Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the Fight for Civil Rights
6 Wake Forest J. L. & Pol'y 213
89 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2017
Date Written: 2016
The narrative of African Americans' quest for racial equality and social justice in the twentieth century is typically construed in the context of main-line civil rights organizations -- NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, and the like. However, for decades, black fraternal networks helped lay the groundwork for the major civil rights campaigns that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Much of this history emerged from the efforts of the predecessors to black Greek-letter collegiate organizations -- black secret societies. Black secret societies were created in response to the racialization and racism experienced by blacks in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Blacks were subjected to legal, political, financial, and social exclusion, and this marginalization was institutionalized, which allowed for its perpetuation. As a result, black secret societies formed, not only as an act of self- and race-consciousness, but also to combat these oppressions.
Through black secret societies, members entered into a bond of brotherhood and built a community among themselves and around the goals of racial uplift. Whereas black benevolent societies and churches also provided support, a key element that differentiated black secret societies was their organizing body. With an organizational structure that included local, regional, and national bodies, black secret societies provided an infrastructure for long-lasting organizations and impact, along with offering leadership training. This structure also solidified its power, which yielded a strong political voice. In addition to political voice, black secret societies’ power in numbers and solidarity enabled uplift through a multitude of objectives, such as buying and investing in real estate, providing educational opportunities, caring for the most marginalized within their communities, securing home and life insurance, and training for business ownership. Overall, the goal of black secret societies was threefold: first, it provided deep personal ties among members; second, it addressed exclusion both from white fraternal organizations as well as society generally; third, there was a focus on racial uplift. The influence of black secret societies can be seen through Black Greek Letter Organizations’ (“BGLOs”) organizational structure and purpose of providing support to members and the community-at-large.
Keywords: black secret societies, Black Greek Letter Organizations, BGLOs
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