Chartered in 1934 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the Beta Eta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. continues to provide academic, philanthropic, and social service to the campus and surrounding community. Semester by semester, the chapter organizes events and programs aimed at accomplishing the mission, objectives, and aims of the global fraternity. Throughout the many decades of its existence, BH has bred a manifold of collegiate men, many of whom have served within external organizations and roles including Undergraduate Student Government, Student Trustee, Black Affairs Council, Student Programming Council, New Student Affairs, and more. Some have gone on to contribute to the broader society in capacities such as business, education, entertainment, activism, and more.
During December of 1933 the fraternity held its 26th General Convention (national) in St. Louis. It was there that the official approval was granted for the establishment of a chapter at Southern Illinois State Normal School. Accompanying this decision was the adoption of the fraternity prayer, the establishment of the Alpha Phi Alpha Foundation, a spinoff of Alpha’s Go-to-High School, Go-to-College educational program, and the establishment of the Committee on Public Policy.
The following year proved to be very significant in Alpha’s history. In the 4 years prior, Alpha Phi Alpha was wrestling with the idea of establishing new chapters due to the serious economic conditions the country and fraternity were faced with. As the country suffered through the Great Depression, so did the fraternity.
“After passing through a period that has tested the courage and fortitude of our entire citizenry and experiencing as a fraternal group the widespread diminution of earning power, Alpha Phi Alpha stands at this date in a more firm financial ground than it has for four years. Surely, we take extreme pride in complimenting the loyal members and leaders of Alpha Phi Alpha.”
- The Sphinx Magazine, March 1934
During the spring of 1934, Bro. Sydney A. Jones, Jr. was tasked with facilitating the chartering of Beta Eta Chapter. Jones, a prominent figure within the fraternity and beyond, served as a Cook County Circuit Court judge, attorney, Midwestern Region Vice-President, Western Region Vice-President, General Secretary, as well as officiating the chartering of Alpha Pi Chapter on May 7, 1934 at Louisville Municipal College. The following nine brothers were initiated as BH charter members on April 12, 1934:
Arnold C. Bannister, Ruges Freeman, Elijah Landford, Wendell Lanton, John Mansfield, Joseph Charles Penn, Ora Polk, George Stafford, Goffery Taylor
Past yearbooks reveal that Mansfield and Stafford both served officer roles in the Dunbar Literary Society. J.C. Penn is recognized as the chapter’s Jewel for his lifetime dedication to BH. Though the chapter’s active status has never been paused, its activity did briefly suffer during the 1943-1944 school year as the school’s enrollment has significantly decreased.
Dick Gregory, world renowned comedian and activist, attended SIU from 1952-56. A nationally recognized student-athlete at the time, he was initiated into the fraternity in 1954. Despite his accolades, he was no exception to the deep rooted segregation that plagued the country and Carbondale at the time. He led the charge that integrated Carbondale’s Varsity Theater in 1953.
In the fall of 1955, Roland Burris, attorney and politician was initiated. While planning for the chapter’s 25th Anniversary, he encountered strong resistance from local hotels while attempting to book rooms for brothers that were invited into town from Chicago and St. Louis. After seeking the assistance of SIU President Delyte Morris, and being declined without enough proof of discrimination, Burris and others organized a case study to show the difference that blacks and whites had experienced when reaching out to local businesses. Armed with a list, the group gave it to Morris who then called on the chamber of commerce. Within a few months, the city of Carbondale was integrated.
In 1971, four brothers began formulating the concept of a pageant to highlight black womanhood. This action was in response to the lack of recognition received by SIU’s first African-American homecoming queen, Hazel Scott. However, at the time, their efforts were met with a delay as the first pageant did not actually occur until 1972. That same year, brothers helped to establish the Black Affairs Council. Nearly 45 years later, the Miss Eboness pageant continues to highlight the talents, beauty, and intellect while being recognized as an official SIU Homecoming event.
On April 5, 1976, Mu Kappa Lambda Alumni Chapter was chartered by Bro. Penn and 11 others.
Since 1996, the fraternity has hosted an annual homecoming step show. This large scale showcase highlights stepping, dancing, and fashion, draws several hundred attendees each year, and like Miss Eboness, is coined as an official homecoming event.
Aftering being inactive since the 1980’s the Black Male Roundtable, a student organization dedicated to organized dialogue surrounding pressing issues and their solutions , was revived in 2006 with the help of Bro. Charles Alexander. During the spring of 2007, the fraternity hosted its first annual March of Dimes fashion show. The event is a spinoff of the fraternity’s national partnership with the March for Babies foundation. The program is aimed towards raising funds to support research for preventing birth defects, premature births, and infant mortality.
While much has changed in the world and at SIU since BH began so many decades ago, the organization’s tradition of influencing the campus has remained. The fraternity continues to strive towards providing a meaningful experience for students and the community while ensuring its efforts fulfill the purpose of the greater Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.