The History of the Divine Nine
Updated: Mar 1
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, known as the “Divine Nine”, consists of nine historically Black Greek letter organizations, most of which were created at a Historically Black College/University (HBCU), with rich ties into successes within Black America.
In the early 20th century, Black college students were in the midst of a very political war just by existing and often sought the comfort of a like-minded group of brothers yet were barred from joining the exclusive social Greek organizations. On December 1, 1906, seven Cornell men founded the first intercollegiate Black Greek letter organization, Alpha Phi Alpha, on the principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character, and the uplifting of humanity. Their interracial fraternity continued to expand with their first alumni chapter being established in 1911 and their long-lasting social justice outreach through members such as W.E.B. Dubois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. Their chapters soon expanded across other universities, including Howard University.
Only two years later, on January 15, 1908, founder Ethel Hedgemon along with eight other Howard University women established Alpha Kappa Alpha as the first Negro Greek letter sorority. This original group of nine set a standard to aspire for the highest level of achievement in all areas of scholastic, service, friendship, and womanhood as well as uplifting the Black community as a whole. Their members have greatly impacted the Black community in a multitude of areas ranging from literature (Dr. Maya Angelou), STEM (Dr. Mae Jamison), Politics (Vice President Kamala Harris), to even Hollywood (Jada Pinkette-Smith).
In 1910, Black students at Indiana University were caught in a racial nightmare as the state of Indiana became a stronghold for the Klu Klux Klan which made day-to-day life horrid for anyone with brown skin. A safe social community for men on campus was highly desired by Elder Watson Diggs and Byron Kenneth Armstrong who had previously attended Howard University and spoken to members of Alpha Phi Alpha. They met with eight other men and established Kappa Alpha Nu on January 5, 1911, under the standards of high Christian ideals for the purpose of achievement not only for cultured collegiate men but Black youth. On April 15, 1915, Kappa Alpha Nu was officially renamed to Kappa Alpha Psi after a racist nickname (“Kappa Alpha Nig”) began to circulate and an additional misunderstanding of the fraternity’s initials, KAN, standing for the state of Kansas. Some notable Kappa Alpha Psi members are Cedric the Entertainer, Arthur Ashe, and Colin Kaepernick.
Not long after, the first international fraternity founded on the campus of an HBCU was established as Omega Psi Phi on November 17, 1911, at Howard University by three undergrads and their faculty advisor. Edgar Amos Love, Oscar James Cooper, and Frank Coleman along with Ernest Everett Just created Omega Psi Phi and its motto from the Greek phrase meaning “friendship is essential to the stone.” Their members uphold the principles of manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift through notable brothers such as Langston Hughes, Steve Harvey, and Sterling Brown.
Howard University then produced two more Divine Nine organizations back to back in 1913 and 1914: Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. Delta Sigma Theta was founded by twenty-two collegiate women with the intention of placing emphasis on academic achievement and public service to those needing assistance. Their members are prominent female role models as their first act of public service was participating in the Suffrage March of 1914, and notable Deltas include Shirley Chisholm, Aretha Franklin, and Loretta Lynch.
The latter organization, Phi Beta Sigma, was founded by three collegiate men, A. Langston Taylor, Leonard F. Morse, and Charles I. Brown, who wanted an organization that exemplified brotherhood, scholarship, and service. Their international organization has continued to be committed to their education and their community through notable members such as George Washington Carver, former President William J. Clinton, and Al Sharpton.
Quite a bit later, on January 16, 1920, a sister organization to Phi Beta Sigma was created from five coeds that envisioned an organization that prioritizes academia to the highest as well as provides a positive change for humanity. Zeta Phi Beta has always been known for its high academic standards and involvement in social causes through notable members like Zora Neale Hurston and Anita Hill.
Another sorority was established two years later on November 12, 1922, by seven school teachers then became an incorporated national collegiate sorority on December 30, 1929, at Butler University. The sisters of Sigma Gamma Rho are determined to positively impact their community through sisterhood, leadership, and service. Some notable members include Robin Kelly and Kelly Price.
The last Black Greek letter organization that makes up the Divine Nine is the Iota Phi Theta fraternity founded on September 19, 1963, by 12 students of Morgan State University. The founders were considered “non-traditional” students and were inspired by the civil rights activists prevalent during the time, so they made the organization’s purpose to make meaningful contributions to society (especially the Black community) by building traditions. Notable members include Congressman Bobby Rush and Terrence T.C. Carson.
Each of these Black Fraternities and Sororities has paved the way for growth and unity within the Black community, on and off the college campus. From the Divine Nine, more Black Greek letter organizations became established and students internationally are able to find a brotherhood they connect with. This Black History Month, let’s make sure to celebrate all of our frats and soro’s for their positive impacts on the community.