Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. (Sigma) was founded on the
campus of Howard University
in Washington, D.C., on January 14, 1914, by three college
students, A. Langston Taylor, Lenard F.
Morse, and Charles I. Brown on the principles of Brotherhood, Scholarship, and
Service. The founders wanted the organization to be “a part of” rather than
“apart from” the community. They also wanted to create an inclusive
organization that did not discriminate by racial background, family background,
or social status.
By the summer of 1914 Phi Beta Sigma had grown from the
three founders to over 14 members in its Alpha Chapter at Howard University. The fraternity, seeking to broaden its appeal
beyond undergraduates, also initiated a number of rising scholars in the black
community including Dr. Edward P. Davis, Dr. Thomas W. Turner, and Dr. Alain
Leroy Locke, a 1907 graduate of Harvard
University who in 1908 entered Oxford University
as the first African American Rhodes Scholar.
The fraternity grew quickly across the nation with chapters
from Maryland to Texas by 1920. Also by that date, Phi Beta Sigma members
Charles R. Taylor and A. Langston Taylor helped to establish the first
“sister” sorority to a black fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority at
the Howard University Campus. Sigma and Zeta are the only constitutionally
bound sister-brother organization among black Greek-letter groups.
From its founding the fraternity believed it should be a
vehicle for delivering services to the African American community. The founders showcased that idea with the fraternity’s
motto, “Culture for Service and Service to Humanity.” One of its earliest programs, the Bigger and
Better Negro Business initiative, began at the Sigma national convention in Philadelphia in
1924. The fraternity allowed over fifty
black businesses to exhibit at the convention to help them establish a national
market for their products. Today the
initiative is promoted through Project S.E.E.D. (Sigma Economic Empowerment
Development) which continues to champion African American business but which
also provides financial literacy classes and promotes home ownership.
The Sigma Education Program provides services and assistance
to graduates and undergraduate students, raises funds for scholarships and
sponsors lectures, college fairs, and mentorship programs across the
nation. The Sigma Wellness Program
focuses on healthy lifestyles through education. Project Vote continues to register voters
while Phi Beta Sigma Capitol Hill Summit allows fraternity members to discuss
critical issues with U.S.
Congressmen. In 2001, the fraternity
opened the Sigma History Museum,
a traveling exhibit which focuses on the history of Sigma and its impact on the
Prominent Sigmas include Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime
Minister of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, the
scientist George Washington Carver, James Weldon Johnson, civil rights leader
and composer of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (the Black National Anthem),
Dr. Rod Paige, former Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration,
John Lewis, U.S. Congressman, Black Panther Party Founder Huey P. Newton, and
National Football League stars Jerry Rice and Emmett Smith.