By DaQuan Lawrence,
AFRO International Writer,
As the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (MOW) returned to the nation’s capital for its 60th anniversary, fraternities in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NHPC), a group of nine historical Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs ; D9) adamantly called for social justice.
“The men of Alpha stand aligned with the other D9 presidents and D9 organizations to make sure that we raise the level of consciousness in America and around the world, that equity and equality are important factors of good citizenship,” Dr. Willis L. Lonzer III, general president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, said to the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
“Much like our good brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the men of Alpha have arrived to raise the conscience of the United States,” Lonzer explained.
King is a widely known brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, who joined the organization in 1952 as a member of the Sigma Chapter for the Boston Metropolitan area. He moved to the city as a graduate student and eventually earned his Ph.D in theology at Boston University.
King would go on to become one of the most influential faith and civil rights leaders in the world, setting an example for many to come after him. Throughout the day on Aug. 26, 2023, speakers at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington invoked King’s name and implored attendees to push for the rights King advocated for until his death.
“As we leave you today, we continue to hold on to the torch of enlightenment and empowerment as we move forward as citizens in this country,” Lonzer said.
During the event, participants from all walks of life and around the nation heard from various speakers and several organizations that addressed the importance of human rights and civil liberties for Black Americans and other marginalized communities.
While many of the attendees at the 2023 March on Washington believe the occasion is significant, the recurring theme from many of America’s Black fraternities was that Black Americans are marching for rights and justice sought after six decades ago.
“Certainly, there is no question that we are still marching for the same things,” Robert L. Jenkins Jr. Esq., senior grand vice-polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, told the AFRO.
“Unfortunately, many of the struggles and issues that we were confronted with 60 years ago, we still deal with today,” Jenkins Jr. explained.
The brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity were also present at the march, and expressed their discontent with the social, political and economic conditions Black Americans experience in the U.S.
“In this very spot, a man by the name of A. Phillip Randolph
[one of the
] original organizers of the March on Washington in 1963, a Phi Beta Sigma man once said ‘we shall return to Washington again and again until freedom is ours,” Chris Rey, the international president of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, said during his remarks to the Lincoln Memorial crowd.
] John Lewis, a Phi Beta Sigma man once said ‘American politics is dominated by politicians who build their careers on immoral compromise and ally themselves with political, economic and social exploitation…’,” Rey said during his remarks.
Rey, the president of Barber-Scotia College, a private historically Black college and university (HBCU) in Concord, Nc, also called attention to the importance of the nation’s HBCUs during his remarks.
“Historically Black colleges and universities matter, they will always matter. Until this nation recognizes the contributions of the melting pot we call humanity, we will march and protest because this is not the struggle of the day or month, it is the struggle of a lifetime,” Rey declared.
Continuing the calls for social justice, other fraternities also echoed this sentiment.
“As we look back at the footsteps that have walked these very streets we cannot help but draw inspiration from the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement including…our own beloved fraternity brother, Brother Bayard Rustin” First Vice Grand Basileus of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Mark E. Jackson spoke ahead of the anniversary march.
“Today is a call to action. The fight for civil rights, justice and equality is not a spectator sport. We need all hands on deck if we are going to move the needle of social justice,” Jackson said to the attendees on the morning of the march.
Jenkins also emphasized the importance of unity among Black Americans during his remarks.
“The need still remains the same and the struggle continues…We should draw from our history…as we leave here today, we need all individuals, groups and organizations here today to build partnerships,” Jenkins Jr. told the Washington D.C. crowd.
The brothers of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity shared a profound and moving message with march attendees.
“Like this march, Iota Phi Theta is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year,” said Walter Fields, the chairman for Brown and Gold PAC, the national political action committee of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.
“Our brotherhood was founded just one month after the 1963 March on Washington, and four days after four little Black girls were murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama,” said Fields.
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing is now known as an act of terrorism espoused by perpetrators who were racist White supremacists. Eleven-year-old Carol Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson were killed during the bombing.
“We are the fraternal expression of the Civil Rights Movement,” Fields said, of his organization. “What we do today is important and symbolic, but the question is: what will you do tomorrow when you return home?”