Arizona Cleaver, along with her four friends, Pearl Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler, and Fannie Pettie, are the five pearls of Zeta Phi Beta. They are the organization’s founders. The idea for the organization happened several months earlier when Cleaver was walking with Charles Robert Samuel Taylor, a Phi Beta Sigma at Howard University. Taylor suggested that Cleaver consider starting a sister organization to Phi Beta Sigma.
Although there were already two sororities on the Howard University campus, Cleaver and her four friends were interested and started the process. They sought and were granted approval from university administrators. The five met for the first time as a sanctioned organization on January 16, 1920. They named their organization Zeta Phi Beta. It is the only National Pan-Hellenic Council sorority constitutionally bound to a fraternity; that fraternity is Phi Beta Sigma.
Shortly after Zeta Phi Beta’s debut, the other NPHC sororities founded at Howard University, Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha, gave a reception for the Zeta Phi Beta members.
How wonderful it is that on Founders’ Day, Zeta Phi Beta member Julia Carson, Indiana’s first African American and first woman from Indianapolis elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, will be memorialized with a bronze bust in the Statehouse. The event is part of the State of Indiana’s 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Indiana Holiday Celebration sponsored by the Indiana Civil Rights Commission and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Indiana Holiday Commission.
Carson was born Julia May Porter. Her family moved to Indianapolis when she was a child. A 1955 graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, she attended Martin University in Indianapolis and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She joined Zeta Phi Beta as a college student.
From 1976 until 1990, Carson served in the Indiana Senate. She also served six years as Trustee for Center Township. In 1997, she began her tenure in the United States House of Representatives for Indiana’s 7th congressional district. She was serving in that position when she died in 2007.
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© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All Rights Reserved.