Iota Phi Theta Fraternity
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. (ΙΦΘ) is a historically African American fraternity. It was founded on September 19, 1963, at Morgan State University (then Morgan State College) in Baltimore, Maryland, and is currently the 5th largest Black Greek Lettered Fraternity. Members of the close-knit Afrocentric fraternity proudly embrace the organization’s youth, uniqueness, individualism (stereotyping discouraged) and modern idealism. As a contemporary organization, many members have had the great honor of meeting, fellowshipping with and/or engaging in personal or virtual discussions with one or more of their founders. Today there are over 301 undergraduate and alumni chapters (including colonies), as well as colonies located in 40 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, The Bahamas, Colombia, South Korea, and Japan.
Founded: September 19, 1963, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
Headquarters: Baltimore, MD
Colors: Charcoal brown; Gilded gold
Member number: 75,000 members
The fraternity was founded by 12 men (giving the organization the distinction of having more founders than any other NPHC fraternity) — Albert Hicks, Lonnie Spruill Jr., Charles Briscoe, Frank Coakley, John Slade, Barron Willis, Webster Lewis, Charles Brown, Louis Hudnell, Charles Gregory, Elias Dorsey Jr. and Michael Williams — during the Civil Rights Movement. On September 19, 1963, the twelve founders gathered together on the steps of Hurt Gymnasium on the campus of Morgan State College (now Morgan State University) and unyielding desired & agreed to form Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., a support system for militant men of color in the era’s turbulent social climate.
At the time of the fraternity’s founding, several NPHC organizations “existed on Morgan State’s campus”. Many new organizations devoted to the plight of African Americans arose during the 1960s. Like those organizations, Iota Phi Theta’s founders were extremely devoted to Civil Rights and energizing the movement. Many early members of the fraternity were also actively involved in the Black Power and Pan-Africanism Movements, both begun due to perceived and actual failures of Civil Rights Movement initiatives. Influencers of Iota Phi Theta include organizations such as the Black Panthers, SNCC, the original Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton) and individuals like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.
Early activism – Northwood Theater
While the 1950s was an era of conformity, the 1960s was an era of resistance. In the 60s many African Americans began forming organizations based on their passion for social change and their alignment with the principles of the Civil Rights Movement. The fraternity was among these groups. Brothers participated in various protests and sit-ins throughout Baltimore to fight racial segregation. The earliest was a protest organized with a civic interest group, composed mostly of Morgan State College students, against the theater at Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland, located diagonally across the street from Morgan State College. Northwood continued to segregate its services, affecting thousands of students at the historically black college. In many theaters, only white people could occupy seating on the main floor, while black people were restricted to the “Jim Crow” balcony, often with a separate ticket booth and entrance.
This protest started February 15, 1963, and over the course of the six days, the total number of picketers involved reached 1500, and over 400 individuals were arrested. The protest took place in the context of a longer history of protests against the theater’s white-only policy. Annual demonstrations against the theater had been held since 1955, including a sit-in at Northwood and picketing downtown.
Incorporation, philanthropy, and growth
The fraternity functioned as a local entity until the first interest groups were established in 1967 at Hampton Institute (Beta Chapter) and Delaware State College (Gamma Chapter). Further expansion took place in 1968, with chapters formed at Norfolk State College (Delta Chapter) and Jersey City State College (Epsilon Chapter). The fraternity was legally incorporated on November 1, 1968, as a national fraternity under the laws of the State of Maryland. Zeta Chapter (North Carolina A&T State University) was founded in spring 1969.
1963 was a defining year in the United States. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas; civil rights’ protests continued throughout the South, during which nonviolent activists were frequently met with beatings and arrests; 4 young girls were killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing; over 200,000 people marched on Washington in support of civil rights; Kenya gained its independence; Medger Evers, NAACP field secretary, and civil rights leader, was assassinated at his home in Jackson, Mississippi by a segregationist; Unemployment reached 6.1 percent, etc.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fraternity supported local social service programs including the Big Brothers of America. In 1974, the then Grand Polaris, Thomas Dean, appeared in a local television commercial on behalf of Big Brothers of America.
Joining the NIC and NPHC
While eventually joining the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) was an important objective for some members, it was not an objective for the fraternity as a whole. The fraternity prioritized entering an affiliation that would provide resources and relationships essential for Iota’s long-term growth and development. With that in mind, Iota Phi Theta successfully petitioned for membership in the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC; a federation of 69 North American men’s fraternities) in 1985.
Audrey Brooks and Iota Sweethearts
In the early growth and development of the fraternity, Morgan State College staff member Audrey Brooks assisted the Brothers and became a vital resource to Iota Phi Theta, providing protection and support for the fledgling organization. In recognition of her support, the fraternity granted Ms. Brooks the title of “Eternal Sweetheart”. Brooks continued to support Iota Phi Theta through her life and was a frequent guest at Iota conclaves and workshops until her passing in 2003.
The Iota Sweetheart Auxiliary was formed soon after in her honor and has become a fraternity tradition. During a Sweetheart Workshop held during the 1999 Iota Phi Theta Conclave in Oakland, California, Ms. Brooks stated, “The Purpose of Iota Sweethearts is to smile and be gracious on behalf of Iota. Anything else is inappropriate,” which became the philosophical foundation of the Sweetheart Auxiliary.
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