Professor Gregory Parks offers his thoughts on the MLK Memorial and the Ideals of Brotherhood in the Huffington Post

Photo of Gregory Parks

Assistant Professor of Law Gregory Parks

In a few days, tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of people will converge upon this nation’s capital to witness the historic unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. The idea for the memorial began with a handful of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity members in 1983, the year President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law. In 1985, Alpha’s general organization began the long process of securing congressional legislation, authorizing the fraternity to raise the $120 million needed to build the memorial, and dedicating land for its construction.

Undoubtedly, most American citizens have some idea of who Dr. King was — that he fought and laid down his life for racial and social justice, utilized the strategy of non-violent passive resistance toward this end, and gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Although many Americans are aware of Dr. King’s activism, fewer know as much about the fraternity into which he was initiated. In 1952, as a graduate student at Boston University, Dr. King joined the first continuous intercollegiate, African-American fraternity. Founded on Dec. 4, 1906, at Cornell University, Alpha Phi Alpha fit perfectly with his budding ideals of service.

Influenced by elements of the African-American church and secret societies, white collegiate fraternities and literary societies, as well as the racial climates at Cornell and the nation at the turn of the 20th century, seven young men founded this brotherhood. As one Alpha founder noted about the fraternity’s origins, “Society offered us narrowly circumscribed opportunity and no security. Out of our need, our fraternity brought social purpose and social action.”

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