THE BIRTH OF OMEGA
On Friday evening, November 17, 1911, three HowardUniversity undergraduate students, with the assistance of theirfaculty adviser, gave birth to the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.This event occurred in the office of biology Professor Ernest E.Just, the faculty adviser, in the Science Hall (now known asThirkield Hall). The three liberal arts students wereEdgar A. Love, Oscar J. Cooper and Frank Coleman. From theinitials of the Greek phrase meaning “friendship is essential tothe soul,” the name Omega Psi Phi was derived. The phrase wasselected as the motto. Manhood, scholarship, perseverance anduplift were adopted as cardinal principles. A decision was maderegarding the design for the pin and emblem, and thus ended thefirst meeting of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity .
The next meeting was conducted onNovember 23, 1911. Edgar Love became the first Grand Basileus(National President). Cooper and Coleman were selected Grandkeeperof the Records (National Secretary) and Grandkeeper of Seals(National Treasurer), respectively. Eleven Howard Universityundergraduate men were selected as charter members.
Alpha Chapter wasorganized with fourteen charter members on December 15, 1911.Love, Cooper and Coleman were elected the chapter’s firstBasileus, Keeper of Records, and Keeper of Seals, respectively. OnMarch 8, 1912, the previously submitted fraternity constitution wasrejected by the Howard University Faculty Council. The FacultyCouncil proposed to accept the fraternity as a local but not anational organization. The fraternity refused acceptance as astrictly local organization.
Oscar Cooper became thefraternity’s second Grand Basileus in 1912. Cooperauthorized the investigation of a proposed second chapter atLincoln University, Pennsylvania. Edgar Love waselected as the third Grand Basileus in 1912 and served until 1915.In 1914, Howard University withdrew its opposition, and theOmega Psi Phi Fraternity was incorporated under the laws ofthe District of Columbia on October 28, 1914. Beta Chapterat Lincoln University was chartered in February, 1914.George E. Hall, the fourth Grand Basileus, had been initiated atAlpha Chapter in 1914. Grand Basileus Hall authorized theestablishment of Gamma Chapter in Boston, Massachusetts.However, the chapter was eventually established during theadministration of the fifth Grand Basileus, James C. McMorries.During the administration of the sixth Grand Basileus, Clarence F.Holmes, the fraternity’s first official hymn, “Omega Men DrawNigh”, was written by Otto Bohannon. Raymond G. Robinson, theseventh Grand Basileus, established Delta Chapter inNashville, Tennessee in 1919. Robinson left office in 1920 with atotal of ten chapters in operation. Stanley Douglas served asEditor of the first Oracle published in the spring of 1919.Harold K. Thomas, the eighth Grand Basileus, was elected at the1920 Nashville Grand Conclave. It was at this Conclave that CarterG. Woodson inspired the establishment of National Achievement Weekto promote the study of Negro life and history. The 1921 AtlantaGrand Conclave brought to an end the first decade of the OmegaPsi Phi Fraternity.
In 1922, Grand Basileus J. Alston Atkins appointed the firstDistrict Representatives. Today, there are eleven such officers whoare elected annually by the district conferences/meetings. In 1922,the office of Vice Grand Basileus was created. The Grand Keeper ofRecords became the Grand Keeper of the Records and Seal. The firstOmega Bulletin was published in 1928. Campbell C. Johnson was theEditor. “Omega Dear” was adopted as the official hymn in 1931. Twofaculty from Howard University, Charles R. Drew, Professorof Surgery, and Mercer Cook, Professor of Languages, were thecomposers. Cook wrote the music and first stanza; Drew wrote thelast two stanzas.
The Omega “Sweetheart Song”, with words and music by Don Q. Pullen,was adopted as the official sweetheart song by the 1940 NashvilleGrand Conclave. Founder Ernest E. Just entered Omega Chapter in1941. In 1941, Dr. Charles Drew perfected the use of blood plasmaas a life saving tool. William Hastie resigned as Civilian Aide tothe Secretary of War in protest against discrimination in the ArmedForces. He was later appointed Governor of the Virgin Islands byPresident Truman. In 1949, the first National Headquarters Buildingat 107 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. was purchased.H. Carl Moultrie was selected to serve as the first NationalExecutive Secretary. In 1949, the scholarship fund wasrenamed to the Charles R. Drew Memorial ScholarshipFund.
During this era, the thrust was social change. Thousands of Omegamen in every area of the country were actively involved in thefight to eliminate racial discrimination. An entire book could bewritten about this phase of Omega activities. The 1955 Los AngelesGrand Conclave initiated a program whereby each graduate chapterwould purchase a Life Membership from the NAACP. Between 1955 and1959, chapters contributed nearly $40,000 to the NAACP. In thefifties, Omega Psi Phi took an official position against hazing asa fraternity activity. This anti-hazing position remains in effecttoday, and the policy banning hazing has beenstrengthened.
The struggle for social justice shifted into high gear. Brotherswere active participants in the “sit-ins” and other demonstrationsdesigned to call attention to the plight of black Americans.Undergraduate brothers especially were involved in thedemonstrative aspect of the civil rights struggle. In 1961, theWashington, D.C. Grand Conclave did an excellent job ofhighlighting the fifty years of accomplishments by Omega. Brothersattended the 1961 Golden Anniversary Conclave in record numbers.Founders Love, Cooper, and Coleman were present. Thirteen oftwenty-three former Grand Basilei were in attendance. Youngbrothers had the once-in-a-life-time opportunity to mingle withsome of the greatest black men that America had produced. TheGolden Anniversary Conclave authorized $140,000-$150,000 for theconstruction of a new National Headquarters Building in Washington,D.C. In 1964, the new National Headquarters Building was dedicated.The building was a dream come true and was the first building ofits type to be built by a black fraternity. Founders Love, Cooperand Coleman participated in the ceremonies. The name was laterchanged to the International Headquarters. It is located at 2714Georgia Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Robert H. Lawrence(in 1966) was selected as the first Black to serve in the AstronautProgram. Lawrence had earned a Ph.D. Degree in chemistry at OhioState University. Founder Frank Coleman entered Omega Chapter in1967. The 1968 Charlotte Grand Conclave mandated a ConstitutionalConvention for the revision of the Constitution and By-Laws as wellas the Ritual. The Convention was held in Atlanta in1969.
The newly revised Constitution and By-Laws and the Ritual becameeffective at the close of the 1970 Pittsburgh Grand Conclave. H.Carl Moultrie I, Omega’s only National Executive Secretary to thispoint, was appointed as a judge to the Superior Court ofWashington, D.C., in 1972. Moultrie’s resignation was accepted withregrets. Omega conferred upon Moultrie the title of NationalExecutive Secretary Emeritus which was later changed to ExecutiveSecretary Emeritus. The Seventies brought more unpleasant news.Founder Oscar J. Cooper entered Omega Chapter in 1972. In 1974,Edgar A. Love, the only surviving founder, entered Omega Chapter.On November 16, 1975, an impressive granite monument was dedicatedto the memory of the four founders. The monument is just a few feetaway from Thirkield Hall, the site of Omega’s birth place on theHoward University Campus. A revived Life Membership Programresulted in a very large number of new Life Members. The 1976Atlanta Grand Conclave was the largest in the history of thefraternity up to that point in time. Many new undergraduatechapters were chartered, because of the increased enrollment ofblack students at previously all-white colleges and universities.”Operation Big Vote” was successful in getting thousands of blackpeople to vote in the 1976 election. Many Omegas were activeparticipants. The 1979 Denver Grand Conclave made a commitment tocontribute a minimum of 250,000 dollars to the United Negro CollegeFund over the next five years.
THE EIGHTIES AND NINETIES
Omega continued to flourish, largely because Founders Love, Cooper,Coleman and Just were men of the very highest ideals and intellect.The Founders selected and attracted men of similar ideals andcharacteristics. It is not by accident that many of America’s greatblack men are/were Omega Men. To this date, there are very fewAmericans whose lives have not been touched by a member of theOmega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Omega has a richheritage to be protected, celebrated andenhanced!