Happy Founders’ Day, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated!

There is an updated post for 2016. See http://wp.me/s20I1i-9537.

Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated, the first Greek-letter organization for African-American women, was founded on January 15, 1908 by nine young female Howard University students. They were led by the vision of Ethel Hedgeman (Lyle); she had spent several months sharing her idea with her friends. During this time, she was dating her future husband, George Lyle, a charter member of the Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.

After choosing a name for their sorority, the nine women wrote a constitution and a motto. Additionally, they chose salmon pink and apple green as the sorority’s colors and ivy as its symbol. A group of seven sophomore women were invited to become members. They did not partake in an initiation ceremony and all 16 women are considered founders. The first “Ivy Week” took place in May 1909 and ivy was planted at Howard University’s Miner Hall. On January 29, 1913, Alpha Kappa Alpha was incorporated.

Today there are more than 250,000 members in graduate and undergraduate chapters the world over. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Her membership in the organization grew out of an incident involving another honorary member, the famed contralto Marian Anderson who was the first African-American woman to sing with the Metropolitan Opera and perform at the White House.

In the 1930s, Miss Anderson had performed in Europe and was the third highest box office concert draw in the United States. Sol Hurok, her manager, and Howard University tried to schedule a performance to benefit Howard’s School of Music at Constitution Hall in January 1939. They were told the hall was unavailable due to a prior engagement. Another date was requested and it was again denied. It became clear that the hall’s owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), had a policy against allowing African-American entertainers on the stage. (In 1932, Washington, D.C. had segregated facilities. Following protests over “mixed seating,” the D.A.R. adopted a rule excluding African-American artists from performing at the hall.)

In 1932, after her husband became President, Mrs. Roosevelt was given a D.A.R. membership card. She resigned her membership on February 26, 1939. She also wrote about her resignation in the “My Day” column she wrote for the following day. “But, in this case, I belong to an organization in which I can do no active work. They have taken an action which has been widely talked of in the press. To remain as a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson, both Honorary Members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated.

Instead of Constitution Hall, Miss Anderson sang at the base of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. There were 75,000 in attendance. In 1943, she finally performed at Constitution Hall for a war relief concert.

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