ECU’s first Black fraternity celebrates 50 years

On April 3, brothers of the East Carolina University Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity celebrated the 50th anniversary of becoming ECU’s first Black fraternity. Chapter members recently connected virtually (an in-person event was postponed due to the ongoing pandemic), initiated 11 new members and kicked off a scholarship campaign.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history of our fraternity that’s more than worthy of being recognized. It’s something that the brothers and alumni have looked forward to,” said alumnus Robert Cherry, the chapter’s adviser.

Alpha Phi Alpha members pose for a 1972 portrait. Front: Jimmy Lewis, Jerry Congleton, and Thomas Patterson. Back: Gregory Carter, James Johnson, David Frankly, James Mitchell, Tony Shedrick and Ken Hammond. (1972 Buccaneer yearbook photo)

As a national organization, Alpha Phi Alpha formed at Cornell University in 1906 as a study and support group for minority students facing racial prejudice. At ECU, a chapter was formed on April 3, 1971, and was the first Black fraternity at a predominately white institution in North Carolina, according to the organization.

Rev. Kenneth Hammond, one of the charter members, said it was a monumental undertaking for several reasons.

“There was a university rule that if you received financial aid, you could not pledge a fraternity or sorority. This was designed to minimize the likelihood of African Americans seeking to join, because most received financial aid at that time,” he said.

The chapter received help and guidance from Dr. Andrew Best, an Alpha and prominent member of the Greenville community. Best was notable for orchestrating the desegregation of East Carolina College and Pitt County Memorial Hospital (now Vidant Medical Center) in the 1960s.

Best worked with then-Chancellor Leo Jenkins to get the discriminatory rule rescinded and even paid the chapter’s startup fees out of his own pocket, Hammond said.

“We consider ourselves trailblazers because it opened the door for other Black Greek chapters to establish themselves on campus,” he added. “To see how far the chapter has come is certainly a good feeling.”

On the Eta Nu Chapter’s 50th anniversary, the fraternity presented its Spring 2021 initiates on its Instagram page. (Contributed photo)

The chapter continued to break barriers in subsequent years. Alpha Phi Alpha members became the first African American vice president and president of the Student Government Association, and the first African American homecoming king. Leadership and civic engagement are part of the organization’s mission.

A main goal of the anniversary celebration is to connect generations of Alphas and re-engage them with the university, anniversary co-chair Montique Warren said. Another component is working to endow a scholarship for future members.

“In celebrating, we’re thinking about how to leave a lasting impact. This is an opportunity to connect with our network, to give back and to make the path a little easier for someone else,” Warren said.

The scholarship aligns with the three aims of the fraternity: manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind. The recipient must demonstrate accomplishments in each of these areas to receive the $1,000 scholarship.

“It’s been 50 years of young men coming through this chapter — we’re excited about it,” Warren added.

The fraternity is planning a full-scale event to celebrate the 50th anniversary at a later date.


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