Published on October 15th, 2014 | by Millennium Magazine Staff0
Alpha Kappa Alpha; “The first African American Greek-Letter Sorority”
Confined to what she called “a small circumscribed life” in the segregated and male-dominated milieu that characterized the early 1900s, Howard University co-ed Ethel Hedgeman dreamed of creating a support network for women with like minds coming together for mutual uplift, and coalescing their talents and strengths for the benefit of others. In 1908, her vision crystallized as Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African American Greek-letter sorority. Five years later (1913), lead incorporator Nellie Quander ensured Alpha Kappa Alpha’s perpetuity through incorporation in the District of Columbia.
Together with eight other coeds at the mecca for African American education, Hedgeman crafted a design that not only fostered interaction, stimulation, and ethical growth among members; but also provided hope for the masses. From the core group of nine at Howard, AKA has grown into a force of more than 265,000 collegiate members and alumnae, constituting 986 chapters in 42 states, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Germany, Africa, South Korea, Japan, Canada, and on the continent of Africa.
Because they believed that Negro college women represented “the highest—more education, more enlightenment, and more of almost everything that the great mass of Negroes never had” — Hedgeman and her cohorts worked to honor what she called “an everlasting debt to raise them (Negroes) up and to make them better.” For more than a century, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sisterhood has fulfilled that obligation by becoming an indomitable force for good in their communities, state, nation, and the world.
The Alpha Kappa Alpha program today still reflects the communal consciousness steeped in the AKA tradition and embodied in AKA’s credo, “To be supreme in service to all mankind.” Cultural awareness and social advocacy marked Alpha Kappa Alpha’s infancy, but within one year (1914) of acquiring corporate status, AKA had also made its mark on education, establishing a scholarship award. The programming was a prelude to the thousands of pioneering and enduring initiatives that eventually defined the Alpha Kappa Alpha brand.
Through the years, Alpha Kappa Alpha has used the Sisterhood as a grand lever to raise the status of African-Americans, particularly girls and women. AKA has enriched minds and encouraged life-long learning; provided aid for the poor, the sick, and underserved; initiated social action to advance human and civil rights; worked collaboratively with other groups to maximize outreach on progressive endeavors; and continually produced leaders to continue its credo of service.
Guided by twenty-nine international presidents from Nellie M. Quander (1913-1919) to Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson (2014-2018), with reinforcement from a professional headquarters staff since 1949; AKA’s corps of volunteers has instituted groundbreaking social action initiatives and social service programs that have transformed communities for the better— continually emitting progress in cities, states, the nation, and the world.
Historical Sorority Program Initiatives
2000s—Launched Emerging Young Leaders, a bold move to prepare 10,000 girls in grades 6-8 to excel as young leaders equipped to respond to the challenges of the 21st century; donated $1 million to Howard University to fund scholarships and preserve Black culture (2008); strengthened the reading skills of 16,000 children through a $1.5 million after school demonstration project in low-performing, economically deprived, inner city schools (2002); and improved the quality of life for people of African descent through continuation of aid to African countries.
1990s—Built 10 schools in South Africa (1998); added the largest number of minorities to the National Bone Marrow Registry (1996); Became first civilian organization to create memorial to World War II unsung hero Dorie Miller (1991).
1980s—Adopted more than 27 African villages, earning Africare’s 1986 Distinguished Service Award; encouraged awareness of and participation in the nation’s affairs, registering more than 350, 000 new voters; and established the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation (1981), a multi-million dollar entity that annually awards more than $100,000 in scholarships, grants, and fellowships.
1970’s— Was only sorority to be named an inaugural member of Operation Big Vote (1979); completed pledge of one-half million to the United Negro College Fund (1976); and purchased Dr. Martin Luther King’s boyhood home for the MLK Center for Social Change (1972).
1960s—Sponsored inaugural Domestic Travel Tour, a one-week cultural excursion for 30 high school students (1969); launched a “Heritage Series” on African-American achievers (1965); and emerged as the first women’s group to win a grant to operate a federal job corps center (1965), preparing youth 16-21 to function in a highly competitive economy.
1950s—Promoted investing in Black businesses by depositing initial $38,000 for AKA Investment Fund with the first and only Negro firm on Wall Street (1958). Spurred Sickle Cell Disease research and education with grants to Howard Hospital and publication of The Sickle Cell Story (1958).
1940s—Invited other Greek-letter organizations to come together to establish the American Council on Human Rights to empower racial uplift and economic development (1948); Acquired observer status from the United Nations (1946); and challenged the absence of people of color from pictorial images used by the government to portray Americans (1944).
1930s—Became first organization to take out NAACP life membership (1939); Created nation’s first Congressional lobby that impacted legislation on issues ranging from decent living conditions and jobs to lynching (1938); and established the nation’s first mobile health clinic, providing relief to 15,000 Negroes plagued by famine and disease in the Mississippi Delta (1935).
1920s—Worked to dispel notions that Negroes were unfit for certain professions, and guided. Negroes in avoiding career mistakes (1923); pushed anti-lynching legislation (1921).
1900s—Promoted Negro culture and encouraged social action through presentation of Negro artists and social justice advocates, including elocutionist Nathaniel Guy, Hull House founder Jane Addams, and U. S. Congressman Martin Madden (1908-1915). Established the first organizational scholarship at Howard University (1914).