WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the future of the Voting Rights Act is in “real jeopardy” following the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the law, telling a prominent organization of black women that Congress should act to preserve “fairness and equality” in the nation’s voting system.
The former secretary of state was feted with chants of “Run, Hillary, Run,” as she concluded her 30-minute remarks to nearly 14,000 members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, an historic black women’s organization celebrating its 100th anniversary.
My mom died in 1998. She was one of those black women who the Democratic Party could depend on to vote in every election—local, state and federal. She voted in all her teacher's union elections as well. She was very proud of being a Delta, because of the organization's long history of service, support, and activism.
I recently discussed the black church and its historic role and power in our communities, with an analysis of President Barack Obama's eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In the church there are intersections with other groups that matter when politicking. Two of the eulogized Charleston "Emanuel 9" were members of black sororities—Myra Thompson was a Delta and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was an AKA. The Rev. Pinckney was an Alpha.
African Americans also have informal networks of social clubs, barber shops, and beauty parlors, where black Americans of differing social strata interact as they do in church. But if a politician wants to plug into an organized and historic powerhouse of black womanhood, he or she had better find the black sororities. The same is true for men and black fraternities.
Before you liken "sororities" and "fraternities" with a set of images that apply to the dominant culture like Animal House, it is important to understand that black Greek networks have provided our community with political leadership. The church was a cornerstone, and the black Greeks were those African Americans who had the opportunity to get an education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs):
Most HBCUs were established after the American Civil War, often with the assistance of northern religious missionary organizations. However, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (1837), Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) (1854), and Wilberforce University (1856), were established for blacks prior to the American Civil War. Established in 1865, Shaw University was the first HBCU in the South to be established after the American Civil War.
In 1862, the Morrill Act provided for land grant colleges in each state. Some educational institutions in the North or West were open to blacks since before the Civil War. But 17 states, mostly in the South, had segregated systems and generally excluded black students from their land grant colleges. In response, Congress passed the second Morrill Act of 1890, requiring states to establish a separate land grant college for blacks if blacks were being excluded from the existing land grant college. Many of the HBCUs were founded by states to satisfy the Second Morrill Act. These land grant schools continue to receive annual federal funding for their research, extension and outreach activities. The Higher Education Act of 1965, established a program for direct federal grants to HBCUs, including federal matching of private endowment contributions.
Other educational institutions may have large numbers of blacks in their student body, but as they were founded (or opened their doors to African Americans) after the implementation of the Sweatt v. Painter and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court (the court decisions which outlawed racial segregation of public education facilities) and the Higher Education Act of 1965, they are not classified as historically black colleges, but have been termed "predominantly black."
As more black students got the opportunity to attend predominantly white institutions, they also had to face racism at those schools, and chapters of black Greeks were established at white schools, providing social support and ties back into the community.
Black greek organizations are known as "The Divine Nine":
The Divine Nine and the National Pan-Hellenic Council
There are nine historically Black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs) that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Collectively, these organizations are referred to as "The Divine Nine." Each of these fraternities and sororities is rich in history - ties to one or more of these organizations may be found in many college-educated Black families in the United States.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founded 1906, Cornell University
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Founded 1908, Howard University
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Indiana University
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Howard University
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Founded 1913, Howard University
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Founded 1914, Howard University
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Founded 1920, Howard University
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Founded 1922, Butler University
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Founded 1963, Morgan State University
Though I am focusing on the Deltas, the largest of the sororities, we shouldn't ignore the frats. W.E.B Dubois, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were Alphas
; Arturo Schomburg, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, John Conyers, Charles Blow, and Tavis Smiley are Kappas
; Bayard Rustin, Jesse Jackson Sr. and his son, Jesse Jackson Jr., former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, and Roy Wilkins are Omegas
(or as we call them "Q's" ). Sigmas
of note include former Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah, Congressman John Lewis, former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, A. Phillip Randolph, Black Panthers Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. All of the Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO's) also have honorary members. The Sigmas' list includes former President Bill Clinton.
Many of the black men in BLGOs marry or have sisters and mothers and daughters and aunts and grandmothers who are members of black Greek sororities.
For a complete history of these groups, check out The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities by Laurence C. Ross.
While this post, from the headline, may appear to be about Hillary Clinton, it truly is not. It is an examination of political networks in the African-American community, and specifically to black women—the most solid voting bloc for Democrats:
In 2012, black women voted at a higher rate than any other group—across gender, race, and ethnicity—and, along with other women of color, played a key role in President Obama’s re-election. The following year, turnout by women of color in an off-year election helped provide Terry McAuliffe (D) the margin of victory in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election. Notably, both President Obama and Gov. McAuliffe lost the white women’s vote but overwhelmingly captured the votes of women of color.
Not often discussed is the fact that Mitt Romney won the white female vote
. But he didn't win black women, and whatever racist clown the Republicans run in 2016 won't either. Democratic politicians who want to get elected, especially to national office, would be wise to pay closer attention to developing ties in the black community. I have explored diverse campaign staffing and the role that plays in working with communities of color in Black Kos (Clinton
staffing). But more important than counting staffers of color is determining what power those people have to influence and formulate policy, and what networks are they plugged into. If a candidate is demonstrably not aware of and connected to our networks over time, simply hiring a staffer or two won't work. Building face-to-face, person-to-person bridges does.
The 22 Founders of Delta Sigma Theta in 1913
Here's a brief history of Delta
On January 13, 1913, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was founded by 22 Howard University undergraduate students who had earlier been initiated into the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Historian Paula Giddings explores this history in depth in her book, In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement
, described below:
This history of the largest block women's organization in the United States is not only the story of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (DST), but also tells of the increasing involvement of black women in the political, social, and economic affairs of America. Founded at a time when liberal arts education was widely seen as either futile, dangerous, or impractical for blacks, especially women, DST is, in Giddings's words, a "compelling reflection of black women's aspirations for themselves and for society."
Delta participated in the 1913 women's suffrage march
Less than two months after the sorority's founding, the Founders of Delta Sigma Theta began their political activism by participating in the historic 1913 Women's Suffrage March on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1913. The twenty-two Founders of Delta Sigma Theta marched with honorary member Mary Church Terrell under the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority banner on the day prior to Woodrow Wilson's inauguration; they were the only black women's organization to walk in the march. They believed that black women needed the right to vote to protect against sexual exploitation, promote quality education, assist in the work force, and empower their race.
Black female marchers were subjected to racism, not only by people who were opposed to the enfranchisement of women, but by march organizers reluctant to advocate suffrage for black women. Since 1890, white Democrats of the southern states of the former Confederacy had ratified new state constitutional amendments and passed legislation that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Black women marching for the right to vote reminded many that black men had also been disenfranchised. Also, in those years, Washington was effectively a segregated city in public areas. Mary Church Terrell recounted that she and the Delta Sigma Theta Founders had to assemble in an area specifically allocated for black women. Several years later, Terrell confided her feelings about the National American Woman Suffrage Association and suffragist leader Alice Paul to NAACP representative Walter White. Terrell questioned Paul's loyalty to black women's rights, saying, "If [Paul] and other white suffragist leaders could get the Anthony Amendment through without enfranchising African American women, they would do so."
Although the young Founders were criticized for their participation in the suffrage march, none regretted her participation. Florence Letcher Toms commented, "We marched that day in order that women might come into their own, because we believed that women not only needed an education, but they needed a broader horizon in which they may use that education. And the right to vote would give them that privilege."
Over time, an amazing list of women would take their place in the annals of the Deltas, and they continue to do so, as do the sisters of other black sororities. The list
is too long to post here, but it includes political figures like Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm; civil, educational, and human rights activists like Mary McLeod Bethune
, Dorothy Height, Marion Wright Edelman, and Myrlie Evers; women in the arts like Ruby Dee; and in media like Charlayne Hunter-Gault
and Melissa Harris-Perry, who highlighted the Delta Centennial on her MSNBC show
This video, which takes a look at Delta women at the centennial
, tells a story:
While there doesn't appear to be a transcript or an official video of Hillary Clinton's remarks at the centennial, this cell phone recording captured the entire event, and is worth watching.
One of Clinton's oldest Delta friends, Marian Wright Edelman, has also been one of her sternest critics, who along with her husband, Peter, spoke out strongly against Bill Clinton's welfare reform legislation:
Their long friendship frayed publicly in the mid-1990s, when it became clear that President Bill Clinton would sign the welfare reform legislation. Both Edelmans publicly sounded alarms, saying they did not believe the changes to the program would effectively put people to work while cutting off their benefits. Peter Edelman, who was then assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned his post and wrote an article calling the law “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done.” Marian Edelman also wrote an article condemning the law.
Wright Edelman addressed this concflict on Democracy Now
AMY GOODMAN: Marian Wright Edelman, we just heard Hillary Rodham Clinton. She used to be the head of the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, of the organization that you founded. But you were extremely critical of the Clintons. I mean, when President Clinton signed off on the, well, so-called welfare reform bill, you said, "His signature on this pernicious bill makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children." So what are your hopes right now for these Democrats? And what are your thoughts about Hillary Rodham Clinton?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, you know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they are not friends in politics. We have to build a constituency, and you don’t — and we profoundly disagreed with the forms of the welfare reform bill, and we said so. We were for welfare reform, I am for welfare reform, but we need good jobs, we need adequate work incentives, we need minimum wage to be decent wage and livable wage, we need healthcare, we need transportation, we need to invest preventively in all of our children to prevent them ever having to be on welfare.
These criticisms resonated with many African Americans, and pressure will continue to be placed on Hillary to take a different stance in the future. Many of us also have long memories of the racial politics played in the Clinton primary campaign against Barack Obama. Barack Obama chose to mitigate those feelings by appointing her secretary of state. Deltas have access to the presidential ear, and clearly feel that will continue should Hillary take the nomination and go on to win the presidency in 2016. Most black folks tend to be pragmatic in our approach to politics, and a vast majority of us are perfectly aware that Republican control of the White House in 2016 would be an unmitigated disaster for us—no matter the deficiencies of some Democrats—and we laugh at the farce of Republican efforts to put black faces up for us to select from column "R." We aren't stupid, and we know that Republican lip service and tokenism is just that. There is nothing wrong with our hearing—the dog whistles from the Republican clown car are blaring—and we are not blind to the anti-black legislation in state houses and the Congress. Our ears and eyes will drive us to the polls in 2016.
President Obama meets with Delta Sigma Theta leaders in the Oval Office, July 16, 2013
The Deltas and other black sororities were recently involved in pressuring for the confirmation of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who is a Delta, outlined in this article from the Atlantic
, The Political Power of the Black Sorority
After a five-month delay, Loretta Lynch made history last week. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general, the first African American woman ever to hold this Cabinet position. Her long-stalled nomination sometimes seemed in doubt, held hostage to partisan jockeying between Democrats and Republicans. But one political bloc never gave up, relentlessly rallying its support behind Lynch: the black sorority.
During her initial hearing, the seats behind Lynch were filled with more than two dozen of her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters arrayed in crimson-and-cream blazers and blouses, ensuring their visibility on the national stage. These Delta women—U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge and Joyce Beatty among them—were there to lend moral support and show the committee that they meant business. The Deltas were not alone. The Lynch nomination also drew support from congressional representatives from other black sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha members Terri Sewell and Sheila Jackson Lee took to the House floor to advocate for a vote while Sigma Gamma Rho members Corinne Brown and Robin Kelly and Zeta Phi Beta member Donna Edwards used social media and press conferences to campaign on Lynch’s behalf.
Melissa Harris-Perry covered the pressure as well
Dr. Paulette Walker, national president of Delta Sigma Theta, joins Melissa Harris-Perry to talk about why the sorority is getting involved in pushing for a confirmation vote on President Obama’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch.
Deltas have other relationships with Democrats. Not surprisingly, they know Nancy Pelosi. And she knows them
She's the most powerful woman in Congress, and they call themselves the "largest black female organization in the universe." They agree on progressive issues from voting rights to fair wage legislation and on the national implications of what are often dismissed as women's concerns. It's no surprise that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. hit it off.
When speaking of intersections, of "race" and gender, there are also generational pushes and pulls, and those tensions are a fact of life. Some sorors from BGLOs are part of the #Blacklivesmatter movement, as discussed in the article, Sister Soldiers: A Look at Black Sororities in the Black Lives Matter Movement
Danielle Green was at work in Washington, D.C., when Baltimore erupted in protests and riots on April 27 just hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old Black man had died on April 19, one week after being arrested by Baltimore police and sustaining fatal spinal cord injuries. “I was getting calls and texts from family and friends about the rioting,” recalls Green, 41, a public school administrator who lives in Baltimore. “Once I heard what was happening, my mind immediately went to support efforts.”
“Having organized and participated in solidarity marches, I have seen women in sororities take action,” says Janaye Ingram, 36, an AKA who serves as national executive director of the National Action Network, founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. Knyra Ratcliff, 21, a Troy, Alabama, college student who holds a leader- ship position with SGRho, has taken part in sorority forums designed to engage law enforcement. “We’re trying to channel the anger into a proactive approach and positive dialogue with police,” she says.
Furthermore, Zeta Phi Beta has developed an initiative called Get Engaged. “We have grave concern for the sense- less killing of Black men, women and children, and other injustices that plague our community,” says Mary Breaux Wright, the sorority’s international president. Get Engaged, which is being implemented in collaboration with the NAACP, provides Zeta chapters with a framework to foster citizen engagement and strengthen relationships among the community, elected officials, law enforcement and educators. Community collaboration is key to effective change, says Delilah Berkley, 24, a Delta who lives in Atlanta. “I’ve been participating in peaceful protests, rallies, die-ins and town halls to speak up for what is right,” she says. “I am extremely passionate about getting my peers involved in stepping up to the plate just as Dr. King did when he was younger. We have to be leaders.”
One of the side notes to this story is that the Zetas engaged in Baltimore were mistaken for being gang members
by a clueless reporter, CNN anchor Erin Burnett:
In the midst of the Baltimore uprising, the Bloods and Crips announced they had put aside their differences for the greater good and joined efforts to heal the community. They were due to attend a town hall meeting, where CNN had set up shop.
As their camera panned the audience before the meeting began, three rows of Zeta Phi Beta sorority members were shown. Apparently, Burnett saw the sorority’s blue and white colors and assumed they were Crips.
“You’ve got the gang members right there,” she said.
We get stereotyped as thugs and gang members in the traditional media daily. The images of our communities as a threat, the fear of blacks ramped up in the minds of many white Americans by right-wing media like Fox, is nothing new to us. Many whites of a liberal persuasion are equally clueless about the lives we live as an important part of the fabric of American society. As a black American, and as a black American woman, I learned to survive in and understand the dominant white culture as a matter of course. I am often surprised by how little some of my political allies know about black institutions and history. I've made it one of my goals to teach that history and contemporary social and political reality, both in the classroom and on this blog.
My mom and my dad raised me to be committed to social action, and they supported my efforts even when my tactics differed from their practice. My mom passed on to me a deep respect for the sorority she joined as a young woman at West Virgina State. Her older sister, who went to Cheyney, was an AKA. My dad, who was a socialist, was a Kappa. I chose not to pledge when I was a student at Howard, although some of the women I admired most on campus were Deltas.
My mother always considered long-term alliances and networks when she stepped into the voting booth. Though my grandparents were Republicans, my parents were part of the shift by black Americans into the Democratic Party, as the Dixiecrats jumped ship into the Republican bigot-boat.
Had mom lived, she would have been proud to vote for Barack Obama. Same goes for my dad. I know they voted for JFK, LBJ, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and donated to Democratic campaigns. Had my mom been alive in 2013, she would have attended the Delta convention. More than likely, she would have been in the room to hear Hillary speak to that gathering of her sorors.
Perhaps this will help some readers understand why many black politically and socially active Democratic women are supporting Hillary in the polls.