One hundred years ago today–on Jan. 13, 1913, twenty-two young women at Howard University established Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
The Deltas were founded at a time when women did not have the right to vote. When African Americans were second-class citizens. And when black women were concentrated in the exploitative drudgery of domestic work. As college students, these young women understood that their education meant they had relative privilege.
And founding Delta Sigma Theta was a response to that opportunity–a chance to nurture social bonds between one another and serve their broader community.
For those of you unfamiliar with the traditions of African American Greek letter organizations I know it might seem odd to talk about a sorority centennial on a political show, but Delta Sigma Theta is not exclusively, or even primarily an organization for college women. Delta, like the other historically black sororities and fraternities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, has a history rooted in social, economic, religious and political engagement.
Delta is the organization that first introduced me to the accomplishments of many black women in American politics. Patricia Roberts Harris the first African American woman to be appointed to a Presidential cabinet. Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House and the first to run for President. Barbara Jordan, the first black woman elected to the U.S. House from the South. Carol Moseley Braun, the only African American woman U.S. senator.
All women who chose to affiliate with Delta. Delta is the organization where I had my first opportunity to practice leadership. As an undergraduate chapter president I learned basics skills like Robert’s Rules of Order, honed more intangible abilities, like forming consensus among extremely diverse points of view, and had a great time at my share of step shows. Women take many paths to leadership, Delta was the one I first followed.
It is no perfect organization. Like many of our counterparts, Deltas have been complicit in the excesses of college hazing and have sometimes squandered, rather than mobilized, our political and economic resources. But perfection is not the standard.
Commitment is. I make no claim that this organization is better than any other, but I believe the commitments of the more than 200 thousand college and graduate members to making ourselves, our communities, and our nation better is a story worth noting.
Today, Delta Sigma Theta is one hundred years old. Happy birthday, sorors.