The Divine Nine Fraternities & Sororities

March 2, 2024

the divine nine Greek fraternities and sororities

The late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were simultaneously troubled and vibrant years for the African American community in the US. For many, this was a time of Jim Crow laws and other types of institutionalized racism, racial violence and cultural prejudice against Black Americans. Concurrently, however, Black artists, scholars, and activists were flourishing and gaining a popular foothold in wider U.S. culture. Against this backdrop, a group of historically Black fraternities and sororities emerged from universities across the U.S.: the Divine Nine. Beginning with Alpha Phi Alpha at Cornell University in 1906, the Divine Nine are comprised of four sororities and five fraternities that have served as historically Black Greek communities to provide inclusion, solidarity, and success for their students.

A major reason that many of the Divine Nine were formed was to combat racism. When many Greek organizations on predominately-white campuses would not allow Black students to join, the founders of the Divine Nine created their own Greek life in response. Shortly thereafter, as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) rose in popularity, even more African-American sororities and fraternities were founded on their campuses. The Divine Nine Greek fraternities and sororities are as follows:

The Divine Nine Greek Organizations

  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
  • Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  • Zeta Beta Phi Sorority
  • Iota Phi Theta Fraternity
  • Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity
  • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority
  • Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity
  • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity

Together, these sororities and fraternities form the National Pan-Hellenic Council (also known nationally as Black Greek Letter Organizations or BGLOs) and their chapters can be found all around the world. Historically, the Divine Nine are known for high academic achievement and for fostering community engagement, civic and political participation, and philanthropic giving of various kinds. Most notably, they have led and been involved in powerful historical campaigns like the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and Black Lives Matter.  Additionally, many of the Divine Nine boast famous members from the political, arts, business, and scientific worlds. Further, each organization has its own unique history and mission.[i]

Why Join a Divine Nine Fraternity or Sorority?

While some people have stereotypically negative perceptions of Greek campus life, many students find that joining a fraternity or sorority can promote personal well-being and eventual career success after graduation. A recent Gallup poll conducted with Purdue University measured job satisfaction and overall happiness of fraternity and sorority members and found that 59% of students who engaged in Greek life (versus only 48% of students who had not been involved in Greek life) reported to be thriving in five elements of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical.[ii]

What’s more, the poll revealed that 43% of fraternity and sorority members who were employed full-time after graduation were engaged and satisfied in the workplace.  Contrarily, only 38% of non-Greek members reported engagement at work. Finally, 37% of students who joined Greek organizations strongly agreed that their colleges prepared them for life after college. On the other hand, only 27% of non-Greek students said the same.

Academically speaking, all of the Divine Nine fraternities and sororities have a minimum GPA requirement for membership, encouraging students within those organizations to maintain high grades. A 2012 study on fraternities and sororities and academic performance revealed that “Students who were more involved in their [Greek life] chapter and in academic activities were more likely to have a high cumulative GPA compared to students who were less involved in these activities.”[iii] Members of fraternities and sororities, who are generally more likely to be actively engaged in campus life, report “being emotionally supported and having experiential and deep learning.”[iv]

The Divine Nine – Sororities & Fraternities (Continued)

Finally, as with Greek organizations (or indeed, any campus club or group) more universally, you may consider joining one of the Divine Nine Greek organizations for the social connections you will form and develop with your peers.  Specifically, it can be particularly important for Black students to form on-campus connections during their college careers. Many students choose HBCUs to experience higher levels of social engagement and inclusion and lower levels of racism at college. Joining a Divine Nine fraternity or sorority (whether your chapter is in an HBCU or not) can provide similar positive social experiences and connections.

In 1986, journalist and Alpha Phi Alpha member Tony Brown attended a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. (a fellow ΑΦΑ brother). He reflected both upon his gratification at being a member of ΑΦΑ and his belief that “Greek” was an apt descriptor for Black fraternities. “I remember the intense pride in belonging, the honor of being identified with older, outstanding Black men, living and dead” and later notes, “Greece was a culturally diverse, pluralistic society of various ethnic and racial groups—much like the United States of today. However, the citizens were mostly dark-skinned black and brown people.”[v]

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the Divine Nine Fraternities and Sororities. Each listing includes important information like their mottos, philanthropic initiatives, and notable members. We hope these descriptions will help as you consider whether Greek life is right for you!

The Divine Nine Fraternities and Sororities:

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

Motto: “By Culture and By Merit”

Alpha Kappa Alpha is the first intercollegiate African American sorority, founded at Howard University in 1908. Currently, AKA’s primary initiatives include “strengthening our sisterhood, empowering our families, building our economic wealth, enhancing our environment, advocating for social justice, and uplifting our community.” Within these broader initiatives, members of this Divine Nine sorority work on causes as diverse as mental health awareness, childhood hunger, leadership development, financial wellness, waste reduction, and public policy. Alpha Kappa Alpha boasts several famous alumni sisters. This list includes Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou, and Vice President Kamala Harris. Impressively, AKA currently has more than 1,000 chapters in eleven countries and every U.S. state.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

Motto: “First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All”

Founded at Cornell University in 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha is the oldest intercollegiate historically African American fraternity. Additionally, it is the only organization within the Divine Nine that began at an Ivy League university. Notable members of ΑΦΑ include Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Cornel West, Duke Ellington, Jesse Owens and Justice Thurgood Marshall. This Divine Nine fraternity is committed to social efforts that “respond to timely issues affecting the African American community,” and some of its philanthropic initiatives include efforts to aid in voter engagement, education and mentorship; the fraternity has likewise partnered with important organizations like The Peace Corps, Boy Scouts of America, and the Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America.  Overall, Alpha Phi Alpha currently boasts 686 active chapters in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

The Divine Nine Greek Organizations (Continued)

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority

Motto: “Intelligence is the Torch of Wisdom”

Next up in our list of the Divine Nine Greek sororities is Delta Sigma Theta. Delta Sigma Theta is a historically African American sorority that was founded at Howard University in 1913. It is the largest African American women’s organization in the world with over 1,000 chapters on four different continents. In terms of philanthropy, ΔΣΘ uses the “Five-Point Thrust Program” approach to benefiting the African-American community. This includes economic development; educational development; international awareness and involvement. Additional areas include physical and mental health; and political awareness and involvement. Notable members include Lena Horne, Aretha Franklin and Angela Bassett.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority

Motto: “Scholarship, Service, Sisterly Love and Finer Womanhood”

Since its inception at Howard University in 1920, the mission of Zeta Phi Beta has been to hold the highest standards of scholarship and community among its members. They promote scholarships and programming through the National Education Foundation. Also, they encourage prenatal care through the Stork’s Nest Program, and collaborate in partnerships with the American Cancer Society and the AARP (among other organizations). Notably, Zeta Phi Beta was the first Divine Nine organization in the National Pan-Hellenic Council to form a chapter in Africa. Along with its American chapters, it now additionally has established chapters in Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Some of its famous members include author Zora Neale Hurston and actress Vivica A. Fox.

The Divine Nine – Sororities & Fraternities (Continued)

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity

Motto: “Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One!”

Founded in 1963 at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, Iota Phi Theta is the newest of the Divine Nine. Iota Phi Theta has over three hundred chapters in the United States, the Bahamas, South America, and Asia. Through the National Iota Foundation and the One Iota Foundation, ΙΦΘ strives to “Educate, Cultivate, and Advocate for African American communities and its youth.” Additionally, it offers “quality personal finance education, academic education, and healthcare initiatives.” Lastly, some notable alumni members include music producer Kendrick Dean and football MVP Tommie Frazier.

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity

Motto: “Achievement in Every Field of Human Endeavor”

Kappa Alpha Psi, founded in 1911 at Indiana University Bloomington, currently has 721 chapters in every U.S. state, Canada, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Despite being founded under circumstances of systemic oppression and open bigotry, Kappa Alpha Psi, “is proud that its Constitution has never contained any clause that either excluded or suggested the exclusion of a man from membership merely because of his color, creed, or national origin.”[vi] This Divine Nine organization’s philanthropic endeavors include support for academic scholarships, community outreach, and partnership with the United Negro College Fund and Habitat for Humanity. Some of its famous members include NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick and actor Cedric the Entertainer.

The Divine Nine – Sororities & Fraternities (Continued)

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority

Motto: “Greater Service, Greater Progress”

This organization was founded in 1922 and officially incorporated as a national collegiate sorority in 1929. Sigma Gamma Rho is the only sorority of the Divine Nine to be founded at a predominately white university – Butler University in Indianapolis. ΣΓΡ has over 500 chapters across the United States, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Its community outreach is “devoted to empowering women at different stages in life.”[vii] Additionally, through their National Education Fund, ΣΓΡ provides educational access, leadership development, and scholarships to students in need. Sigma Gamma Rho additionally boasts several famous members: actress Hattie McDaniel, rapper MC Lyte, and Olympic swimmer Maritza Correia.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity

Motto: “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity”

Phi Beta Sigma was founded at Howard University in 1914 with the mission of promoting “Brotherhood, Scholarship, and Service.” It now has over 700 chapters across the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. ΦΚΣ partners with the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, the CDC, the Boy Scouts, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for philanthropy. Finally, this Divine Nine fraternity is constitutionally affiliated with the Zeta Phi Beta sorority and has many notable members, including NBC legend Al Roker, scientist George Washington Carver, actor Terrence Howard, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The Divine Nine – Sororities & Fraternities (Continued)

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity

Motto: “Friendship is Essential to the Soul”

In 1911, Omega Psi Phi was the first Divine Nine Greek organization to be founded at an HBCU (Howard University). Its mission was “to attract and build a strong and effective force of handsome men dedicated to its Cardinal Principles of manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift.” Omega Psi Phi’s more notable philanthropic initiatives include the Brother, You’re On My Mind program, which addresses mental health amongst African American men, and Omega Fatherhood and Mentoring, which fills gaps in paternal absenteeism. Lastly, some of this Divine Nine fraternity’s most famous members include NBA superstar Michael Jordan, poet Langston Hughes, and actor Steve Harvey.

The Divine Nine – Sororities & Fraternities – Sources

[i] Ross, Lawrence C. The Divine Nine: the History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, 2000.

[ii] Fraternities and Sororities: Understanding Life Outcomes.

[iii] Long, Larry D. “A Multivariate Analysis of the Relationship Between Undergraduate Fraternity / Sorority Involvement and Academic Performance.” Journal of Sorority and Fraternity Life Research and Practice, Vol. 7 issue 2, p. 7.,equivalent%20of%20a%20B%20average.

[iv] Fraternities and Sororities: Understanding Life Outcomes.

[v] Brown, Tony. “Why Blacks Call Themselves Greeks,” The SPHINX, Volume 72, Number 2, Summer 1986.