The Birth of Omega
On Friday evening, November 17, 1911, three Howard University undergraduate students, with the assistance of their faculty adviser, gave birth to the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. This event occurred in the office of biology Professor Ernest E. Just, the faculty adviser, in the Science Hall (now known as Thirkield Hall). The three liberal arts students were Edgar A. Love, Oscar J. Cooper and Frank Coleman. From the initials of the Greek phrase meaning friendship is essential to the soul, the name Omega Psi Phi was derived. The phrase was selected as the motto. Manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift were adopted as cardinal principles. A decision was made regarding the design for the pin and emblem, and thus ended the first meeting of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity . The next meeting was conducted on November 23, 1911. Edgar Love became the first Grand Basileus (National President). Cooper and Coleman were selected Grand keeper of the Records (National Secretary) and Grand keeper of Seals (National Treasurer), respectively. Eleven Howard University undergraduate men were selected as charter members. Alpha Chapter was organized with fourteen charter members on December 15, 1911. Love, Cooper and Coleman were elected the chapter’s first Basileus, Keeper of Records, and Keeper of Seals, respectively.
On March 8, 1912, the previously submitted fraternity constitution was rejected by the Howard University Faculty Council. The Faculty Council proposed to accept the fraternity as a local but not a national organization. The fraternity refused acceptance as a strictly local organization. Oscar Cooper became the fraternity’s second Grand Basileus in 1912. Cooper authorized the investigation of a proposed second chapter at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Edgar Love was elected as the third Grand Basileus in 1912and served until 1915. In 1914, Howard University withdrew its opposition, and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia on October 28, 1914.
Beta Chapter at Lincoln University was chartered in February, 1914. George E. Hall, the fourth Grand Basileus, had been initiated at Alpha Chapter in 1914. Grand Basileus Hall authorized the establishment of Gamma Chapter in Boston, Massachusetts. However, the chapter was eventually established during the administration of the fifth Grand Basileus, James C. McMorries. During the administration of the sixth Grand Basileus, Clarence F. Holmes, the fraternity’s first official hymn, Omega Men Draw Nigh, was written by Otto Bohannon. Raymond G. Robinson, the seventh Grand Basileus, established Delta Chapter in Nashville, Tennessee in 1919. Robinson left office in 1920 with a total of ten chapters in operation. Stanley Douglas served as Editor of the first Oracle published in the spring of 1919. Harold K. Thomas, the eighth Grand Basileus, was elected at the 1920 Nashville Grand Conclave. It was at this Conclave that Carter G. Woodson inspired the establishment of National Achievement Week to promote the study of Negro life and history. The 1921 Atlanta Grand Conclave brought to an end the first decade of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
In 1922, Grand Basileus J. Alston Atkins appointed the first District Representatives. Today, there are eleven such officers who are elected annually by the district conferences/meetings. In 1922, the office of Vice Grand Basileus was created. The Grand Keeper of Records became the Grand Keeper of the Records and Seal. The first Omega Bulletin was published in 1928. Campbell C. Johnson was the Editor. Omega Dear was adopted as the official hymn in 1931. Two faculty from Howard University, Charles R. Drew, Professor of Surgery, and Mercer Cook, Professor of Languages, were the composers. Cook wrote the music and first stanza; Drew wrote the last two stanzas.
The Omega “Sweetheart Song,” with words and music by Don Q. Pullen, was adopted as the official sweetheart song by the 1940 Nashville Grand Conclave.
Founder Ernest E. Just entered the Omega Chapter in 1941.
In 1941, Charles Drew perfected the use of blood plasma as a life-saving tool. William Hastie resigned as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War in protest against discrimination in the armed forces. He was later appointed Governor of the Virgin Islands by President Harry S. Truman.
Since 1945, the fraternity has undertaken a National Social Action program to meet the needs of African Americans in the areas of health, housing, civil rights, and education.
In 1949, the first National Headquarters Building at 107 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. was purchased.
H. Carl Moultrie I was selected to serve as the first National Executive Secretary. That same year, the scholarship fund was renamed in honor of Charles R. Drew.
During this era, social action became Omega’s primary programmatic thrust. Thousands of Omega men became actively involved in the fight to eliminate racial discrimination.
The Los Angeles Grand Conclave in 1955 initiated a program whereby each graduate chapter would purchase a Life Membership from the NAACP.
Between 1955 and 1959, chapters contributed nearly $40,000 to the NAACP.
The struggle for social justice shifted into high gear. Brothers were active participants in the “sit-ins” and other civil rights demonstrations. Moreover, undergraduate brothers especially were involved in the demonstrative aspect of the civil rights struggle.
In 1961, the Washington, D.C. Grand Conclave highlighted Omega’s first 50 years of accomplishments. Founders — Love, Cooper, and Coleman were present. Thirteen of 23 former Grand Basilei also attended this historic gathering.
It was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for young brothers to mingle with some of the greatest black men that America had produced.
The Golden Anniversary Conclave authorized a $150,000 investment towards the construction of a new national headquarters building in Washington, D.C.
In 1964, the new national headquarters was dedicated. It was a dream come true and was the first building of its type to be built by a black fraternity.
Founders — Love, Cooper and Coleman participated in the ceremonies. The name was later changed to the International Headquarters and was located at 2714 Georgia Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Founder Frank Coleman entered Omega Chapter in 1967.
The Charlotte Grand Conclave in 1968 mandated a constitutional convention for the revision of the Fraternity’s constitution and by-laws as well as the Ritual. That convention was held in Atlanta in 1969.
The newly revised Constitution and By-Laws and the Ritual went into effective at the close of the 1970 Pittsburgh Grand Conclave.
H. Carl Moultrie I, Omega’s only National Executive Secretary, was appointed a judge to the Superior Court of Washington, D.C., in 1972. Moultrie’s resignation was accepted with regrets.
Omega conferred upon Moultrie the title of National Executive Secretary Emeritus which was later changed to Executive Secretary Emeritus.
The Seventies brought more unpleasant news.
Founder Oscar J. Cooper entered Omega Chapter in 1972. Two years later in 1974, Edgar A. Love, the last surviving founder, entered Omega Chapter.
On November 16, 1975, an impressive granite monument was dedicated to the memory of the four founders. The monument is located near Thirkield Hall, the site of Omega’s birth place on the Howard University campus.
A revived Life Membership program resulted in a very large number of new Life Members.
The Atlanta Grand Conclave in 1976 became the largest attended up to that point. Many new undergraduate chapters were chartered, because of the increased enrollment of black students at previously all-white colleges and universities.
“Operation Big Vote,” was successful in getting thousands of African-Americans to vote in the 1976 election.
The Denver Grand Conclave in 1979 made a commitment to contribute $250,000 to the United Negro College Fund over the next five years.
THE EIGHTIES, NINETIES AND TODAY
In 1981, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity endowed its first endowed Omega faculty chair at Rust College, Holly Springs, Miss. President W.A. McMillan stated that the chair would be used to promote the humanities.
The 75th Anniversary Grand Conclave celebration was held July 25-Aug. 1, 1986 in Washington, D.C., the city of Omega’s birth. It surpassed the previous attendance record.
Grand Basileus Moses C. Norman, Sr., elected at the 1984 Louisville Grand Conclave, appointed a committee to review the structure and operations of the fraternity as a means of future focus.
In 1984, John S. Epps was selected as only the fifth Omega man to serve as Executive Secretary. H. Carl Moultrie I, Executive Secretary Emeritus and Ronald E. McNair, noted Astronaut, entered Omega Chapter.
Don Q. Pullen and W. Mercer Cook also entered Omega Chapter.
C. Tyrone Gilmore Sr. became the 34th Grand Basileus in June 1990. Under his leadership, a site for a new World Center and International Headquarters in Decatur Ga. was identified. Also, complete structure was revamped and the international chapters were transformed into the 13th District.
Dorsey C. Miller Jr., was chosen as the 35th Grand Basileus at the Cleveland Grand Conclave in 1994. Miller’s administration closed the sale of the property at 3951 Snapfinger Parkway, which the new international headquarters. The property at 2714 Georgia Ave. N.W. was disposed. The Georgia Avenue location had served as the Fraternity’s headquarter for 31 years.
Lloyd J. Jordan, Esq., who had previously served as Grand Counselor, was elected the 36th Grand Basileus at the 70th Grand Conclave in 1998 in New Orleans. S. Earl Wilson executive director in June 2000.
George Grace was elected Grand Basileus in 2002 at the 72nd Grand Conclave in Charlotte, N.C. Grace’s administration helped the Fraternity realize financial solvency.
Warren G. Lee Jr., who had once served as the Second Grand Vice Basileus, was elected Grand Basileus in during Little Rock Grand Conclave in 2008. During Lee’s tenure, Omega fortified its mission and brought aid and comfort to those in need. Omega men across the United States mentored to the youth organized various social action programs and donated millions to worthy causes.
In 2010, Dr. Andrew A. Ray was elected the 39th Grand Basileus during the 76th Grand Conclave held in Raleigh, N.C. During his administration, Omega will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a grand celebration to be held in July 2011 in Washington D.C.
Today, Omega Psi Phi now has over 700 chapters throughout the United States, Bermuda, Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Korea, Japan, Liberia, Germany, and Kuwait.
There are many notable Omega Men recognized as leaders in the arts, the sciences, academics, athletics, business, civil rights, education, government, and science sectors at the local, national and international level.
Omega continues to flourish, largely because founders — Love, Cooper, Coleman and Just — were men of the very highest ideals and intellect. The Founders selected and attracted men of similar ideals and characteristics. It is not by accident that many of America’s great black men are or were Omega Men. There are very few Americans whose lives have not been touched by a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.