This is an occasional AJC Sepia series that looks at black Greek letter organizations
Their idea was one for the ages.
Three Howard University upperclassmen and a faculty advisor met in a campus office to create a new fraternity for African-American men. What began in Howard’s Science Hall on a Friday evening in November 1911 took form as Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., an organization that has evolved, grown, matured and thrived across the turbulent century that was to come.
Omega continues to endure today, as its members continue to put its principles and motto into practice throughout their lives – bettering their communities as a result. More than 250,000 men have been initiated into Omega Psi Phi’s ranks in the U.S., Caribbean, South Korea, Japan, Liberia, Germany and Kuwait. All embrace Omega’s motto that “Friendship is Essential to the Soul”.
Omega Psi Phi was a trailblazer as it was the first African-American fraternity founded on the campus of an historically black college. Given that unique origin, it is no surprise, then, that founding members Bishop Edgar A. Love, Dr. Oscar Cooper and Professor Frank Coleman became known on campus as “The Three Musketeers.”
They were joined in their quest for fraternal brotherhood by their faculty advisor, biology Professor Ernest E. Just. The four founders’ enthusiasm, intellect and fervor enabled them to overcome early resistance to the new fraternity and labor earnestly to grow Omega’s ranks, even as World War I loomed.
In the 104 years since its founding, Omega’s Cardinal Principles of “Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift” have drawn men of purpose into its ranks. Their collective effort through the decades to live up to these principles has accrued incalculable benefit to the African-American community, America and the entire world.
Omega men have worked in every conceivable field of human endeavor. Thousands have devoted their careers to teaching and inspiring young people in the nation’s schools and universities. Many Omegas have served with distinction at all levels of law enforcement.
Omegas have always aimed for the stars and, in one case, literally reached the heavens. Omega man Ronald McNair, an MIT-trained physicist, was among the seven astronauts who died in the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. A crater on the moon was later named in his honor. And an Omega man has also served as NASA’s top Administrator.
Men of accomplishment have populated Omega Psi Phi’s membership chapters since the beginning. Among just a select few Omegas who have held starring roles on the world stage are:
- Dr. Charles Drew, a physician who developed the process of separating red and white blood cells. His work enabled the now-common use of blood plasma as a way to store blood for future use. Drew’s pioneering work has saved countless lives.
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s black history scholarship received an early boost when in 1920 Omega developed the National Achievement Week to support Woodson’s work. Omega man Woodson is considered the father of what is known today as Black History Month.
- NAACP leaders Roy Wilkins and Benjamin Hooks were Omega men as well.
The roster of Omega’s luminaries and high achievers is a lengthy one. Omega men have known how to direct raw intellect and academic training toward solving challenges of the day since the fraternity’s beginning.
With World War I on the horizon, for example, Omega men successfully lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to establish a facility to train African-American military officers. Professor Robert L. Gill, of Morgan State College, wrote in his 1962 book, “A History of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity” that, with global war imminent, “Omega men wanted the opportunity to contribute to the national defense effort on an equal, even though segregated, basis.”
The result was the establishment of a military officers’ training camp for Negroes at Fort Des Moines. There, Omega quickly established a War Chapter to promote the fraternity’s cause and growth. Two of Omega’s founders served their country as officers with the American Expeditionary Force during the first World War.
To this day, military bases around the world have Omega Psi Phi graduate chapters as a vibrant part of the military community – a tangible sign that Omega men continue to excel in the uniformed services. Omega’s ranks have included men who’ve attained the ranks of general or vice admiral in the armed forces.
Omega’s members have contributed much to metro Atlanta’s history – and present. Morehouse College men still speak reverently of President Benjamin E. Mays, an Omega man known for his sterling leadership of the world-renowned school for African-American men. Today, Omega man and chief executive Keith Parker has resurrected Atlanta transit agency MARTA’s finances and service and put it on sound footing for the future.
Given the distinctive legacy and heritage of Omega, it shouldn’t be surprising that members are quick to distance themselves from the “Que dog” image prevalent in popular culture. Referring to members as “dogs,” and antics such as barking and other, related shenanigans are in no way part of the fraternity’s official programs or rituals. If asked, members are likely to gently advise questioners that they are, in fact, Omega men and not “Que dogs.”
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity is understandably proud of its illustrious history. The organization is also firmly focused on the future and finding new ways to empower and train its members to make a difference in their communities and the broader world.
Through endeavors such as its work with President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, Omega men continue to blaze a bold path toward continuing to raise generations of leaders to meet the challenges of now and tomorrow.