Black honor societies: organizations created to recognize black academic achievement
History of the honor society
Even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence Americans were pursued knowledge. Perhaps if they did not pursue knowledge the Declaration of Independence would have never been signed. An educated population is the cornerstone of a thriving democracy a so in the fledgling years of our nation were dominated by intellectual giants like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who made it a point to emphasize the important place education had in our republic. A notable moment in this period was on December 5 1776 when Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the college of William and Mary The same year the declaration of independence was founded. Phi Beta Kappa the oldest honor society and first Greek letter organization in America recognizes academic achievement. It became the de facto institution of the intellectual.
The black academic experience
During this period the African American had a totally different experience. Slave was the status of the large majority of African Americans. Many enslaved African Americans attempted to learn any chance they had but as Frederick Douglas said Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave so numerous laws were implemented making it illegal to teach slaves to read or write. In 1865 the Civil War ended effectively freeing African Americans. It was not until 1877 that the first African American whose name was George Washington Henderson was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa. It was not until 1953 that the first chapter was established at a predominantly black institution Fisk University.
After slavery African Americans had an intense thirst for knowledge that had been kept from them. They felt that the best way to move up in the world was to get a good education. Despite the end of slavery it was still unlikely for an African American to be admitted to the nation’s man institutions of higher learning so schools were established for the purpose of educating African Americans. Through many trials turmoil these schools survived to become great universities creating the foundation for the development of the black intellectual.
The Black Honor Society
Despite the achievements of these institutions a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa chapters were never established until many years later. Instead of waiting for acceptance into Phi Beta Kappa the African American intellectual community began to create their own academic honor societies. The two most well known and still active today are Alpha Kappa Mu and Beta Kappa Chi.
Alpha Kappa Mu
Name: Alpha Kappa Mu
Founded: November 26 1937, Tennessee State University
Founder: Dr. George W. Gore Jr.
Colors: Royal Blue and White
Membership Criteria: registered full time student in good standing. At least a junior in a degree program a minimum of a 3.3 GPA and ranked in the top 10 percent of class.
Publication: AKM Newsletter
Beta Kappa Chi
Name: Beta Kappa Chi
Motto: Science holds the golden key to the royal palace of knowledge
Founded: 1923, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania
Founders: Dr. Harold F Grim, Dr. Arthur E James, Dr. Walter L Wright
Colors: Golden Yellow and Royal blue
Membership Criteria: Must major in a science field recognized by Beta Kappa Chi and be in the top fifth of your class and have completed at least 64 semester hours
Publication: BKX Bulletin
The present and future
While these organizations are integral parts of the black intellectual experience they have had their ups and downs. Other honor societies and universities have become more welcoming to African American students giving talented black students more options to choose from. Due to lack of promotion of these organizations or perceived positives of other honor societies and lack of chapters at non Historically Black Institutions many talented black students do not join.
Perhaps in the future alumni of these organizations will take a more active role by becoming more involved and donating resources to make these institutions stronger and insuring they are still around for the next generation.