Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity in the United States established for men of African descent, was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York by seven college men who recognized the need for a strong bond of Brotherhood between African Americans. These visionary founders are known as the "Jewels" of the Fraternity. These men were no ordinary achievers, given racial attitudes in 1906, their accomplishments were monumental. As Jewel Henry Arthur Callis euphemistically stated--because the half-dozen African American students at Cornell University during the school year 1904-05 did not return to campus the following year, the incoming students in 1905-06, in founding Alpha Phi Alpha, were determined to bind themselves together to ensure that each would survive in the racially hostile environment. In coming together with this simple act, they preceded by decades the emergence of such on-campus programs as affirmative action, upward bound and remedial assistance. The students set outstanding examples of scholarship, leadership and success preceding the efforts even of the NAACP and similar civil rights organizations. These founding fathers are:
Jewel Henry A. Callis
Jewel Charles H. Chapman
Jewel George B. Kelly
Jewel Eugene K. Jones
Jewel Nathaniel A. Murray
Jewel Robert H. Ogle
Jewel Vertner W. Tandy
Respectfully these men are the "Jewels" of the Fraternity.
Henry Arthur Callis became a practicing physician, Howard University Pro
fessor of Medicine and prolific contributor to medical journals. Often regarded as the philosopher of the founders, and a moving force in the Fraternity's development, he was the only one of the "Cornell Seven” to become General President. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., he was a medical consultant to the Veterans Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. Upon his death in 1974, at age 87, the Fraternity entered a time without any living Jewels. His papers were donated to Howard's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
Charles Henry Chapman entered higher education and eventually became Professor of Agriculture at what is now Florida A&M University. A university funeral was held with considerable Fraternity participation when he became the first Jewel to enter Omega Chapter in 1934. Described as a Brother beloved in the bonds, Chapman was a founder of FAMU's Beta Nu Chapter. During the organization stages of Alpha Chapter, he was the first chairman of the Committees on Initiation and Organization.
Eugene Kinckle Jones became the first Executive Secretary of the National Urban League. His 20-year tenure with the Urban League thus far has exceeded those of all his successors in office. A versatile leader, he organized the first three Fraternity chapters that branched out from Cornell to Beta at Howard, Gamma at Virginia Union and the original Gamma at the University of Toronto in Canada. In addition to becoming Alpha Chapter's second President and joining with Callis in creating the Fraternity name, Jones was a member of the first Committees on Constitution and Organization and helped write the Fraternity ritual. Jones also has the distinction of being one of the first initiates as well as an original founder. His status as a founder was not finally established until 1952. He died in 1954.
George Biddle Kelley became the first African American engineer registered in the state of New York. Not only was he the strongest proponent of the Fraternity idea among the organization's founders, the civil engineering student also became Alpha Chapter's first President. In addition, he served on committees that worked out the handshake and ritual. Kelley was popular with the Brotherhood. He resided in Troy, New York and was active with Beta Pi Lambda Chapter in Albany. He died in 1963.
Nathaniel Allison Murray pursued graduate work after completing his undergraduate studies at Cornell. He later returned home to Washington, D.C., where he taught in public schools. Much of his career was spent at Armstrong Vocational High School in the District of Columbia. He was a member of Alpha Chapter's first committee on organization of the new fraternal group, as well as the Committee on the Grip. The charter member of Washington's Mu Lambda Chapter was a frequent attendee of General Conventions. He died in 1959.
Robert Harold Ogle entered the career secretarial field and had the unique privilege of serving as a professional staff member to the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations. He was an African American pioneer in his Capitol Hill position. He proposed the Fraternity’s colors and was Alpha Chapter's first secretary. Ogle joined Kelley in working out the first ritual and later became a charter member of Washington's Mu Lambda Chapter. He died in 1936.
Vertner Woodson Tandy became the state of New York's first registered architect, with offices on Broadway in New York City. The designer of the Fraternity pin holds the distinction of being the first African American to pass the military commissioning examination and was commissioned First Lieutenant in the 15th Infantry of the New York State National Guard. He was Alpha Chapter's first treasurer and took the initiative to incorporate the Fraternity. Among the buildings designed by the highly talented architect is Saint Phillips Episcopal Church in New York City. He died in 1949, at age 64.
The Fraternity initially served as a study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice, educationally and socially, at Cornell. During those beginning days, the Jewel founders and early leaders of the Fraternity worked to lay a solid foundation for Alpha Phi Alpha's principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character and the uplifting of humanity. Although faced with racism and financial hardship, our beloved Jewels persevered and accomplished their goal.
The certificate of incorporation for the organization was filed and recorded in the office of the Secretary of the State of New York as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. on January 29, 1908. The Fraternity was again incorporated on April 3, 1914, under the laws of the District of Columbia. The purpose and object of the Fraternity was declared to be educational and for the mutual uplift of its members.
The constitution, adopted on December 14, 1907, provided that following the establishment of the fourth chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the general organization of the Fraternity would be set up.
Soon after the founding at Cornell, Alpha Phi Alpha chapters were developed at other colleges and universities' many of them traditionally black schools.
On December 28, 1908, the Fraternity's first general convention assembled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The convention expressed the hope that the influence of Alpha Phi Alpha would reach every (African American) college and university in the land, to bring together under one band and with one bond of fraternal love, all the worthy leading college men wherever found, to form, as it were, a link to join them together.
For more than ninety years our organization has been at the forefront of social change in America. Aside from being the first African American Greek-lettered organization for college men, Alpha Phi Alpha was the first to integrate its membership in 1945. At a time, overt racism, lynching, and Jim Crow Laws were still facts of daily life for many African Americans in this country; this was a bold step. By integrating the brotherhood, Alpha Phi Alpha proved to the world that people of different ethnic backgrounds could effectively work together in peace. The most remarkable leadership in the African American community in the 20th century has without question come from the ranks of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Since its founding on December 4, 1906, the Fraternity has supplied voice and vision to the struggle of African Americans and people of color around the world.
Our community service programs, Go To High School-Go to College and Project Alpha have lead the fight against school dropouts and teenage pregnancy among our youth. Our voter's registration program: "A Voteless People is a Hopeless People" continues to encourage African-Americans to exercise their right to vote.
For more than ninety years, Alpha Phi Alpha has answered the call to leadership. In all walks of life and at all times in its history, Alpha men have set the standards for excellence and service. As America moves into the 21st century, Alpha Phi Alpha will be there to lead, teach, and excel.