Greek 101: A Brief History
In the beginning...
Fraternities and sororities have a long history in American culture. The first and oldest Greek lettered organization dates back to Dec 5,1776 with the formation of Phi Beta Kappa at William and Mary College. According to Dr. Walter Kimbrough one of the nation's leading Greek Life experts when Greek organizations were first starting out they functioned as literary and political societies, whose members would discuss current issues.Through the years these organizations became more socially based. In 1867 what once were "female social societies" evolved into the first greek lettered sororities. Phi Mu, Alpha Delta Pi, and Phi Beta Phi were all founded during this year, creating the foundation for the expansion of sororities.
Development of Black Greek Organizations
Nonetheless, as the Greek system grew in popularity the small percentage of African-Americans who pursued higher education did not feel these organizations suited them. In 1906 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.was formed on the campus of Cornell University as "the first black intercollegiate greek organization." In 1908 on the campus of Howard University-- a predominantly African-American school, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.,was formed as the first black sorority. By 1932 the National Pan Hellenic Council was established to serve as the governing board of these organizations. Today the NPHC organizations are known as the Noble Nine- the sororities are Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho; fraternities in this council include Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta.
Development of Latino/Multicultural Greek Organizations
While the NPHC organizations catered to the needs of African American's, Latino students felt there was a need for greek organizations that would cater towards their needs. In December of 1975 a group of Latino students at Kean University, Union New Jersey convened to discuss the formation of a Latino greek organization. The men would come to form Lambda Theta Phi Fraternidad Latina, Inc., and the women would form Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.Both organizations stand as the first and oldest hispanic- based greek organizations.
In the early 1980's their was a boom in the formation of Latino based fraternities and sororities. While these organizations were founded as hispanic based organizations they were open to everyone, thus many people from other ethnic origins found home in these organizations. In 1981 Mu Sigma Upsilon was formed as "the first Multicultural sorority in the nation."
Today, in addition to Black, Latino, or Multicultural organizations, there are also Asian and South Asian Greek Organizations that are rapidly growing in popularity. Such as Alpha Kappa Delta Phi one of the largest Asian sororities in the nation, and Sigma Beta Rho a south asian fraternity. A directory of all the multicultural greek organizations can be found at Latinogreeks.com.
Many of the black and ethnic based greek organizations distinguish themselves by having "handsigns" and "calls" that identify their organization. They use these symbols as a sign of pride to their organization.