Today is January 15, a glorious day in American history. It is the birthday of one of the most outstanding civil rights leaders of our time, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the anniversary of the founding of the first Greek-lettered sorority for college-educated African American women, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Since 1986, Dr. King’s birthday has been recognized as a federal holiday. Because of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, it is observed on the third Monday of January. This year, the King holiday is celebrated on January 18. Due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities around the country are foregoing typical MLK festivities and opting for virtual commemorative celebrations.
On January 15, 1908, one generation removed from slavery and just 21 years before the birth of Michael King Jr., who would later change his name to Martin, 16 African American women students at Howard University, in Washington DC, officially united to form Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, with a mission to cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, to promote unity and friendship among college women, to study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women to improve their social stature, to maintain a progressive interest in college life, and to be “Supreme in Service to All Mankind."
Today, Alpha Kappa Alpha has grown to a membership of 300,000 throughout the United States and abroad. While several notable women are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, currently, its most famous member is Kamala Harris, the next vice-president of the United States. Harris was initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha while a student at Howard University.
Dr. King’s personal history is also intertwined with Alpha Kappa Alpha. While a graduate student at Boston University, he was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha, the first collegiate Greek-letter fraternity for African American men. It was not uncommon for Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha members to become couples, as was the case with King and his wife, Coretta, an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
So on this day, if you see a woman wearing pink and green, AKA letters, and a pearl necklace, be sure to wish her a Happy Founders’ Day. Also, be mindful that Dr. King would be 92 years-old today had he not been assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Let us remember these two icons of African American culture and American culture; both focused on civil rights and service to all. Happy Founders’ Day, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated! Happy Heavenly Birthday, Rev. Dr. King!