Through more than nine decades, our chapter has stood for “manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind.” Through nine decades, Alpha men have been “noble, true and courageous,” and their achievements and accomplishments have brought honor and renown to our Fraternity.
Some thirteen years after the founding of the national organization, Alpha Phi Alpha, a group of men came together in Baltimore to establish Delta Lambda chapter on May 23, 1919, but did not receive official sanction until after the Chicago Convention of 1920.
The year 1919 was not a great year for black Americans. Between June and December of that year, 76 Blacks were lynched. There were over 25 race riots – so many in fact that historian called the summer of that year “Red Summer.” World War I was in full blast, but the lot of Black men in the armed services was precarious. Even our soldiers on French soil were, for a time, not permitted in actual battle, and the European citizens were warned not to socialize with Black soldiers at all.
What was life like for Baltimorean in 1919? Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States and William F. Broening was the Mayor of Baltimore. In addition, there were two Black Republicans in the City Council; William Fitzgerald in the Seventh Ward and Warner T. McGuinn was in the Fourteenth Ward.
On the church front, Baltimore congregations were pastured by illustrious clergymen, such as M.J. Naylor of Sharp Street Methodist; W. Sampson Brooks at Bethel A.M.E.; Harvey Johnson at Union Baptist; William M. Alexander at Sharon Baptist; John T. Colbert at Grace Presbyterian; and Father George Bragg at St. James Episcopal.
In 1919, on the professional front, Willard Allen was a prominent real estate man; Roy S. Bond, the “Divorce King,” was a leading attorney, and H.O. Wilson was the city’s most prominent Black banker.
The social life was rich and varied. Both Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson came to Baltimore to give concerts. Captain Brown ran excursions to Brown’s Grove, and the Afro-American sold for five cents an issue.
Morgan and Wilson Parks were being built with their suburban amenities and the white residents of the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Mosher St. claimed that they could neither sleep nor eat because “colored folks were moving in.”
It was in this social milieu of Black life in Baltimore that our chapter, Delta Lambda, was born. The trailblazers of Delta Lambda were: W. Norman Bishop, Simeon S. Booker, H. C. Caldwell, Raymond Carpenter, Beal Elliott*, Walter B. Garvin, James Henry Hilburn, Jay Garland McRae, Carl J. Turley Murphy, Louis H. Russell and Joseph L. Shelton. Like their colleagues at Cornell, these men, who had all been undergraduate brothers, were aware of the need for unity, solidarity and mutual support. And so they banded together. From Beta Chapter came McCrea, Garvin, Shelton, Murphy and Russell; from Epsilon Chapter came Hilburn; from Nu Chapter came Caldwell and Carpenter; from Gamma Chapter came Booker; and from Zeta Chapter came Bishop and Beale Elliott.
So great was their zeal and their dedication that after two years of existence, this fledging chapter served as the host for the Fourteenth Annual General Convention of the Fraternity, which convened in Baltimore, December 17 – 20, 1921.
This convention was notable for a number of reasons:
- Simeon S. Booker of Delta Lambda was the eleventh president of Alpha Phi Alpha;
- Carl J. Murphy of the Afro was the Editor of The Sphinx;
- There was a pilgrimage during the convention to the Anacostia home of Frederick Douglass, at which time Douglass was made a member of Omega Chapter. This move prompted the saying that Alpha men will rob the grave to make an Alpha man.
The 1921 Convention was an Alpha highlight. There were delegates from 35 colleges in attendance, and delegates from distant cities such as Atlanta, Boston and Kansas City. Daily sessions were held at the YMCA. A public session was held at Sharon Baptist Church, at which time Robert L. Vann of the Pittsburgh Courier was the principal speaker. The session closed on December 31st with a banquet at the YMCA. Two jewels, Nathaniel Murray and George Kelley, were in attendance. There was a basketball game between Nu Chapter of Lincoln and Beta Chapter of Howard. Howard won; the score was 36 – 31. Seventy years later, this honor would again be given to Delta Lambda Chapter.
Under General President S.S. Booker, the Fraternity and Delta Lambda Chapter launched an effort to persuade one million young people to remain in school. His goal was to reach one million homes and to convince one million young people to remain in school. This program was known as to “Go to College,” but it later was known as “Go to High School, Go to College.” A committee composed of H.C. Caldwell, C.J. Murphy and W.N. Bishop was appointed to make arrangements.
May 9 – 16, 1921, was the first “Go to High School, Go to College” program held by Delta Lambda. Meetings were held nightly at a different church. May 9th, Sharon Baptist Church; May 10th, Ebenezer A.M.E. Church; May 11th, Sharp Street Methodist; May 12th, First Baptist Church; May 13th, there was a reception at “Y,” and May 15th, the meeting concluded with the final session held at Bethel Church, and Dr. Stanley Durkee, President of Howard University, was the speaker.
The national program was so successful and had such national support, that President Warren G. Harding gave his approval to the movement in a letter to Brother Norman McGhee, General Secretary of Alpha Phi Alpha.
One of the major objectives of Delta Lambda was to purchase an Alpha House in Baltimore. In the early days, Delta Lambda met in the homes of various brothers. However, on May 24, 1920, it was moved by S.S. Booker and seconded by H.C. Caldwell that a committee be appointed “to determine ways and means to build a chapter house.” The committee was composed of Elliott, Murphy, and Garvin. It was not until 1968 – 48 years later – that a chapter house would become a reality. Prior to obtaining Alpha House, the chapter held its monthly meetings at various sites.
Among them were Lexington-Poe Community Center, the YMCA and the Winchester Armory. In 1968, the Alpha House was purchased at the cost of approximately $12,000. From time to time, major renovations were made. One such renovation occurred in 1976 when $10,000 was borrowed from the Advance Federal Savings & Loan Association to do substantial renovations, during the presidency of Charles F. Robinson.
This objective of attaining a chapter house was realized in 1968 through the efforts of Chapter President Herman Sydnor, the Housing Committee and other conscientious brothers of the chapter. During 1920, a famous visitor came to Delta Lambda Chapter. He was Fritz Pollard, a member of Rho Chapter, and the first professional African American football player. He was brought to the meeting by Brother S.B. Hughes. The meeting was held in the home of Brother Bishop, 1107 Druid Hill Avenue.
The brothers were aware of the educational needs of Black Baltimorean and on June 14, 1921, it was noted that the Chapter should discuss with Governor Ritchie the matter of a state university for the colored people of Maryland. This move adumbrated a latter move when Morgan State University would become the urban university of the State of Maryland in 1975.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Delta Lambda was one of the premier chapters in Alpha and frequently hosted banquets and other galas to honor General Officers and to promote national programs.
In the early days of the Chapter, rules and discipline were severe. The original Constitution, adopted April 24, 1920, specified that if a member left the room without the permission of the President, he would be suspended indefinitely. Dues were $6.00 a year, payable at .50 cents per month. Any member who failed to attend at least one business meeting of the Chapter each month would be fined fifty cents for each failure.
President S.S. Booker entered Omega Chapter in 1960. Jewel C. Henry Chapman was the first Jewel to enter Omega Chapter and Jewel Henry Arthur Callis was the last of the seven founders to enter Omega Chapter.
Delta Lambda Chapter has had an illustrious roster of presidents. The first president was James H. Hilburn, who served from 1912 – 1922. Hilburn later became the Vice President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The second president was S.B. Hughes, who was elected in 1922. All total, in 90 years Delta Lambda has had at least thirty-five (35) known presidents.
The minutes of Chapter meetings were reviewed, and some of the minutes are missing, but there are records from 1919 to present. These records reveal that the Chapter devoted much time to mundane affairs of Founders’ Day, the Tennis Tournament, Smokers, the NAACP, requests for funds from many noteworthy causes, the political campaigns of various people, the affairs of Alpha House, deaths and illnesses of various members, activities of Alpha wives, and the list goes on.
In 1997, Delta Lambda began a new chapter in Alpha History when it was named one of the original fifteen “SANKOFA Lead Chapters” by the Corporate Office. As such Delta Lambda was the recipient of grant money awarded to the General Organization by the Kellogg Foundation to fund several Fraternity initiatives, such as Go-To-High School, Go-To-College, Youth Mentoring Program and Project Alpha.
For two consecutive years, 1999 – 2000, Delta Lambda was chosen as the Eastern Region’s Chapter of the Year, and represented the Eastern Region at both the Dallas and Atlanta General Conventions. The Chapter won the Atlanta competition in 2000, thus being named the Millennium Alumni Chapter of the Year. The chapter was also named Alumni Chapter of the Year for District VI in 2005.
Since April 28, 1947, when they were organized, the Alpha Wives have been staunch supporters of Delta Lambda Chapter. They have made substantial financial contributions to the Chapter, acted as hostesses at various chapter functions, and accompanied their husbands to various General Conventions. The Alpha Wives were incorporated July 12, 2000. The Chapter formed the Delta Lambda Housing Foundation, Inc. November 3, 1967. The name was subsequently changed to the Delta Lambda Education Foundation, April 16, 1986. This foundation has a 501(c)(3) status.
Delta Lambda has, since the days of its early development, hosted two Eastern Regional Conventions, two General Conventions, produced a General President, S. S. Booker, three Eastern Region Vice Presidents, Charles P. Howard, Frank Ellis and R. Anthony Mills. Additionally, Dr. Clifton Jones served as National Director of Educational Activities, Dr. Ralph Johnson as Interim Executive Director & Chair of the Alpha Education Foundation and Bro. William D. Lyle as Executive Director.
Delta Lambda’s membership past and present is star-studded with names of leaders in government, business, education and other professions to include Senator Clarence Blount, Judge Harry Cole, Clifton Jones, Dr. Joseph Durham, Henry G. Parks, Raymond Haysbert, Dr. Maurice Adams, Hiram Butler, Harlow Fullwood, Frank Ellis, Dr. William Calhoun, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, Dr. Earl Richardson, Dr. Calvin Burnett, as well as many teachers, administrators, state and federal government officials. The chapter has also had a distinguish list of men to serve as chapter president.
The Chapter boasts of having had seven college presidents on its roll. No other Alpha Chapter can make this claim. Each of these men has enriched Baltimore life, are contributing and still contribute to the City as well as the larger society.
In 2003 Delta Lambda Chapter presented its inaugural “Beautillion” with eleven outstanding young men who were provided a year of concentrated personal development training. The chapter has presented a beautillion class every year since, raising and distributing over $120,000 in the programs first 7 years.
In 1919, ten men formed Delta Lambda. Now in 2009, ninety years later, there are 150 members of the chapter. In 90 years, Delta Lambda Chapter has been an outstanding alumni chapter. The Chapter has been true to the ideals of the Fraternity: “manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind.”
Delta Lambda has a proud history and a tremendous legacy. “The moving finger writes and having writ moves on,” says Omar Khayyam. The finger of history has recorded 90 years of Delta Lambda history. It may well be that our glorious days are ahead of us with our new Outreach Center, located in the Rosemont neighborhood of Baltimore City.
As we look forward to continued progress as a chapter, we pledge in the words of the second verse of our Fraternity Hymn (which we seldom sing): “We hold ever aloft noble ideas and aims, Carrying out earth’s and heaven’s grand command, Our true hearts ever strive, success’ goal to attain, That our Fraternity’s (and Chapter’s) praises may be sung.”