On Friday evening, November 17, 1911, three Howard University undergraduate students, with the assistance of their faculty 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 as Thirkield Hall). The three liberal arts students were Edgar A. Love, Oscar J. Cooper and Frank Coleman. From the initials of the Greek phrase meaning "friendship is essential to the soul," the name Omega Psi Phi was derived. The phrase was selected as the motto. Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift were adopted as cardinal principles. A decision was made regarding the design for the pin and emblem, and thus ended the first meeting of the
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
The next meeting was conducted on November 23, 1911. Edgar Love became the first Grand Basileus (National President). Cooper and Coleman were selected Grand Keeper of the Records (National Secretary) and Grand Keeper of Seals (National Treasurer), respectively. Eleven Howard University undergraduate men were selected as charter members. Alpha Chapter was organized with fourteen charter members on December 15, 1911. Love, Cooper and Coleman were elected the Chapter's first Basileus, Keeper of Records, and Keeper of Seals, respectively. On March 8, 1912, the previously submitted fraternity constitution was rejected by the Howard University Faculty Council. The Faculty Council proposed to accept the fraternity as a local but not a national organization. The fraternity refused acceptance as a strictly local organization.
Oscar Cooper became the fraternity's second Grand Basileus in 1912. During Cooper's administration, a request was received for the establishment of a Chapter at the University of Michigan. This was tabled on April 26, 1913. He did authorized the investigation of a proposed second chapter at Lincoln University, in Oxford, PA.
Edgar Love was elected as the third Grand Basileus in 1913 at the 3rd Grand Conclave in Washington, D.C. and was re-elected to the post again at the 4th Grand Conclave in 1914. Under Love's administration, Howard University withdrew its opposition to the Fraternity being a national organization. During the same year, Oscar Cooper, William Griffith Brannon, and John H. McMorries were dispatched to Lincoln University to establish the Fraternity's second Chapter, Beta, which was chartered on February 6, 1914. at Lincoln University.
Additionally, under his administration, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity was incorporated under the laws of the
District of Columbia on October 28, 1914 at 1:11 PM.
George E. Hall, the fourth Grand Basileus, authorized the establishment of Gamma Chapter in Boston on December 13,1916 and appointed a committee of Brothers living in the Boston area to form the Chapter.
James C. McMorries, brother of John H. McMorries, was elected the fifth Grand Basileus at the 5th Grand Conclave in 1916. In April 1917, the U.S. entered WWI and Omega men played a pivotal role in petitioning the Secretary of War for the establishment of an Officers Training Camp for African American men. The 17th Provisional Training Camp was established at Ft. Des Moines from June to October 1917. Sixteen Brothers participated in the Camp including Founders Edgar Love and Frank Coleman. Recognizing an opportunity for brotherhood and growth, these Brothres petitioned Grand Basileus McMorries for the establishment of a temporary Chapter at Ft. Des Moines. Permission was granted and Omega's fourth Chapter, the War Chapter, was established with Jesse Heslip elected as Basileus. During its time, the Chapter initiated a total of ten men into the fold of Omega under two separate initiations. This helped laid foundation for the future
growth of the Fraternity.
At the 6th Grand Conclave, dental student Clarence F. Holmes was elected the sixth Grand Basileus in 1917. Under Holmes' administration, the Fraternity's first official hymn, "Omega Men Draw Nigh" written by Otto Bohannon, was established. Additionally, recognizing the success of the War Chapter, Holmes approved the establishment of a temporary Chapter, Camp Howard Chapter, during the Student Army Training Camp (SATC) at Howard University. This Camp was held to training college men as military instructors for their colleges and universities. Over 450 men from 70 colleges and universities attended the Camp from August 1 to September 16, 1918. During the brief time of the Camp Howard Chapter, 27 men from nine different colleges and universities were initiated into the Fraternity. Like the War Chapter, this laid the foundation of exponential growth for the Fraternity post-WWI.
Through the two temporary Chapters and initiation of 37 men from different colleges, universities, and areas of the country, Raymond G. Robinson, the seventh Grand Basileus, spearheaded an unprecedented growth spur in the Fraternity during his administration. Elected Grand Basileus at the 7th Grand Conclave in 1918 and serving in that capacity until 1920, Robinson almost quadrupled the number of Chapter from 3 to 11 through leveraging these newly initiated Brothers. He also revived a dormant Gamma Chapter and established the first Chapters for alumni Brothers (the first graduate Chapter, Iota, was established on August 17, 1920 in Atlantic City, NJ, with the second, Lambda, established in November 1920 in Norfolk, VA, and the third, Mu, established in December 1920 in Philadelphia, PA). Another significant achievement under the Robinson administration was the publication of the first issue of The Oracle in June 1919 with Stanley M. Douglass, the Grand Keeper of Records,
as the first Editor.
At the 9th Grand Conclave in Nashville, Harold H. Thomas was elected as the eighth Grand Basileus of the Fraternity. During his administration, the Campaign for the Study of Negro Literature and History was established. This was the Fraternity's first national public initiative which was inspired by a stirring speech given by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an honorary member of the Fraternity, at the 9th Grand Conclave in 1920 entitled "Democracy and the Man far Down." Thomas continued the expansion of the Fraternity adding 7 more Chapters to the fold during 1921.
In 1922, Grand Basileus J. Alston Atkins appointed the first District Representatives. Today, there are eleven such officers who are elected annually by the district conferences/meetings. Also in 1922, the office of Vice Grand Basileus was created. The Grand Keeper of Records became the Grand Keeper of the Records and Seal. In 1923, Lambda Chapter was organized at the University of Southern California (the original Lambda Chapter, which is a graduate Chapter in Norfolk, was renamed Lambda Omega). Omega Psi Phi becomes the first black Greek organization to span its membership across the United States - from the Atlantic (Iota in Atlantic City) to the Pacific (Lambda in Los Angeles). Sigma chapter was organized at McGill University, which is located in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) on December 15, 1923. Walter R. Dunston, former Basileus of Phi chapter, set up the fraternity’s first international chapter with the assistance of George W. Brown. In 1926, the memorial for Colonel Charles Young was held at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial Service is established to memorialize Young's birthday. The first Omega Bulletin was published in 1923 and Campbell C. Johnson, the Grand Keeper of Records and Seal, was the Editor of the Bulletin and The Oracle. In 1930, Omega Psi Phi became one of five founding members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council with 13th Grand Basileus Matthew W. Bullock elected as its first permanent chairman.
“Omega Dear,” was adopted as the official hymn in 1931. Charles R. Drew, professor of surgery, and Mercer Cook, professor of languages, both members of the Howard faculty, were the composers. Cook wrote the music and first stanza; Drew wrote the last two stanzas. By mid-1930, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Council of Negro Affairs or “Black Cabinet,” which was an informal group of African-American public policy advisors who were organized to help the country emerge out of the depression. Omega men: Robert C. Weaver, Lawrence Oxley, Roscoe Brown, Frank Horne, William Hastie, J. Arthur Weiseger, Ted Poston, Campbell C. Johnson and William Trent were among those who served on the cabinet. Each of the Founders graduated and went on to have distinguished careers in their chosen fields: Edgar Love became a bishop in the Methodist church; Oscar Cooper practiced medicine in Philadelphia for over 50 years; Frank Coleman became the chairman of the Department of Physics at Howard University and Ernest E. Just became a world-renowned biologist and the 1st recipient of the prestigious NAACP Spingarn Medal.
The Omega "Sweetheart Song", with words and music by Don Q. Pullen, was adopted as the official sweetheart song by the 1940 Nashville Grand Conclave. Founder Ernest E. Just entered Omega Chapter in 1941. In 1941, Dr. Charles Drew perfected the use of blood plasma as a life saving tool. William Hastie resigned as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War in protest against discrimination in the Armed Forces. He was later appointed Governor of the Virgin Islands by President Truman. In 1949, the first National Headquarters Building at 107 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. was purchased. H. Carl Moultrie, I was selected to serve as the first National Executive Secretary. In 1949, the scholarship fund was renamed the Charles R. Drew Memorial Scholarship Fund.
During this era, the thrust was social change. Thousands of Omega men in every area of the country were actively involved in the fight to eliminate racial discrimination. An entire book could be written about this phase of Omega activities. The 1955 Los Angeles Grand Conclave initiated a program whereby each graduate chapter would purchase a Life Membership from the NAACP. Between 1955 and 1959, chapters contributed nearly $40,000 to the NAACP. In the fifties, Omega Psi Phi took an official position against hazing as a fraternity activity. This anti-hazing position remains in effect today, and the policy banning hazing has been strengthened.
The struggle for social justice shifted into high gear. Brothers were active participants in the "sit-ins" and other demonstrations designed to call attention to the plight of black Americans. Undergraduate brothers especially were involved in the demonstrative aspect of the civil rights struggle. In 1961, the Washington, D.C. Grand Conclave did an excellent job of highlighting the fifty years of accomplishments by Omega. Brothers attended the 1961 Golden Anniversary Conclave in record numbers. Founders Love, Cooper, and Coleman were present. Thirteen of twenty-three former Grand Basilei were in attendance. Young brothers had the once-in-a-life-time opportunity to mingle with some of the greatest black men that America had produced. The Golden Anniversary Conclave authorized $140,000-$150,000 for the construction 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 of its type to be built by a black fraternity. Founders Love, Cooper and Coleman participated in the ceremonies. The name was later changed to the International Headquarters. It is located at 2714 Georgia Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Robert H. Lawrence (in 1966) was selected as the first Black to serve in the Astronaut Program. Lawrence had earned a Ph.D. Degree in chemistry at Ohio State University. Founder Frank Coleman entered Omega Chapter in 1967. The 1968 Charlotte Grand Conclave mandated a Constitutional Convention for the revision of the Constitution and By-Laws as well as the Ritual. The Convention was held in Atlanta in 1969.
The newly revised Constitution and By-Laws and the Ritual became effective at the close of the 1970 Pittsburgh Grand Conclave. H. Carl Moultrie I, Omega's only National Executive Secretary to this point, was appointed as a judge to the Superior Court of Washington, D.C., in 1972. Moultrie's resignation was accepted with regrets. Omega conferred upon Moultrie the title of National Executive Secretary Emeritus which was later changed to Executive Secretary 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 dedicated to the memory of the four founders. The monument is just a few feet away from Thirkield Hall, the site of Omega's birth place on the Howard University Campus. A revived Life Membership Program resulted in a very large number of new Life Members. The 1976 Atlanta Grand Conclave was the largest in the history of the fraternity up to that point in time. Many new undergraduate chapters were chartered, because of the increased enrollment of black students at previously all-white colleges and universities. "Operation Big Vote" was successful in getting thousands of black people to vote in the 1976 election. Many Omegas were active participants. The 1979 Denver Grand Conclave made a commitment to contribute a minimum of 250,000 dollars to the United Negro College Fund over the next five years.
THE EIGHTIES AND NINETIES
In 1981, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity endowed its first Omega Faculty Chair. Rust College, Holly Springs, Mississippi, was the recipient. President W.A. McMillan stated that the Chair would be used to promote the humanities. The fraternity completed its 250,000 dollars contribution to the United Negro College Fund, an organization under the direction of Christopher Edley, and approved a plan to continue the annual gift of 50,000 dollars to that organization in perpetuity. The fraternity accelerated its financial support to the National Urban League. Mr. John Jacobs, Executive Director of the Urban League, participated in Grand Conclaves on a regular basis. Jesse Jackson, former president of Operation PUSH and founder of the Rainbow Coalition, attended Grand Conclaves on a regular basis and received support for these organizations as well as for his 1984 and 1988 campaigns for the presidency of the United States.
The Seventy-fifth Anniversary Grand Conclave celebration was deemed the single most significant event on Omega's horizon. The dates selected were July 25-August 1, 1986 in Washington, D.C., the city of Omega's birth. It was the largest Conclave ever. Grand Basileus Moses C. Norman, Sr., elected at the 1984 Louisville Grand Conclave, appointed a committee to review the structure and operations of the fraternity as a means of future focus. In 1984, John S. Epps was selected as only the fifth Omega Man to wear the title of Executive Secretary. In 1990, the title was changed to Executive Director. Two revised methods of bringing members into the fraternity were approved by the organization. Pledging was abolished and the new Membership Selection and Education Program came into being on August 1, 1985. In April, 1991, the new Membership Intake Program was implemented. Initial plans were begun for the writing of an updated history of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. H. Carl Moultrie, I, Executive Secretary Emeritus and Ronald E. McNair, noted Astronaut, entered Omega Chapter. Don Q. Pullen and W. Mercer Cook also entered Omega Chapter.
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 and characteristics. It is not by accident that many of America's great black men are/were Omega Men. To this date, there are very few Americans whose lives have not been touched by a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Omega has a rich heritage to be protected, celebrated and enhanced!