1963 was a turbulent year. History-making events occurred that would radically and permanently affect the country as a whole, and African-Americans in particular …
On April 12, America watched with horror and outrage as Birmingham Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor and his officers used water hoses and police dogs against peaceful civil rights demonstrators.
On June 12th, Medger Evers, NAACP field secretary and civil rights leader, was assassinated at his home in Jackson, Mississippi by a segregationist.
On August 28th, 250,000 people participated in the historic “March on Washington” and heard Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his historic “I Have a Dream” speech
… Three weeks later and less than 50 miles away, in Baltimore, Maryland, another group of men would make a different kind of history.
On September 19, 1963, at Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), 12 students founded what is now the nation’s fifth largest, predominately African-American social service fraternity: The Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Incorporated.
The founders of Iota Phi Theta were: 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.
This group of men was unique for several reasons. First of all, many were long-time friends. Spruill, Coakley, Dorsey, and Gregory had known one another since grade school, and Spruill and Coakley’s friendship extended to when the two were pre-schoolers.
Iota Phi Theta, 1964
Even more uniquely, many of these men were what are now referred to as “Non-Traditional Students” and were 3-5 years older than the average college student. Gregory, Willis, and Brown were all service veterans, and Brown, Hicks, and Briscoe were married with small children. Of this group of 12, several were also working full-time jobs and all were full-time students.
Based upon their ages, heightened responsibilities, and increased level of maturity, this group had a slightly different perspective than the norm for college students. It was this perspective from which they established the Fraternity’s purpose, “The development and perpetuation of Scholarship, Leadership, Citizenship, Fidelity, and Brotherhood among Men.” Additionally, they conceived the Fraternity’s motto, “Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One!”
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 being formed at Norfolk State College (Delta Chapter) and Jersey City State College (Epsilon Chapter). The Fraternity was officially and legally incorporated on November 1, 1968 as a National Fraternity under the laws of the State of Maryland. Today, Iota Phi Theta consists of 249 chapters located in 40 States as well Japan, Korea and the Bahamas.
The first steps toward moving the Fraternity from a regional to a more national scope were taken with the creation of Upsilon Chapter (Southern Illinois University) in 1974. It was also during this period that the Fraternity’s first 4 Graduate chapters were formed: Alpha Omega (Baltimore, MD, 1965), Beta Omega (Washington, DC, 1970), Gamma Omega (Hampton, VA, 1973), and Delta Omega (Boston, MA, 1973).
These chapters created the framework for the growth and development of the organization in the Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest Regions of the country. The next regional expansion occurred in 1983 with the establishment of the Alpha Chi (San Francisco State University) and Xi Omega (San Francisco Alumni) chapters in California.
Today, Iota Phi Theta consists of almost 250 chapters located in 40 States and the District of Columbia. The scope of the organization extends throughout the nation, from California to New York; from Wyoming to Florida; and from Wisconsin to Japan and the Republic of Korea.
As Iota Phi Theta continues to grow and strengthen, so will its commitment to make meaningful contributions to society in general, with particular emphasis in the African-American community. Throughout America, Iota Phi Theta has come to represent excellence in all areas. The Fraternity is, and shall forever remain dedicated to its founders’ vision of “Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One!”