In 1913, African-American women marching in support of Women's Suffrage in Washington, D.C. were told to go to the back of the parade. The young college students who founded Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were among those marchers.
"As college students, our founders wanted to use their collective strengths to promote academic excellence and assist persons in need," said Shirley Payne Page, president of the Shelby County (TN) Alumnae Chapter. "To keep this vision alive, sorors all over the world are coming together to celebrate 100 years of achievements."
One day into the new year, Deltas signaled their commitment to acknowledge and celebrate their history and purpose with an appearance that the founders could only have dreamed of – a prominent place in the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. The sorority, which showcased a float highlighting its global commitment to community service, education, and entrepreneurship, made history by becoming the oldest black Greek-letter organization to ever march in the famed procession.
Numerous events commemorating the centennial celebration of the largest African-American Greek-lettered women's organization in the world will unfold throughout 2013,
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., was founded on Jan. 13, 1913 by 22 students at Howard University in Washington, D. C. Today, the sorority is comprised of more than 300,000 college-educated women, with chapters in the United States, England, Japan, Germany, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Republic of Korea.
In Memphis, members of Delta Sigma Theta are saluting the sorority's 100-year milestone achievements via numerous community service and anniversary celebrations. Last Saturday (Jan. 12), local members volunteered for 13 community projects – symbolic of the year and date the organization was established.
About 22 volunteers will be assigned to each of the projects in recognition of the sorority's 22 founders who placed service at the forefront of the organization's mission. Habitat for Humanity, Porter Leath, Hope House, Memphis Food Bank, Lowenstein House, and Stand for Children are among the outreach projects selected for the special day of service.
Other centennial observances include Founders' Day events, worship services throughout the city, receptions, special exhibits and motorcades.
"Our focus on community service is a commitment our founders made 100 years ago," says Dr. Charlotte Freeman, president of the sorority's Memphis Alumnae Chapter. "It's a well-defined legacy built on the premise that our time, talents, resources and positive influences are to be used to make our communities and nation stronger."
Delta Sigma Theta was established to promote academic excellence, provide scholarships, educate and stimulate participation in the establishment of positive public policy, and to highlight issues and provide solutions for problems in communities. The sorority uses its Five-Point Programmatic Thrust of economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health, and political awareness and involvement to create its national programs.
In addition to the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day, the sorority held its Hollywood Gala at Club Nokia – LA Live, where Memphis-based actress and educator Flo Roach was honored with the Deltas' "Shining Star Award." Roach was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the arts, which included her role in the blockbuster movie, "The Help." Roach, along with Cicely Tyson and Aunjanue Ellis, were the three Deltas appearing in the film.
A major media blitz followed in New York City's Times Square on Jan. 10. Founders' Day activities in Washington on Jan. 11-13 included a reenactment of the 1913 Women's Suffrage March. A ceremonial journey of the Delta Torch across 22 U.S. cities will culminate with the sorority's national convention in Washington, D.C. in July.
And, true to the sorority's foundation, there will be numerous service projects throughout the nation.
Minnie Malone Cook, a former president of the Memphis Alumnae Chapter (1992-94), is one of several longtime sorority members eager to take part in the 100th anniversary.
"I had the opportunity to enjoy the Deltas' 75th anniversary in Washington, D.C. 25 years ago," said Cook.
"The re-enactment of the 1913 Women's Suffrage march for the right to vote was an unforgettable highlight of this event. I will always remember seeing more than 20,000 women dressed in white parading down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol."
A powerful thread
Delta women have woven a powerful thread of exemplary leadership and service throughout the Mid-South community. For more than 20 years, Memphis Deltas have been preparing local students for the ACT by providing free workshops.
Over the past four years, Deltas have also donated more than $200,000 in college scholarships to Memphis-area students through the Maggie McDowell Scholarship Fund. Other programs include the Delta Academy, the Delta Fine Arts and Cultural Center, the Home for the Holidays program, the EMBODI and Jabberwock enrichment programs for youth.
Some of Memphis' most notable Deltas, past and present, include Mary Church Terrell, Maxine Smith, Lois DeBerry, Johnnie Turner, Dr. Barbara Duncan-Cody, Judge Carolyn Blackett, Judge Deborah Means Henderson, Beverly Robertson, Harriet Ish Walker, Frances Dancy Hooks, Cathy Ross, Stephanie Scurlock, Tomeka Hart, Rochelle Stevens, and a host of distinguished physicians, lawyers, entrepreneurs, media personalities, civic and political leaders.
Other famous Deltas, past and present, include Dorothy I. Height, Alexis Herman, Aretha Franklin, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Wright Edelman, Eunice Johnson, Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Betty Shabazz, Barbara Jordan, Johnetta B. Cole, Soledad O'Brien, Ruby Dee, Camille Cosby, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Caesar, Natalie Cole, Cicely Tyson, and many other household names and history-makers.