Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity: A Centennial Celebration

The “Seven Jewels”: Students, Then Brothers

Society offered us narrowly circumscribed opportunity and no security. Out of our need, our Fraternity brought social purpose and social action.

Henry Arthur Callis, 1969

We wanted more than the traditional American college fraternity. Our job ahead required a fellowship which would embrace those millions outside the ’talented tenth.’ We realize that the leaders of any people emerge chiefly from the best trained, best oriented members of the group.

Henry Arthur Callis, 1950

A little over four decades after slavery and sixteen years after the first African-American students graduated from Cornell, the nation’s first intercollegiate black Greek-letter fraternity was founded at Cornell University in 1906. The seven Cornell students who formed the fraternity, known as the “Seven Jewels,” launched a brotherhood that would achieve great success in leadership and influence in the African-American community and beyond that spans its 100 years.

In the 1905-1906 academic school year, responding to the feeling of isolation and the real challenges of being black students scattered broadly across a wide Cornell University campus, these students decided to create a social study club. This club served the dual purpose of helping the men scholastically as well as providing a structure to build a community and a fellowship. Several members of the club, some of whom worked at Cornell’s white fraternity houses, desired to create a black organization patterned on these organizations, yet going far beyond their bounds. After much debate, they voted to transform the organization from a social study club to a fraternity on December 4, 1906 at 421 N. Albany, the home of Mr. Edward Newton, community member and steward at a fraternity house. Members of the Ithaca community helped the fraternity’s founders by providing money, places to meet, and moral support and guidance as they forged their goal of creating a fraternity.

The young men who envisioned Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the “Seven Jewels,” created a solid foundation of leadership, scholarship, and brotherhood, which stood as a model for all other black Greek-letter organizations that followed, transformed the lives of its members, and provided the country with some of its most distinguished leaders.

Cornell University Arts Quad with statue of Ezra Cornell, left. [view]

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