On Friday, November 17, 1911, three Howard University undergraduate students, Frank Coleman, Oscar James Cooper and Edgar Amos Love, met with Professor Ernest Everett Just in his office in Science Hall (Thirkield Hall) to establish a fraternity. At this meeting, they decided upon the motto “friendship is essential to the soul” as symbolized by the letters OMEGA PSI PHI, which are the initials of the three Greek words that represent the motto. They chose Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift as the four cardinal principles of the fraternity and decided upon the design of the fraternity’s pin and escutcheon.
On Thursday, November 23, 1911, the three undergraduate Founders met and elected Love as Grand Basileus, Cooper as Grand Keeper of Records (Grand Keeper of Records and Seals or Grand KRS) and Coleman as Grand Keeper of Seals (Grand Keeper of Finance or Grand KF). After carefully studying the student body for prospective candidates, they chose eleven men who not only possessed the principles upon which the fraternity was founded but also were willing to help Omega on its way. The eleven Charter members chosen for the first chapter of the fraternity, Alpha, established at Howard University were: William S. Gilbert, Charles Young Harris, Clarence Albert Hayes, Benjamin Harry Jones, Clarence Osceola Lewis, Julius Henderson Love, William Albert Love, William Henry Pleasants, Charles Brougham Washington, Edgar Paul Westmoreland and Frank Howell Wimberly. The three Founders then formed a committee to draw up a constitution that would be submitted to the President of the university for faculty approval.
On Thursday, December 8, 1911, the committee made its report to the Grand Chapter, the constitution was adopted and each charter member signed the original document that was submitted to the President. The Grand Chapter had to work hard to win faculty approval at Howard although the men who signed the constitution were student leaders in academics and extracurricular activities. Rather than wait for faculty approval, they placed small placards in conspicuous places around campus announcing the existence of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and listed the names of its members.
On December 15, 1911, prior to faculty approval, Alpha Chapter, The Mother Pearl, was established at Howard University with fourteen Charter members. Along with the Founders, these eleven stalwart men selected on November 23rd formed the foundation of The Mother Pearl. At this meeting, Coleman was chosen as Alpha Chapter’s first Basileus, Edgar A. Love as its first Keeper of Records and Cooper as its first Keeper of Seals. While still awaiting faculty approval of its constitution and confident that approval would eventually come, Alpha Chapter voted on new members on February 21, 1912. On February 28, 1912, members of the temporary chapter took the oath of allegiance and Alpha Chapter held its first initiation, adding four new members, Moses T. Claybourne, Christopher Columbus Cook, William Barrington Jason and James Raymond Johnson. The permanent chapter was established with the election of Westmoreland as Basileus, Cook as Keeper of Records and Wimberly as Keeper of Seals.
On March 2, 1912, Brother Coleman and Brother Hayes reported to the Grand Officers and Alpha Chapter on their conference with the faculty and informed them that the President of the university resisted the fraternity’s national aspirations. The Brothers kept the article in the constitution regarding Omega Psi Phi Fraternity’s national aspirations. Eventually, the faculty withdrew its objections and recognized the Fraternity as a national organization. The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Grand Chapter was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia on October 28, 1914 by Edgar A. Love as Grand Basileus, Oscar J. Cooper as Grand Keeper of Records and Frank Coleman as Grand Keeper of Seals.
Having overcome faculty resistance for national expansion, Alpha Chapter appointed a committee to report on establishing a chapter at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. After recommending establishment of a chapter at Lincoln, Alpha Chapter appointed Cooper, John Howard McMorries (Alpha 1913) and William Griffith Carter Brannon (Alpha 1912) to carry out Omega’s expansion. On February 6, 1914, they initiated twenty men from Lincoln who became the Charter members of Beta Chapter, the second chapter established.
Omega Psi Phi had an early appeal for international students as Alpha Chapter initiated its first international student, from St. Vincent (now St. Vincent and the Grenadines), in 1912. Others followed from St. Kitts and the Dominican Republic.
The first Alpha Chapter House, in the year 1913, was located at 326 T Street, NW in Washington, DC.. Within a few weeks, the Brothers moved to 322 T Street, NW and remained there until 1917. Otto Leland Bohannon (Alpha 1913) wrote the first official fraternity hymn, “Omega Men Draw Nigh,” in 1917. As Editor of “The Oracle,” the official organ of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Stanley Moreland Douglass (Alpha 1915) published its first issue in 1919.
During this period, the Brothers of Alpha Chapter firmly established Omega’s roots.
Alpha Chapter Brothers managed the Howard Players, edited the "Echo" Yearbook and "The Hilltop" campus newspaper, and served as Student Council President. In “The Oracle” (Summer 1974), Alfred Edgar Smith (Alpha 1922) noted “that the West Indian student on the campus of those days was the victim of some prejudice and discrimination. Omega was the first College Fraternity to extend membership to them - Z. Alexander Looby, H. Horne Huggins, et al.” The Lampados Club of 1929 donated the Benjamin Banneker Memorial to the campus. This sundial, more affectionately known as “The Dial,” quickly became part of the fabric of The Mother Pearl as Brothers have congregated there ever since. Each Howard Homecoming pays testament to the lasting effect of this project by a group of pledgees as Brothers from Chapters near and far circle the dial to sing “Omega Dear.”
The Alpha Chapter Fraternity House in 1931 was located at 1913 13th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. The first known student from the continent of Africa was initiated in 1933. Brothers continued to make their presence felt in extracurricular activities. The Student Council presidency was held by Omega men for at least 5 years. Both “The Hilltop” and the “Bison” Yearbook had Omega men serve as Editor-in-Chief.
In the 1940’s, Charles Edward Williams’ (Alpha 1945) estimable aegis as Basileus propelled The Mother Pearl from lows to unparalleled heights. Gill’s “The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the Men Who Made Its History” contains the following encomiums:
- With these, however, there has been a serious side, which has included concerts, recitals, presentation of some of the best speakers in the nation, setting up scholarships and the making of contributions annually to the Community Chest, Infantile Paralysis Foundation and the University Scholarship Fund. Achievement Week is an annual event anticipated by everyone. The best remembered is the Roland Hayes concert during the ‘forties.
- The files contain many letters from the faculty and administration commending the chapter and the brilliant leadership of Williams. Under him it grew from a membership of twenty-five active, financial members to well over two hundred.
- The most impressive thing was the way in which Williams had memorized the ritualistic ceremony, the manner in which he executed it, and his insistence upon strict observance of the rules of order.
- It was through Williams’ solicitation that the Supreme Council invited and sponsored the Alpha “Omega Choir” in a recital at the Columbus Grand Conclave. The performance was the cultural highlight of the meeting.
- Williams compiled the first known pledgee manual in the Fraternity, called the “Pledgee Workbook.” ……. Because the History of the Fraternity was out of print, copies of these manuals were made available to the Grand Keeper of Records and Seal for distribution among undergraduate chapters.
- The zealous quintet of Williams, Greene, Chase, Smith and Garrett – often referred to by disaffected members as “the new regime” – was likewise responsible for the reorganization of the “Que Players” under the direction of capable Frank Scott. The first performance, “Charley’s Aunt,” was a sellout.
- In 1948, Alpha invited and entertained the Third District Conference in Washington. This was a project never before attempted by an undergraduate chapter alone.
William Eugene Greene, Jr. (Alpha 1945) was president of the Howard University Student Council. Maurice Darrow Bean (Alpha 1947) held the position of Second Assistant Third District Representative and succeeded Williams as Basileus. Bean maintained the Chapter’s momentum with the Chapter’s Choral Ensemble (Omega Choir), organized in 1947 by Valerian Edward Smith (Alpha 1945), recording and releasing an album of Commemorative Songs in 1949. The directors of the Choral Ensemble were Smith, Charles William Baskerville, Jr. (Alpha 1949), George Neil McKeithen (Alpha 1949) and Alphonso J. Patterson (Alpha 1954). In October 2001, the album was digitally re-mastered, then released on CD by Alpha Omega Chapter of Washington, DC.
In the 1950’s, Alpha Chapter continued to flourish. Howard Carlton Davis (Alpha 1949) held the position of Second Vice Grand Basileus. Arthur Louis Burnett (Alpha 1954) became the Chapter’s first Phi Beta Kappa Society member. The Choral Ensemble performed throughout the Washington, DC community until 1955. The Fraternity House at 1231 Harvard Street, NW was purchased in conjunction with Alpha Omega and Tau Upsilon Chapters in 1955 - Alpha Chapter matched Tau Upsilon Chapter's down payment and Alpha Omega's share came from the fraternity's National Housing Loan program. Since that time, the frat house has served the Chapter in many capacities such as a residence for undergraduates and hosting fraternity meetings, parties, reunions, smokers and pledging activities.
During the turbulent 1960’s, the chapter’s dynamic leaders maintained the high standards set by their predecessors. In 1964 or 1965, Alpha Chapter published the Omega Songbook, “a collection of favorite ‘Que’ songs complete with lyrics and musical score.” Through the efforts of the Basileus, Edwin William Sapp (2-61-KY), the Chapter secured a Lifetime NAACP membership in 1964. Alpha Chapter excelled on campus as four Brothers were named Editor of the “Bison” Yearbook, one served as Editor-in-Chief of “The Hilltop” and one as Howard University Student Council President. The Chapter took 1st place in the float division at the Howard University Centennial Homecoming Parade and was named Best All-Around Organization. Scholarship was paramount at the Mother Pearl as numerous Brothers made the Dean’s List, were Honors Students, received awards from Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges and were named to honorary societies such as Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. The Omega Playboy Balls and Happy Que Year dances were social successes. In Omega’s 3rd District, two Alpha Chapter Brothers served as 2nd Vice District Representative.
The 1970s & 1980s
In keeping with the fraternity’s second cardinal principle, Alpha Chapter continued its scholarly tradition. Brothers were named 3rd District Scholar of the Year and received prestigious academic awards. In an unofficial survey, 92% of the Brothers initiated from 1976-1986 graduated with Bachelor's degrees while 4 of those Pledge lines had 100% graduation rate. In 1975, Sampson Patrick Boozer (Alpha 1971), an architecture student, designed the Founders monument, a 4-sided granite national memorial that rests on Howard's campus east of Thirkield Hall, the birthplace of Omega. On campus, Omega men held positions as Howard University Student Association President, Undergraduate Trustee and Editor-in-Chief of “The Hilltop.” On a fraternal level, they held elective offices at the district and national level. One Brother was recognized as Omega Man of the Year on the district and national level while another Brother was named 3rd District Undergraduate Basileus of the Year. Alpha Chapter also won the 3rd District Lampados Roundup five times. A number of Brothers received recognition as Outstanding Young Men of America. In 1981, the Brothers of Alpha Chapter helped reactivate Omicron Gamma Chapter, dormant since 1972, at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) with a Pledge Club that produced seven new Brothers to carry Omega forth. Uplift manifested itself in blood drives, hospital visits, a health fair, lecture series, organizing our own Boy Scouts troop at a local elementary school, Halloween parties for neighborhood kids and Senior Citizens Appreciation Day. Also, the Chapter contributed to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) . Socially, the “Spankdown” parties, the frat house soirees, homecoming balls and picnics in Rock Creek Park and Hains Point truly let the good times roll – we brought the funk - after all, this was the ‘70’s and '80's!!!! And lastly, one of our own, Jimmie Olden Johnson (19-86-A), was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1989 and played on a Super Bowl championship team, shining Omega’s bright light in the process.
The 1990s and Beyond
After six years absence, Alpha Chapter was reactivated in 1992 and held its first initiation under the fraternity’s new membership program in 1993. The Brothers on campus at the time, Marlon C. Murphy (4-89-UZ), Jelani Horton (Sigma Epsilon 1986), Chapter Advisors E. Newton Jackson, Jr. (6-88-Alpha Omega) and Stephon Henderson (4-80-MZ), along with Alpha Chapter alumni, George Dewey Stanyard II (10-84-A), Frank Wright, Jr. (1-86-A) and Robert Turner, Jr. (2-86-A), shepherded the revitalized Chapter through the first few years. The fruits of their labors have paid off with the Chapter winning District and National Undergraduate Chapter of the Year honors. Brothers have brought home 3rd District Scholar of the Year and Undergraduate Basileus of the Year awards. As with their predecessors, they have held elective offices as 3rd District Vice District Representative and Howard University Student Association President. In 1994-1995, Lenford Clarence Lloyd (12-93-A) developed Alpha Chapter's first website, giving many Brothers their first internet exposure to the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. The chapter's website became one of the most popular destinations for fraternity related information. In 1996, Gernerique Truly Stewart (6-95-A) organized a Charter Day celebration that has evolved into an annual banquet recognizing the worthy contributions of Brothers to Alpha Chapter and the brotherhood.
Being the first chapter does not make us preeminent, being the first does not make us the best and being the first does not necessarily make us the model. Our sustained record of high achievement, exemplary leadership, collective triumphs, implementation of the fraternity's nationally mandated programs, dedication to the four cardinal principles and bond of brotherhood shed a brilliant light on Omega leaving Alpha Chapter second to none.