Kamala Harris and Black Sororities

Kamala Harris is the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee[. The first African American and South Asian American nominee of a major political party, Harris is a graduate of Howard University, a historically black university, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American sorority in the country.

Here is an article about AKA today and Kamala Harris.

In one of one chapters of my book on faculty wives, I discussed the founding of AKA, at Howard in 1908.

Here is an excerpt:

Lucy Diggs Slowe was the first Dean of Women at Howard University from 1922 to 1937. Although she was not a faculty wife, Slowe’s involvement in national organizations connected her to that first generation of nationally involved African- American wives. Slowe was a graduate of Howard and in 1908 one of the founders of the first national Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Norma Boyd, a 1910 graduate of Howard was also a founding member of AKA. Boyd, a native of Washington, D.C. attended Armstrong High School and then went on to attend college at Howard in 1906. She described Washington as “the intellectual center for Negroes in the United States. Mrs. Mary Church Terrell was on the Board of Education. When I was a child about ten years old, I decided I wanted to be like Mary Church Terrell.”

Boyd was a sophomore when the senior students including Lucy Slowe founded the sorority. She described how she became involved. “You see, this the oldest colored sorority. … The very first. So, they decided to have a sorority but who was going to carry it on after they left. There were seven girls in my class – six or seven – and they asked us to come in. Now you were expected to have scholarship and the idea of service to be a member. So, they asked us to come in and we did. They called us founders because, although it was not our idea, we were in on the ground floor. It was not incorporated until 1913 and then I was one of the incorporators”

Although Alpha Kappa Alpha was a sorority based at Howard, it was unusual because it had graduate members. Because many of the African American sororities had adult members, they functioned more like the national club associations. Like NACW, the Tuskegee Woman’s Club and the Atlanta Union, AKA also had a social activist agenda. The organization pursued projects in health care and sponsored fellowships.

By the time Slowe became Dean of Women Students at Howard, there were three sororities, AKA, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta. Delta Sigma Theta grew out of AKA due to a desire for some members in the early years to expand beyond Howard. Five female students founded Zeta Phi Beta in 1920. These organizations still exist. Most of the prominent Afro-American women of the mid and late twentieth century belonged to one of these sororities.

©AmyMittelman 2020