Black Greek-Lettered Organizations
And Civic Responsibility
On the eve of the first centennial celebrations for Black Greek-lettered organizations (BGLOs), and at this crucial time in American electoral politics, it is important to discuss the potential impact of BGLOs in advancing African American civil and political rights.
During the antebellum years and Jim Crow era, barriers to Black voting included enslavement, anti-literacy laws, violence and intimidation, grandfather clauses, gerrymandering, literacy requirements, property requirements, threats of eviction or loss of jobs and poll taxes. African Americans who voted were largely met with recriminations of the worst kind — not the least of which was lynching.
African Americans have waged a continuous struggle for equitable democratic participation. Therefore, we must continue to hold ourselves accountable for voting. Though there are clear barriers to Black political justice, that is no excuse for the level of civic ambivalence that plagues African Americans.
Black voter participation has not lived up to the standards established by the activists of the 1950s and 1960s. As of July 2002, only 59.3 percent of African Americans of voting age were registered to vote. African Americans must vote every year for every level of representative office — but this simply does not happen.
Black Greek-lettered organizations, along with Black churches, often have provided a foundation for the fight to correct social injustices. Member organizations of the National Pan-Hellenic Council — “the Divine Nine” — were all founded on principles of Black pride, service and justice. Founders of Black Greek-lettered organizations advanced Black democratic rights by serving in the Urban League, League of Women Voters, National Guard, American Legion, Christian Friends for Racial Equality, as well as organizing voter registration drives and voter assistance programs. These are only a few examples.
The founders of BGLOs have laid down a challenge for contemporary members of their organizations. Meeting the challenge will further the legacy of BGLOs. Failing to do so means squandering our potential political power and succumbing to the critique of organizational irrelevance at a time when political activism is most needed.
In addition, on the eve of the centennial celebrations arriving in 2006, the treatment of “brothers and sisters” in hazing practices are rampant despite uniform denunciation by organizations. This generation of African Americans have rolled back hard-won advances of civil and human rights activists.
One way to honor the vision of BGLO founders is to support local and National Pan-Hellenic Council efforts to increase Black voter registration and turnout for the upcoming elections.
There are an estimated 1.5 million members of Black Greek-letter organizations; thus members comprise a mere 3.9 percent of the African American population. Statistically, BGLO members are not significant; however, members are 1.5 million Black people who each have contacts with hundreds of others who can collaborate to ensure Black political justice in this country.
It is imperative that Black Greek-lettered organizations counter the charges of critics and prove they are viable and relevant civic bodies still grounded in the vision and mission of their founders. BGLOs have a responsibility to participate in the re-invigoration of African American voting (www.unity04.net/).
Dr. Evans is an assistant professor of African American studies and Women’s studies at the University of Florida.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com