Alpha Phi Alpha (ΑΦΑ) is the first intercollegiate fraternity established by African American men. Founded on December 4, 1906, on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Alpha Phi Alpha has initiated over 185,000 men into the organization and has been open to men of all races since 1945. The fraternity utilizes motifs and artifacts from Ancient Egypt to represent the organization and preserves its archives at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
The founders, Henry Arthur Callis, Charles Henry Chapman, Eugene Kinckle Jones, George Biddle Kelley, Nathaniel Allison Murray, Robert Harold Ogle, and Vertner Woodson Tandy, are collectively known as the "Seven Jewels". The fraternity expanded when second and third chapters were chartered at Howard University and Virginia Union University in 1907. Beginning in 1908, Alpha Phi Alpha became the prototype for other Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO). Today, there are over 800 active Alpha chapters in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia, the West Indies, and the Virgin Islands.
Alpha Phi Alpha evolved into a primarily service organization and has provided leadership and service during the Great Depression, World Wars, Civil Rights Movements, and addresses social issues such as apartheid, AIDS, urban housing, and other economic, cultural, and political issues affecting people of color. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial and World Policy Council are programs of Alpha Phi Alpha, and the fraternity jointly leads philanthropic programming initiatives with March of Dimes, Head Start, Boy Scouts of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
The fraternity's constitution was adopted on December 4, 1907, limiting membership to "Negro male" students and providing that the General Convention of the Fraternity would be created following the establishment of the fourth chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. The preamble states the purpose of Alpha Phi Alpha in part as:
To promote a more perfect union among college men; to aid in and insist upon the personal progress of its members; to further brotherly love and a fraternal spirit within the organization; to discountenance evil; to destroy all prejudices; to preserve the sanctity of the home, the personification of virtue and the chastity of woman.
Howard University, on December 20, 1907, where founders Jones and Murray chartered the fraternity's second chapter, (Beta), was the site of the organization of the first black Greek letter organization among historically black schools. Jones and Murray established (Gamma) on December 30, 1907 at Virginia Union University. The fraternity has established an Alpha Phi Alpha Archives at Howard University in Washington, D.C. to preserve the history of the organization. The Secretary of State of New York accepted the incorporation of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity on January 29, 1908. The purpose and objective of the fraternity within these articles of incorporation was declared to be "educational and for the mutual uplift of its members."
The first General Convention of Alpha Phi Alpha, held at Howard University in 1908. The fraternity became international when it chartered a chapter at the University of Toronto in 1908, (although shortly thereafter the chapter became defunct and its seat was transferred to what is now Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas). Other international chapters have been chartered in London, England, Frankfurt, Germany, Monrovia, Liberia, the Caribbean and South Korea.
The first general convention assembled in December 1908 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., producing the first ritual and the election of the first General President of Alpha Phi Alpha, Moses A. Morrison. Today, the office of the General President wields great influence beyond the fraternity, and each newly elected president is automatically considered one of the "100 most influential Black Americans."
The fraternity established its first alumni chapter Alpha Lambda in 1911 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Fraternity was again incorporated as a national organization on April 9, 1911, under the laws of Congress within the District of Columbia, under the name and title of The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Alpha Phi Alpha member W. E. B. Du Bois was founder of the NAACP and its journal, The Crisis. For nearly 100 years Alpha Phi Alpha and its members have had a voice and influence on politics, current-affairs and key issues facing the world as founder and editor of national publications. The Crisis, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was started by fraternity member W. E. B. Du Bois in 1910. In 1914, The Sphinx, named after the Egyptian landmark, began publication as the fraternity's official journal. Still published, The Crisis and The Sphinx are the first and second oldest continuously published black journals in the United States, respectively. The National Urban League's (NUL) Opportunity Journal, was first published in 1923 under the leadership of Alpha founder Eugene Jones, with fraternity brother Charles Johnson as its executive editor.
Alpha Phi Alpha chose to use Egyptian symbology more representative of the members' African heritage. The Great Sphinx and Great Pyramids of Giza are fraternity icons. Alpha Phi Alpha utilizes motifs from Ancient Egypt and uses images and songs depicting the Her-em-akhet (Great Sphinx of Giza), pharaohs, and other Egyptian artifacts to represent the organization. This is in contrast to other fraternities that traditionally echo themes from the golden age of Ancient Greece. Alpha's constant reference to Ethiopia in hymns and poems are further examples of Alpha's mission to imbue itself with an African cultural heritage. Fraternity brother Charles H. Wesley wrote, "To the Alpha Phi Alpha brotherhood, African history and civilization, the Sphinx, and Ethiopian tradition bring new meanings and these are interpreted with new significance to others." The Great Pyramids of Giza, symbols of foundation, sacred geometry and more, are other African images chosen by Alpha Phi Alpha as fraternity icons.
The fraternity's 21st General President, Thomas W. Cole once said, "Alpha Phi Alpha must go back to her ultimate roots; only then can she be nurtured to full bloom." Fraternity members make pilgrimages to its spiritual birthplaces of Egypt to walk across the sands of the Giza Plateau to the Great Sphinx of Giza and the Great Pyramids of Giza, and to Ethiopia.