The most remarkable leadership in the African American community in the 20th century without question came from the ranks of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. (FBS).
Since our founding on January 9, 1914, at Howard University in Washington, DC, we have supplied an empowering voice and vision to the struggle of African Americans and people of color around the world.
The idea behind a fourth historical African American fraternity came during the fall of 1913. Three outstanding young men, with the idea of creating yet another fraternity on the campus of Howard University, forged plans to bring FBS to reality. While still in his native Tennessee, the Most Honorable Bro. A. Langston Taylor first came up with the idea of creating a different kind of fraternity. After confiding in his friend and former roommate, the Most Honorable Bro. Leonard F. Morse on his idea of a different kind of fraternity, the two sought out the support of their friend and final member of the founding three the Most Honorable Bro. Charles I. Brown.
The three, together, possessed a relentless drive to establish an organization that viewed itself as “a part of” the general community rather than “apart from” the general community. These extraordinary men wished deeply to create an organization that encouraged the highest standards of scholarship through scientific, literary, cultural and educational programs, promoted service projects on college campuses and in the community and fostered brotherhood. They wanted to organize a Fraternity that would exist as a part of an even greater brotherhood, which would be devoted to the “inclusive we” rather than the “exclusive we”. In order to establish such an organization they realized it would be an obstacle to their advancement to embrace the exclusive tenets of established historical African American, Greek-letter fraternities. They believed that in order to establish a True Fraternity each potential member would have to be judged on his own merits rather than his family background or affluence…irregardless of race, nationality, color, skin tone, or texture of hair.
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While the three sped on their way towards founding a fraternity, nine other men of distinction from Howard University were selected for membership. Finally on the night of January 9, 1914, FBS was no longer just a wish, it officially became a national fraternity. The next set of business for the charter members was to get recognition on campus for the new fraternity. This task was achieved on April 15, 1914, when the Board of Deans officially granted them recognition. This marked Howard University’s first ever recognition of a historical African American fraternity. Soon after publishing the announcement for the newest Fraternity’s recognition, Sigma was overwhelmed with requests from Howard University men to pledge. Despite the flood of applicants, only 14 outstanding men were accepted into the realm of Sigma.
The men of Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma quickly established themselves as leaders on Howard University’s campus. Bro. A. M. Walker, the first initiate of FBS, became assistant editor of the Howard University Journal, while Most Honorable Bro. A. Langston Taylor earned the position of Circulation Manager. Meanwhile, during the summer of 1914, Honorable Bro. I. L. Scruggs located a fraternity house for the men of Alpha Chapter to reside in. Further testament to the rise of Sigma came in the November of 1915, when the general board of FBS received a proposal from Elder W. Diggs co-founder of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity for the two organizations to merge. His proposal was denied.
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From FBS ‘s inception, our organization’s Most Honorable Founding Fathers also conceived the Fraternity as a mechanism to deliver services to the general community. Rather than gaining skills to be utilized exclusively for themselves and their immediate families, they held the deep conviction that they should return their newly acquired skills to the communities from which they had come. This deep conviction was mirrored in the Fraternity motto, “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity”.
Shortly after the founding of FBS, the Fraternity’s Most Honorable Founding Fathers said “what we have is good…but incomplete!” Although FBS’s highly crystallized ideals meet and exceed the tools necessary to guide and support the general student population as well as make Great FBS Men, it didn’t completely meet the unparalleled needs of women. They believed that in order for a true student-oriented organization to be at an ultimate height of greatness, the strengths of both men and women were needed.
Thus, a quest was deployed to create a True Sisterhood, following similar principles as FBS, but having its own womanly uniqueness. Two Most Honorable Brothers of FBS accepted this monumental task, and on January 16, 1920, five phenomenal women, Most Honorable Sorors Arizona Cleaver Stemmons, Fannie Pettie Watts, Myrtle Tyler Faithful, Pearl Ann Neal and Viola Tyler Goings, who chose not to embrace the exclusive tenets of established historical African American, Greek-letter sororities, were chosen, and founded Zeta Phi Beta Sorority (ZFB) on the campus of Howard University.
ZFB was founded, as the sister organization to FBS, to encourage the highest standards of scholarship through scientific, literary, cultural and educational programs; to promote service projects on college campuses and in the community, to foster sisterhood and sisterly love; and to exemplify the ideal of finer womanhood. This deep conviction was mirrored in the sorority motto, “A Community Conscious, Action-Oriented Organization”.
Though often imitated, our organizations still remain the first and only constitutionally bound brother-sister historical African American, Greek-letter organizations in existence.
As a service organization, we have many programs. Through FBS ‘s three National Programs, Bigger and Better Business, Social Action, and Education, we have demonstrated unparalleled excellence and leadership, on delivering to the needs of today and tomorrow’s world. In fact, the national mentoring program of FBS the Sigma Beta Club, has helped to shape and mold young men and boys nationwide.
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Our organization’s focus in past social issues included being instrumental in establishing National and State Anti-Lynching legislation in the 1930’s and 40’s, the elimination of racial discrimination and segregation in federal, state, municipal and county employment in the 50’s and 60’s along with the abolition of Jim Crow Laws. Brother A. Phillip Randolph was a key factor and the mind behind the march on Washington during the 60’s civil right’s movement, as was Brother Huey P. Newton, Ph.D. in awakening the minds of African Americans and people of color to rise up out of the plight of mental slavery. Another positive contribution of FBS was its ad vocation and practice of equality for women throughout all levels of the organization and in society itself. This occurred at a time when most Nationalist organizations were demanding that the woman’s role be in the home and/or one step behind the man, and at a time when the whole country was going through a great debate on the woman’s liberation issue.
In order to implement these and other programs, our fraternity works hand in hand with our sister sorority, ZFB. In addition we also work with several organizations. Such organizations include, but are not limited to: The National Pan Hellenic Council, The NAACP, The National Urban League, March of Dimes, Birth Defects Foundation, The United Negro College Fund, The American Cancer Society, and The National Boys & Girls Clubs of America. . Proactively, we have also dedicated ourselves to training a new generation of leaders with national mentoring programs and partnerships designed to ensure the success of our children and youth. It is this leadership development and community service training for young men, which has made FBS the most prestigious organization of its kind today. It is for this reason that FBS has the distinct pleasure and privilege of being known as “THE PEOPLE’S FRATERNITY”.
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Today more than three-quarter of a century later, our organization continues its commitment to the African American community. Through the FBS Education Foundation, we are able to award scholarship grants to outstanding students for the pursuit of higher education. This foundation is also able to encourage and participate in educational activities including research, which aids in the academic development of men and presents community programs and in the educational and/or vocational improvement of individual and of community living standards. Through the FBS Federal Credit Union, we are able to contribute financially into the community by building financial equity in underprivileged communities.
FBS has also blossomed into an international organization of phenomenal college and professional leaders that consistently strive to improve the human conditions both in its members and in the community. With the power, force and vigor of it’s more than 110,000 dedicated men, united in more than 650 chapters across the United States, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we continue to faithfully perpetuate growth and progress as “THE PEOPLE’S FRATERNITY”. We are able to do this by remaining dedicated to providing service to all of humanity.
Indeed, our brotherhood was conceived on lofty and ambitious ideals. These ideals were ahead of their time. They deified the status quo of Black exclusionary elitism. As men of valor and truth, we serve without prejudice, regard for self, or expectation for reward. We seek no accolades. We are the leaders, the innovators, and the visionaries. Others have always, and continue to follow in our path. Thus Sigma has no need to make men great, because great men, constantly make Sigma.
The conviction of a Sigma Man is to uplift and serve the common man as well as the uncommon man; the poor man as well as the rich man; and we will serve the man who lives meagerly at the bottom of the hill, as well as the man who lives abundantly at the top of it. Our conviction is our code, and it is this code that we judge men by. It is this code that makes Sigma Men, the Best Men, Achieving Excellence through Brotherhood, Scholarship and Service.
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