The Origins of Alpha Phi Alpha

421 N. Albany Street, Ithaca, NY

The opening of the school year, 1905 - 1906, found at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, a group of black students distributed in the various colleges of the University, who were desirous of maintaining more intimate contacts with one another than their classroom studies permitted. They often met in groups during the Autumn of 1905 and talked of the possibilities of closer contacts among themselves. Different ones among them took the lead in calling these meetings which were informal in every detail.

As black students in a large American University, they were cut off from the many opportunities for mutual helpfulness which came to groups of students through personal acquaintance and close association. As individuals there were personal contacts of value with other members of the student body, but as a group, they were prescribed in their associations. The cleavage, characteristic of this period, had laid the basis for this division even in college life. Many of these students were self-supporting and their resources were limited, and if membership into the university's fraternal associations had been permissible, it is probable that advantage could not have been taken of thiis opportunity. Confronted by the social proscriptions of color, common to American institutions of this era, hampered by limited means with the attendant circumstance of the average "poor" student,these students faced the future and boldly endeavored to find a way out of their difficulties, scarcely realizing, however, the impact of their actions on subsequent generations of college students. Eight of these interested male students were registered in the undergraduate schools of the university. Messrs. Henry Arthur Callis, Vertner W. Tandy, George B. Kelley, Charles Henry Chapman, Nathaniel A. Murray, Robert H. Ogle, Morgan T. Phillips, and George Tompkins. Another, C. C. Poindexter, of more maturity than the others, was registered in the College of Agriculture.

Two motives were operating in the minds of these students in this period, and it is interesting to note that these motives, although at first thought to be antagonistic, have been present and active in many individual chapters of the fraternity at subsequent periods. These otives have struggled one against the other throughout our history as a fraternal group. First the one and then the other gained the ascendency, and it is this experience that has brought about the present situation in which the existence of both motives are completely realized within the same organizations.