HomeBrief History: Omega in Chicago
The History of Omega in Chicago…
Chicago's initial introduction to Omega was the chartering of Sigma Chapter in December 1921 as an undergraduate chapter for students at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. As more undergraduate Brothers graduated, and as more "elected active" honorary members became graduate Brothers, the desire to continue associations with the Fraternity beyond the college years grew. Graduate brothers became active members of the undergraduate chapters in existence and Sigma Chapter was no different - becoming a "mixed" chapter composed of undergraduates at University of Chicago and Northwestern, plus graduate brothers who returned home to Chicago after college, moved to Chicago for work or school, or who may have been "elected" as honorary members as graduates. Since the first graduate became a member (beginning in 1912 in Alpha Chapter with Founder Prof. Ernest E. Just), the individual focus of these graduates was understandably different than their undergraduate brethren... which eventually led to the establishment of graduate chapters in the Fraternity.
As more chapters were being established with new graduate chapters being chartered, the mandate from the 1922 Philadelphia Grand Conclave during the last week of December of that year was the first to require that when a new graduate chapter was chartered, the chapter name would be assigned by adding "Omega" as the second Greek letter to the end of the name of the undergraduate chapter that existed in that city. Since Sigma Chapter had already been established as an undergraduate chapter in Chicago for nearly 2 years by that time, that meant the first graduate chapter established in Chicago would be named Sigma Omega...which happened when it was chartered on October 1, 1923. The graduate Brothers who were members of the undergraduate Sigma Chapter, now had a new graduate chapter in Chicago to transfer their membership to and associate with - since to this point the closest graduate chapter to Chicago had been Nu Omega Chapter, 250 miles away in Detroit, MI, established 9 months previous in January 1923 as the first graduate chapter in what would become the Tenth District of the Fraternity. This approval by the Supreme Council to charter Sigma Omega simultaneously called for the Sigma Chapter undergraduate charter to be separated from Northwestern University and anchored just on the campus of the University of Chicago and solely for their students. (NOTE: Northwestern University would eventually receive their own charter for Psi Sigma Chapter in 1934.)
The Sigma Chapter undergraduate charter remained at the University of Chicago until Iota Chapter - the first graduate chapter of the Fraternity and inactive in Atlantic City, NJ since May 1922 - was redesignated an undergraduate chapter, relocated from Atlantic City and transferred to the University of Chicago by an action of the Supreme Council on October 12, 1923. This displaced the dormant undergraduate Sigma Chapter assigned there less than one month previous. The Sigma Chapter charter was then transferred by the Supreme Council to McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on December 15, 1923 - and became the first International chapter of the Fraternity. (NOTE: Sigma Chapter is again in the Tenth District, located at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI since it was transferred there on March 4, 1961.)
Iota Chapter continued in operation at the University of Chicago as an undergraduate chapter for more than 30 years until a point in the early1950's the chapter did not constitutionally have enough members to operate as a chapter in good standing in the Fraternity and became inactive. During Iota Chapter's inactive years, Sigma Omega Chapter supported the efforts of the undergraduate brothers housed in Sigma Omega Chapter by initiating a series of undergraduate lines between 1954 and 1957 with the intent to re-activate Iota Chapter, culminating with the May 27, 1957 Application for Undergraduate Chapter Charter and the September 9, 1957 petition. These efforts resulted in the Iota Chapter being recognized by the Fraternity as being in good standing, and the charter being re-activated and re-designated, first as a citywide undergraduate chapter, then shortly afterward as an Intermediate Chapter for both graduate and undergraduate members.
Intermediate chapters had been created through necessity since colleges and universities had requirements for formal recognition of campus organizations to be actually on campus so sometimes a "city-wide" designation was prohibited. These chapters were also a vehicle for undergraduate students attending schools in the larger urban cities with multiple colleges and universities (where undergraduate chapters of the Fraternity did not exist on a campus) to have access and opportunity to join the Fraternity; and for recent college graduates to continue to associate with the Fraternity in locations where a graduate chapter did not exist. It was also a bridge to allow those recent graduates a chance to establish themselves in their careers and start earning wages to be better able to financially support Omega through their dues payments.
Sigma Omega Chapter as a graduate chapter and Iota Chapter as an intermediate chapter continued as the only chapters of the Fraternity in Chicago until Epsilon Eta Chapter was established as an undergraduate chapter at Chicago State University on February 18, 1978 and Kappa Mu Chapter was established as an undergraduate chapter at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1983.
On March 1, 1987 Rho Gamma Gamma Chapter was chartered as the second graduate chapter established in Chicago. The key charter members of Rho Gamma Gamma coincidently had all been initiated through the Pi Beta Chapter at Illinois State University. Then, after a twelve-year inactive period that began in 1983, again for a lack of members to constitutionally operate as a chapter of the Fraternity in good standing, through the efforts of Bro. Kenny Coles - who was a former 2nd Vice 10th District Representative, Undergraduate/Intermediate Representative to the Supreme Council, and a past Basileus of Sigma Omega Chapter, and Bro. Melvin Slater, Sr. - who was a past Basileus of Rho Gamma Gamma Chapter and had been initiated through Iota Chapter in 1981 on the only line initiated by Iota in the decade of the eighties, the Iota Chapter was re-activated on February 12, 1995, retaining its Intermediate Chapter status. Shortly after the February reactivation, Iota Chapter was returned to its original designation as a graduate chapter on July 12, 1995 creating a third graduate chapter in Chicago. This change was in line with the Fraternity's decision to convert all Intermediate chapters in existence to graduate chapters since the need for Intermediate chapters no longer existed after the proliferation of graduate chapters over the years. Rho Mu Mu Chapter was the fourth graduate chapter established in the City of Chicago on September 6, 2011 as part of a strategy to primarily target the grossly and historically underserved west side of Chicago. The key charter members of Rho Mu Mu coincidently had all been initiated through the Epsilon Beta Chapter at Western Illinois University.
Historical Comparisons of Chapters
Many of the official records of the early years of the Fraternity have been lost. This has caused variations among members of the Fraternity in the interpretation of documents or other Fraternity records that are available. One of those variations in interpretation concerns when chapters were actually established, and specifically Lambda Omega, Mu Omega and Sigma Omega Chapters...but to understand how those conclusions were reached you first have to understand the differences between Lambda and Lambda Omega and Mu and Mu Omega when compared to Sigma and Sigma Omega.The fact that the first two of these chapters were established as graduate chapters is essential in understanding the Sigma and Sigma Omega dynamic - but with a difference.
December 1922 Philadelphia Grand Conclave
Up until the time of the Grand Conclave held the last week of December 1922, every chapter that had been chartered, both undergraduate and graduate, was a single-letter chapter in chronological order according to the Greek alphabet. The 1922 Grand Conclave was the first time the Fraternity addressed how undergraduate and graduate chapters would be designated in order to distinguish them apart from each other. The Grand Conclave mandate directed for every graduate chapter to add Omega as the second greek alphabet after the name of the undergraduate chapter in that city to distinguish it as a graduate chapter. Stated differently it meant that all graduate chapter names would now end with "Omega".
Lambda Omega Chapter
When the naming convention "Omega" was designated for graduate chapters in 1922, Lambda graduate chapter (chartered in November 1920 as Omega's 2nd graduate chapter - for the city of Norfolk, VA.) immediately became Lambda Omega and the name Lambda was reserved until it was reassigned to the University of Southern California and designated as a new, undergraduate chapter. In this situation, the graduate chapter and its members had been continously in existence since November 1920 and only received a change in the name of the chapter. The undergraduate chapter was never in existence so therefore newly established (6 months after the 1922 Grand Conclave) on May 3, 1923 - even though the chapter name had been in existence for 3 years. In this instance, the undergraduate Brothers in the newly-named Lambada Omega graduate chapter transferred their memberships to the newly created Lambda undergraduate chapter.
Mu Omega Chapter
When the naming convention "Omega" was designated for graduate chapters in 1922, Mu graduate chapter (chartered in 1920 as Omega's 3rd graduate chapter - for the city of Philadelphia, PA.) immediately became Mu Omega and the name Mu was reserved until it was reassigned to the University of Pennsylvania and designated as a new, undergraduate chapter. In this situation, the graduate chapter and its members had been continously in existence since 1920 and only received a change in the name of the chapter. The undergraduate chapter was never in existence so therefore newly established (6 months after the 1922 Grand Conclave) on May 23, 1923 - even though the chapter name had been in existence for 3 years. In this instance, the undergraduate Brothers in the newly-named Mu Omega graduate chapter transferred their memberships to the newly created Mu undergraduate chapter.
Sigma Omega Chapter
When the naming convention "Omega" was designated for graduate chapters in 1922, Sigma undergraduate chapter (chartered in December 1921 as Omega's 15th undergraduate chapter - for the University of Chicago and Northwestern University) remained Sigma undergraduate chapter but the Sigma undergraduate charter only remained at University of Chicago. In this situation, the undergraduate chapter and its members had been continously in existence since December 1921 and there was no change in the name of the chapter. Ten months after the 1922 Grand Conclave) on October 1, 1923 the Supreme Council established a new graduate chapter in Chicago as Sigma Omega. In this instance, the undergraduate Brothers in Sigma undergraduate chapter remained in Sigma undergraduate chapter while the graduate Brothers in Sigma undergraduate chapter transferred their membership to the newly created Sigma Omega graduate chapter. This slight nuance in the difference between the establishment of Lambda Omega and Mu Omega in comparison to Sigma Omega is important as it relates to discussions on which was the first graduate chapter established in what is now the Tenth District of the Fraternity.
Nu Omega Chapter or Sigma Omega Chapter - Who was first Grad Chapter in the Tenth District?
On page 37 of the Herman Dreer book, The History of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity - A Brotherhood of Negro Men 1911-1939, in speaking to the chapters established in the Fraternity in 1921 under the Harold H. Thomas administration as Grand Basileus it states: "Sigma, a graduate chapter, now called Sigma Omega, at Chicago, Illinois". This erroneous reference to Sigma chapter being a graduate chapter is the only written annotation found to date that indicates Sigma as graduate. Because the Dreer book was written in 1940 as a retrospective, and because all documentation contemporary to the activity reflect Sigma chapter as an undergraduate chapter, and finally because the Dreer book is noted to contain inaccurices in fact (prompting the Fraternity's decision to commission a new history book of the Fraternity), these combined to create different interpretations of what actually happened. The Brothers in Nu Omega graduate chapter - established in January 1921 in Detroit - claim that Nu Omega is the first graduate chapter established in what is now the Tenth District. The Brothers in Sigma Omega chapter claim the passage in the Dreer book is accurate, that Sigma was a graduate chapter, and like Lamda and Mu chapters before them was already in existence as a graduate chapter in Chicago in December 1921, merely had a name change, and so was not newly established on October 1, 1923 as stated in all other known documentation.
Other "documentation" being referenced by Sigma Omega are being called "Initiation Cards", however the cards, among other things, are indicating movement by members transferring from one chapter to another with some of these cards indicating membership in "Sigma Omega" chapter as early as 1920 and 1921. This has given cause for Sigma Omega chapter to propose the existence of Sigma Omega as a chapter despite the fact 1920 is: (1) fully 1 year before Sigma undergraduate chapter was even established, (2) fully 3 years before the Fraternity indicates the graduate chapter was established and (3) fully 2 years before "Omega" was designated to be added to the names of graduate chapters! Part of the problem is because the so called initiation cards are in fact Personal History Cards. These are cards that were to be completed by the Brother or the chapter KRS and submitted to the Grand KRS as milestones happened like marriages, graduations and chapter transfers. In most instances these cards were also completed retrospectively - and in many cases several years after the incident - which contributes to making the information suspect - as is clearly the case in claims of Sigma Omega chapter's existence before 1923.
The Nu Omega Brothers and others suggest the scenario likely causing this is a Brother is a graduate member but active in Sigma undergraduate chapter in 1921. In 1923 the Sigma Omega graduate chapter is established and the Brother transfers his membership - but at whatever point when the Brother complets his Personal History Card he purposely, mistakenly or otherwise inadvertently writes Sigma in the space Sigma Omega should be or vice versa. Another explaination is first recognizing the dynamics of Sigma chapter being a mixed chapter composed of grads and undergrads, at the time of Sigma Omega chapter's establishment, those who were graduate members of Sigma chapter took "license" to indicate the majority influence of the chapter being graduate despite the chapter's actual undergraduate designation. This "error" was passed along and almost 20 years later was included in the 1940 Dreer book.
Finally, the naming of the graduate chapter Nu Omega in January 1923 had to occur before the naming of a graduate chapter Sigma Omega because Nu as the 13th letter of the Greek alphabet occurs before Sigma which is the 18th letter, and therefore was assigned first as Nu Omega. While there is more empirical evidence contemporary to the events indicating Sigma chapter was established as undergraduate and has always been undergrauate, whatever your interpretation, the discussions on, "which was the first graduate chapter in the Tenth District" makes for lively conversations!
What Prompted Iota Chapter's Move from Atlantic City to Chicago?
Why didn't the Supreme Council just assign or designate "Sigma" to remain as the undergraduate Chapter in Chicago similar to what had been done in Norfolk with Lambda and Lambda Omega chapters or in Philadelphia with Mu and Mu Omega chapters? One line of speculation is that since Sigma was established as undergraduate and anchored at a university, vs. Lambda and Mu being established as graduate and assigned to the cities of Norfolk and Philadelphia respectively, it was more complicated. It also wasn't just a "continuation" of a chapter with a name change. Others speculate that while Sigma chapter in Montreal was founded on December 15, 1923, the Supreme Council might have "reserved" the chapter designation of Sigma for that effort when the chapter started being formed in September or October of 1923 – shortly prior to the undergraduates in Chicago beginning to form what eventually became Iota Chapter when it was transferred. If done this way, that obviously would have required the Supreme Council to assign another designation for the new undergraduate chapter in Chicago… and possibly the reason for the reassignment of Iota to the undergraduates in Chicago since it wasn't in use.
Still others speculate the young Brothers didn't want a double Greek-letter name since they were originally founded as a single Greek-letter chapter; or maybe even wanted to try to maintain the ideal that single-letter chapters by default were originally intended to be undergraduate chapters. Consider Alpha Psi chapter was founded on April 9, 1923, meaning new undergraduate chapters in 1923 were now being assigned double Greek-letter names. Based on dates the chapters were established, the Supreme Council could have assigned the new undergraduate chapter in Chicago to be Beta Psi chapter and the new undergraduate chapter in Montreal, Gamma Psi chapter – since Beta Psi chapter wasn't established at Clark College in Atlanta until December 20, 1923 – more than 2 months after Iota Chapter was assigned to Chicago and 5 days after Sigma chapter was relocated to Montreal. We may never know these answers… but of course it makes for great discussion!