Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was recently honored by his fraternity, Sigma Pi Phi. (AFRO File Photo)
Sigma Pi Phi , the first Black Greek-letter fraternity, on June 28 honored Blacks who have served in presidential cabinet-level positions.
Sigma Pi Phi, a Black-oriented professional and business fraternity that is popularly known as The Boule, held its 53rd national convention at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. from June 25-29.
The Boule was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1904 by three Black doctors and a dentist for the purpose of social and cultural engagement. During the time of its founding, Blacks weren’t allowed in many majority White professional associations.
The fraternity currently has over 5,000 members and 126 chapters in the U.S. and in the West Indies.
Even though The Boule doesn’t have an undergraduate component, many of its members also belong to the main Black collegiate Greek-letter organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi and Phi Beta Sigma.
Prominent members of The Boule include Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, former presidential advisor Vernon Jordan, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, the late W.E.B. DuBois, American Express President and CEO Kenneth Chenault, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and former U.S. Rep. and president and CEO of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume.
Sigma Pi Phi is open to all races even though its membership is predominantly Black. It also has an elitist reputation that was popularized by Lawrence Otis Graham’s book “Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class.”
The Boule‘s business sessions were closed to the public but there were workshops on such topics as “Personal Finance from the 40s through the 60s”, “The World of Franchising” and “Creating the Next Disruptive Business Model.”
Michael Fauntroy, a political scientist at Howard University, said that 545 people have served in the presidential Cabinet and four percent or 21 have been Black.
The event honoring the Black secretaries was billed “Salute to Secretaries” and it was sponsored by the Epsilon Boule chapter that is based in Washington, D.C. with an attendance of 400 people. Fauntroy, talked about Robert Weaver, the first Black to serve in the Cabinet as the secretary of housing and urban development appointed by President Lyndon Johnson.
James Mitchell talked about Patricia Roberts Harris, the first Black woman to serve in the Cabinet as secretaries of housing and urban development and health and human services. Mike Espy, a member of Sigma Pi Phi and the first Black to lead the Agriculture Department in the Clinton administration, credited another Black Cabinet member for his success.
“Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown was the godfather in the Clinton administration,” Espy said. Brown, a beloved figure in Black America and the first Black chairman of a major political party, the Democratic Party and the first African American to lead his department, was killed in an airplane crash in 1996 in Croatia.
Another Clinton appointee, Alexis Herman who served as secretary of labor, urged attendees to get involved in the political process. Herman is an Archousa, the women’s group affiliated with Sigma Pi Phi that met at the same time but had separate business activities.
“We have some people who say let’s make America great again. They want to go back to a time when America wasn’t great for everyone,” she said, referring to the fact that it is necessary for Blacks to participate in the political action this year. “This country is greater than ever. Go back to your homes and work your butt off to keep it that way.”