Mason’s “Historical Moment #22” sheds further light into the deep involvement Du Bois had with the Fraternity:
“A few weeks after the Epsilon Chapter had been established with eight charter
members by Henry Arthur Callis on April 10, 1909. Callis, in his final year at Cornell was president of Alpha Chapter at the time. Each chapter was allowed to admit two honorary members. DuBois allegedly was visiting the campus at the time…
Callis recalled that Dr. DuBois had learned about the fraternity at the University of Michigan. He approved [with] his blessing and joined as an honorary [member]. It [is] almost likely that DuBois did not experienced the initiationas several honorary members had not. In 1912, General President Charles Garvin wrote DuBois, then editor of the Crisis. and asked him to allow a small space for an article of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. President Garvin said
“Alpha Phi Alpha fulfills in a large way a great need in bringing Negro College men together and has done a great deal of good in inspiring them to think of the highest in life
When the “Go to High School-Go to College” movement was introduced by the
fraternity in 1916, it served as idea platform for W.E.B. DuBois involvement
with the fraternity. One trip took him to Chicago on May 17, 1925,
where the Xi Lambda Chapter presented the distinguished scholar in their “Go
to High School-Go to College” program at the Wendell Phillips High School.
At the 17th General Convention in New York, DuBois was present along with
Jewels George B. Kelley and Eugene Kinckle Jones(later to become a Jewel).
The following year DuBois wrote an article for the Sphinx “Alpha Phi Alpha and Fisk University. Known to raise “hell” if necessary. DuBois had been invited to be the guest speaker at the Fisk Commencement and turned the table on the white president of the college. DuBois admonished him for treating the students inhumanely. One of the items, he cited was that Fisk had no fraternities or sororities. The nearest chapter was Chi at Meharry which had been established in 1919.
As a result of DuBois’s persistence, Fisk President McKenzie resigned. The Sphinx congratulated Brother DuBois and the others for “the gallant fight that they won in the interest of tolerant and enlightened principles in Negro education.
In 1923, DuBois future son in law, poet Countee Cullen was initiated into Eta
Chapter in New York along with nine other men. A year later, Cullen married
DuBois’s only daughter Yolande(a member of Delta Sigma Theta) in what Harlemites called the “wedding of the year.” The marriage, however, dissolved a year later.
To see the expression on DuBois’s face as he is sitting between Eugene
Kinckle Jones and George Biddle Kelley outside of the St. Phillips Protestant
Church in Harlem at the 17th Annual Convention in New York speaks volumes
regarding DuBois’s respect and appreciation for Alpha Phi Alpha. This group
of college trained men embodied the very essence of what his celebrated
theory the Talented Tenth was about. These were the sons of priviledge and
opportunity who had an inalienable right because of what they had been given
to lead the race and lift it from the depths of despair.”