Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity: A Centennial Celebration

The Early Alpha Chapter And Her Members, 1907-1930

Roscoe Conkling Giles. 1911 Cornell Class Book. [view]

Roscoe Conkling Giles entered Cornell University in 1907 at sixteen years old with a New York State Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1911. His senior listing in the 1911 Cornell Class Book states, in part, “[Giles] specialized in the Sciences with the view of taking Medicine. He is a good Student. Alpha Phi Alpha.”

In 1911, Giles entered Cornell University College of Medicine, beginning a very challenging period of his life. As the only African American student there at the time, he was asked to leave several times and, according to the December 1924 Sphinx, he received death threats to expedite his departure. However, Giles refused to leave, and in 1915, he became the first African American to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree from the Cornell University College of Medicine. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Giles became a very successful physician and influential person in Chicago.

Giles was initiated into Alpha Chapter in 1907, and was on the ritual and constitution committees. He took the initiative in drafting the fraternity’s early rituals, using some ideas from the Ithaca High School rituals, written by classmate and Ithaca High School graduate Robert Treman, who offered to help him, and adding all the sources he could find about Africa in the University Library, and his knowledge of Greek.1 Giles also helped to write the fraternity’s constitution.

Giles played a strong role in Alpha Phi Alpha’s early growth and development. He helped to establish Zeta (Yale University) and Eta Chapters (Columbia University) in 1909 and Iota Chapter (Syracuse University) in 1910. He was a charter member of Xi Lambda Chapter (Chicago graduate chapter formed in 1924). Giles went on to serve as Alpha Phi Alpha’s General Treasurer, Second General President, and a member of the fraternity commission, which created “Go-to-High School Go-to-College Week.”

In 1952, Dr. Giles was named one of Cornell’s distinguished alumni of the year. In 1985, a scholarship fund in his name was established at the Cornell Weill Medical College.

1 Beatty, William K. “Roscoe Conkling Giles: Pathbreaker and Surgeon.” Proc. Inst. Med. Chgo. Vol. 40, 1987, p. 42.

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