Iota Phi Theta

Iota Phi Theta Inc.
Founded September 19, 1963 (1963-09-19)
Morgan State University
Type Social
Emphasis Service
Scope International
United States
The Bahamas
South Korea
Motto Building A Tradition,
Not Resting Upon One!
Colors Charcoal Brown and Gilded Gold
Symbol Centaur
Flower Yellow Rose
Chapters 300+
Members 50,000+ collegiate
Nickname Iotas, Centaurs, Outlaws, Thetamen
Headquarters Founders Hall
1600 North Calvert Street

Baltimore, Maryland

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity (ΙΦΘ) Incorporated is a nationally incorporated, historically African-American, collegiate fraternity. It was founded on September 19, 1963 at Morgan State University (then Morgan State College) in Baltimore, Maryland. At present, it consists of over 70,000 members. There are currently over 300 undergraduate and alumni chapters, as well as colonies located in 40 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, The Bahamas, Colombia, South Korea, and Japan.

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 Centaur magazine is the official publication of the Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. First published as a newsletter, the Centaur has evolved into a biannual magazine.


The fraternity was founded by 12 men — 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. It was begun in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, even though there were already four other prominent historically Black fraternities at the time. Influences included organizations such as the Black Panthers, SNCC, plus individuals like Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael. Iota brothers participated in various protests and sit-ins throughout the city of Baltimore. The Iota founders were distinguished from their peers as they were all non-traditional students. Three to five years older than their peers, many had served in the military, worked full-time while attending classes full-time, and had families with small children. These elements gave the founders a different perspective than the typical fraternity member.[1]

On September 19, 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, these twelve founders gathered together on the steps of Hurt Gymnasium on the campus of Morgan State College (now known as Morgan State University) and formed Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. The fraternity was formed as a support system for men of color during the turbulent US social climate of the time.[1]

Iota Phi Theta sought to eradicate segregation with a protest that was organized against the Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland shortly after its founding. Big Brothers of America was supported throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1974, then Grand Polaris, Thomas Dean, appeared in a local television commercial on behalf of Big Brothers of America. Their idealism continues to strive with service initiatives to involve the fraternity with the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, the National Sickle Cell Foundation, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Federation of the Blind, and Project IMAGE. Most recently, the establishment of the National IOTA Foundation and Iota Youth Alliance helped extend Iota Phi Theta idealism regarding service and the building of traditions in the community.

In 1992, the fraternity established the National Iota Foundation, a tax-exempt entity whose purpose is to assist the needy through scholarships and other financial assistance. Since its creation, the foundation has distributed over $250,000 in programs and services. They have a strong commitment to bring about empowerment to the African American community.

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. As of now, there are over 70,000 members in the US and overseas. A key appeal of Iota Phi Theta is that, as an organization, it refuses to have its members bind themselves to a defined fraternal image but celebrates the individuality of its members. More importantly, its members continue to build upon the fraternity's commitment to success and excellence with individual and collective achievements in such fields as politics, education, law, business, healthcare and the performing arts.

September 19, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.

Audrey Brooks

In the early growth and development of the fraternity, a Morgan State University staff member by the name of Audrey Brooks was able to assist the Brothers and became a vital resource to Iota Phi Theta. Her actions and influence provided much needed protection and support for the fledgling organization.

In recognition of her efforts, Brooks was granted the title of "Eternal Sweetheart", an honor she wore proudly for the rest of her life. Brooks was a continual supporter of Iota Phi Theta and was a frequent guest at Iota conclaves and workshops until her passing in 2003.

Iota Phi Theta continues to maintain an auxiliary group known as Iota Sweethearts in her honor. Sweethearts are a recognized, respected and honored tradition of the fraternity.

Northwood Theater

Morgan State College was across the street, diagonal from the Northwood Theater, and thousands of students were being denied privileges at Northwood. The area around the campus and theater is almost all White, except for the Black campus. Segregated movie theaters were part of the "southern way of life." In many places there are "White only" and "colored" cinemas; in other places seating on the main floor is limited to Whites, while Blacks are restricted to the "Jim Crow" balcony, often with a separate ticket booth and entrance.

One of their first acts in support of the movement was boycotting the segregated shopping mall in Baltimore shortly after the first chapter formed. Iota Phi Theta sought to eradicate segregation with various protests that were organized against the Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland in the midst of its founding. Starting February 15, 1963 and over the course of the six days, the total number of picketers involved came to 1500, and over 400 individuals had been arrested. After a week of intense direct action the theater capitulated and ended its White-only policy on February 22, 1963.

The demonstration against Northwood Theater by Iota Phi Theta's founders and a civic interest group which was composed mostly of Morgan State College students 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 ended its White-only policy;[2] the theater's capitulation to students' demands was a final success in a long string of successes.


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 being formed at Norfolk State College (Delta Chapter) and Jersey City State College (Epsilon Chapter). The fraternity was officially and legally incorporated on November 1, 1968 as a national fraternity under the laws of the State of Maryland.

The first steps toward moving the fraternity from a regional to a national scope were taken with the creation of Upsilon Chapter (Southern Illinois University) in 1974. It was also during this period that the fraternity's first four graduate chapters were formed: Alpha Omega (Baltimore, Maryland, 1965), Beta Omega (Washington, DC, 1970), Gamma Omega (Hampton, Virginia, 1973), and Delta Omega (Boston, Massachusetts, 1973).

These chapters created the framework for the growth and development of 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 alumni) chapters in California.[3]

In 2012, Iota Phi Theta was ranked #20 on Newsweek's "Top 25 Fraternities" list. [4]

The 2015 Spring Conference was held in Baltimore, MD.[5]

Iota joins the NPHC

While joining the NPHC was an important objective for the fraternity, the greater priority was to enter 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 National Interfraternity Conference (NIC) in 1985. The NIC is a federation of 75 men's national and international fraternities. Iota remains one of only three historically African-American fraternities who are NIC members. While the NIC experience was (and remains) an unqualified success, Iota continued to dialogue with the NPHC. In an encouraging turn of events, the NPHC adopted a constitutional amendment which provided for expansion at its 1993 national convention. Several years later, an expansion committee developed criteria for potential new member organizations and a procedure by which they might apply.[6]

Upon receiving the criteria and procedure in 1996, Iota Phi Theta submitted a formal application to the NPHC expansion committee. This application was carefully reviewed by the committee and was delivered to the NPHC Executive Board for determination. After careful consideration and deliberation, Iota Phi Theta's membership application was approved unanimously and effective November 12, 1996. Iota Phi Theta was accepted as a full member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereto.[6]

To commemorate and formalize 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.[6]

National programs

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. takes pride in its continued effort to facilitate and participate in various community service ventures and initiatives throughout various communities, especially the disenfranchised.[7]

Notable members

Military and public service

Business and academia


Media and entertainment


See also


  1. 1 2 Iota Phi Theta Historical Overview Beginnings
  2. "23 Negroes See Northwood Film: No Incidents At Theater During integration Move". The Baltimore Sun. February 23, 1963. p. 28.
  3. Growth
  4. Newsweek: "College Rankings 2012: Top Fraternities"
  6. 1 2 3 Iota Phi Theta Historical Overview "Iota Joins the NPHC" (2015)
  7. "Iota Phi Theta Service Initiatives". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
  8. "Notable Iota Men". Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Retrieved 8 March 2015.

Further reading

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