Iota Phi Theta

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Iota Phi Theta
FoundedSeptember 19, 1963; 56 years ago (1963-09-19)
Morgan State College (now Morgan State University)
United States
The Bahamas
South Korea
MottoBuilding A Tradition,
Not Resting Upon One!
and/or It Takes a Man![1]
Colors Charcoal Brown
Gilded Gold.
FlowerYellow Rose
Members30,000+ collegiate
NicknamesIotas, Centaurs, Outlaws, Thetaman[3]
HeadquartersFounders Hall
1600 North Calvert Street

Baltimore, Maryland

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Incorporated (ΙΦΘ) is a historically African-American, collegiate Greek letter fraternity. It was founded on September 19, 1963, at Morgan State University (then Morgan State College) in Baltimore, Maryland, and now has initiated over 30,000 members.[4] There are currently over 301 undergraduate and alumni chapters (including colonies),[4] as well as colonies located in 40 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, The Bahamas, Colombia, South Korea, and Japan. Since its founding, the fraternity has demonstrated a growth rate unmatched by any other primarily Black Greek letter organization.

The fraternity holds membership in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), an umbrella organization comprising nine international historically African-American Greek letter sororities and fraternities, and the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC).


The fraternity was founded by 12 men (giving the organization the distinction of having more founders than any other NPHC fraternity) — Albert Hicks, Lonnie Spruill Jr., Charles Briscoe, Frank Coakley, John Slade, Barron Willis, Webster Lewis, Charles Brown, Louis Hudnell, Charles Gregory, Elias Dorsey Jr. and Michael Williams — during the Civil Rights Movement.[5] On September 19, 1963, these twelve founders gathered together on the steps of Hurt Gymnasium on the campus of Morgan State College (now Morgan State University) and formed Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. as a support system for men of color in the era's turbulent social climate.[5] Influences included organizations such as the Black Panthers, SNCC, and individuals like Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael.

Unlike most of their fraternity peers, the founders were all non-traditional students. Many of them were three to five years older, worked and attended classes full time, had served in the military, and had families with small children. Based upon their ages, heightened responsibilities, and increased level of maturity, the group had a slightly different perspective than the norm for typical fraternity members. It was this perspective from which they established the Fraternity's purpose, "The development and perpetuation of Scholarship, Leadership, Citizenship, Fidelity, and Brotherhood among Men." Additionally, they conceived the Fraternity's motto, "Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One!".[5]

Early activism – Northwood Theater[edit]

Brothers participated in various protests and sit-ins throughout Baltimore to fight racial segregation. The earliest was a protest organized with a civic interest group, composed mostly of Morgan State College students, against the theater at Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland, located diagonally across the street from Morgan State College. In the majority-white area, Northwood continued to segregate its services, affecting thousands of students at the historically black college. In many theaters, only white people could occupy seating on the main floor, while black people were restricted to the "Jim Crow" balcony, often with a separate ticket booth and entrance.

This protest started February 15, 1963, and over the course of the six days, the total number of picketers involved reached 1500, and over 400 individuals were arrested. The protest took place in the context of a longer history of protests against the theater's white-only policy. Annual demonstrations against the theater had been held since 1955, including a sit-in at Northwood and picketing downtown. The theater was a last holdout of racial segregation in the blocks surrounding the college. On February 22, 1963, the theater capitulated to student demands and ended its white-only policy.[6]

Incorporation, philanthropy, and growth[edit]

The fraternity functioned as a local entity until the first interest groups were established in 1967 at Hampton Institute (Beta Chapter) and Delaware State College (Gamma Chapter). Further expansion took place in 1968, with chapters formed at Norfolk State College (Delta Chapter) and Jersey City State College (Epsilon Chapter). The fraternity was legally incorporated on November 1, 1968, as a national fraternity under the laws of the State of Maryland.[5] Zeta Chapter (North Carolina A&T State University) was founded in spring 1969.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fraternity supported the Big Brothers of America. In 1974, the then Grand Polaris, Thomas Dean, appeared in a local television commercial on behalf of Big Brothers of America. The fraternity continues to support service initiatives with national organizations such as the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, the National Sickle Cell Disease Foundation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the American Red Cross, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Institutes of Health All of Us (initiative), the National Federation of the Blind, the Inroads (organization), and Project IMAGE, as well as several of its own fraternity service initiatives.

The first steps toward moving the fraternity from a regional to a national scope were taken with the creation of Upsilon Chapter at Southern Illinois University in 1974. It was also during this period that the fraternity's first four graduate chapters were formed across the South and the East Coast, which created a base for the organization in the Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest regions of the country. The next regional expansion occurred in 1983 with the establishment of the Alpha Chi (San Francisco State University) and Xi Omega (San Francisco Bay Area Alumni Chapter) in California.[5]

Joining the NIC and NPHC[edit]

While joining the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) was an important objective for the fraternity, it prioritized entering an affiliation that would provide resources and relationships essential for Iota's long-term growth and development. With that in mind, Iota Phi Theta successfully petitioned for membership in the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC; a federation of 69 North American men's fraternities) in 1985. Iota Phi Theta became the second historically African American fraternity to join the NIC and remains one of only four historically African-American fraternities which are NIC members.[7]

While its NIC membership was and is beneficial, Iota continued contact with the NPHC, which at the time had no expansion policy with which to accept new members. At its 1993 national convention, the NPHC adopted a constitutional amendment which provided for expansion, and several years later, a NPHC expansion committee developed criteria for potential new member organizations and a procedure by which they might apply.[7]

In 1996, Iota Phi Theta submitted a formal application to the NPHC expansion committee for review, after which it was delivered to the NPHC Executive Board. After deliberation, the board unanimously approved Iota Phi Theta's membership application. Effective November 12, 1996, Iota Phi Theta was accepted as a full member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, with all its rights, privileges, and responsibilities. To commemorate Iota's entry, the NPHC conducted a formal induction ceremony at its February 1997 leadership conference. This ceremony was attended by hundreds of Iota men, including the Grand Council and a number of the fraternity's founders, as well as hundreds of well-wishers and supporters from the NPHC community.[7]

1990s and international expansion[edit]

In 1992, the fraternity established the National Iota Foundation, Inc., a tax-exempt entity which grants scholarships and other financial assistance to those in need. Since its creation, the foundation has distributed over $250,000 in programs and services.

The fraternity became an international entity with the establishment of a colony in Nassau, Bahamas in 1999, military chapters in South Korea (Alpha Rho Omega, 2005) and Japan (Beta Pi Omega, 2009), and Theta Mu (The Diego Luis Cordoba Tech University of Choco; Quibdó, Chocó, Colombia, South America, 2013).

Traditionally, only the fraternity's members display its name "Iota Phi Theta", letters ΙΦθ, and shield in Charcoal Brown (PMS 469) and Gilded Gold (PMS 871 Metallic).

In 2012, Iota Phi Theta was ranked #20 on Newsweek's "Top 25 Fraternities" list.[8] September 19, 2013 marked the fraternity's 50th anniversary. Since its founding date, Iota Phi Theta has continued to grow and has become the fifth-largest and fastest growing predominantly black fraternal organization in the United States.[9] As of June 2018, there have been over 30,000 members initiated in the US and overseas.[4] In 2018 the Beta Omega Washington, DC Alumni Chapter (in conjunction with Beta Omega Social Services) awarded over $50,000 in scholarship funds to high achieving underprivileged college bound youth. In 2019 the Zeta Delta Chapter at the University of South Florida helped raise $10,000 for Tampa Bay's Grant Park Community.


Iota Phi Theta is led by a Grand Council with a Grand Polaris at its head.[10]

Grand Polari (1963–present):[11]

  • 1st - Albert "Buss" Hicks (Founding Polaris), deceased
  • 2nd - Lonnie C. Spruill, Jr. (1963-1964)
  • 3rd - Charles Briscoe (1964-1965), “deceased”
  • 4th - Richard Johnson (1965-1966)
  • 5th - Robert Young (1966-1967)
  • 6th - Arkley "Pete" Johnson (1967-1968)
  • 7th - John W. House (1968-1969)
  • 8th - Richard Johnson (1969-1970)
  • 9th - Carmie "Pete" Pompey (1970-1971) deceased
  • 10th - Thomas "Tex" Dean (1971-1976)
  • 11th - Allen Eason (1976-1978)
  • 12th - Edgar A. Johnson (1978-1982)
  • 13th - Thomas "Tex" Dean (1982- 1984)
  • 14th - James F. Martin (1984-1990)
  • 15th - Theodore N. Stephens (1990-1995)
  • 16th - Jerry O. Pittman (1995-1999)
  • 17th - Rondall James (1999 – 2001)
  • 18th - Steve T. Birdine (2001 – 2005)
  • 19th - Larry D. Frasier (2005 – 2009), deceased
  • 20th - Karl Price, Esq. (2009 – 2013)
  • 21st - Robert M. Clark, Jr. (2013 – 2017)
  • 22nd - Andre R. Manson (2017–Present)

Programs and initiatives[edit]

Iota Phi Theta has a publication and several affiliated programs. The Centaur magazine is the official publication of the Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. First published as a newsletter, the Centaur is now published biannually.

Audrey Brooks and Iota Sweethearts[edit]

In the early growth and development of the fraternity, Morgan State College staff member Audrey Brooks assisted the Brothers and became a vital resource to Iota Phi Theta, providing protection and support for the fledgling organization. In recognition of her support, the fraternity granted Ms. Brooks the title of "Eternal Sweetheart". Brooks continued to support Iota Phi Theta through her life and was a frequent guest at Iota conclaves and workshops until her passing in 2003. The Iota Sweetheart Auxiliary was formed soon after in her honor and has become a fraternity tradition. During a Sweetheart Workshop held during the 1999 Iota Phi Theta Conclave in Oakland, California, Ms. Brooks stated, "The Purpose of Iota Sweethearts is to smile and be gracious on behalf of Iota. Anything else is inappropriate," which became the philosophical foundation of the Sweetheart Auxiliary.[12]

The Iota Sweethearts, Inc. (ISI) was founded in September 2014 to reorganize the Iota Phi Theta Sweetheart Auxiliary, which the fraternity then dissolved in January 2015. In October 2015, ISI and the fraternity signed an agreement which officially formalized the historical relationship between the organizations.[12]

Notable Members[edit]

Entrepreneurs and Businessmen

Military and Public Service



Media and Entertainment


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Iota Phi Theta Symbols and Insignia
  3. ^ Thetaman Song, circa 1972
  4. ^ a b c "Iota At A Glance". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Historical Overview". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  6. ^ "23 Negroes See Northwood Film: No Incidents At Theater During integration Move". The Baltimore Sun. February 23, 1963. p. 28.
  7. ^ a b c "Iota Joins the NPHC". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  8. ^ Newsweek: "College Rankings 2012: Top Fraternities"
  9. ^ "Founders". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  10. ^ "Grand Council". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  11. ^ "Past Grand Polari". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  12. ^ a b "Iota Sweethearts". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-28.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Notable Iota Men". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Archived from the original on 13 February 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]