I will be 72 years old in November. Recent events have caused me to reflect on almost a lifetime in Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Who would have thought that after all these years, I would still be involved in some way?
Well, I was initiated into the fraternity on December 3, 1955. Before the initiation, in those days there would be a period of "pledging" to the ideals of the fraternity and to the idea of becoming a member. It started here in Seward Hall, which at that time was a freshman male residence Hall in the middle of the campus.
In the spring of each year prospective members would be invited to a "smoker" in the lounge of Seward Hall. Older undergraduate members of the fraternity would present a program; an exhibit of what the fraternity is all about. If you were interested after that event, one would write a letter requesting consideration for membership. Most guys would attend smokers of all the fraternities and then write a letter to the one they wanted. I remember all my freshman friends asking me, "Did you write your letter yet?" Well by then almost everybody that I had become friendly with had written a letter to ask to join the "Lampodas Club", which was the pledge club for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
I hadn't written a letter for several reasons. I had come from a respectable but poor family in town, who already had three sons at Virginia State. The oldest boy, Robert had graduated from Virginia State the year before I entered. So there had already been three boys there. So, when he left and I entered in 1953, there would still be three boys in the college. We really didn't have enough money to even pay tuition, much less the luxury of a fraternity.
My older three brothers had always gone to the tobacco fields of Connecticut each summer to work raising and harvesting tobacco to earn enough to go to college the first semester. Then, during the Christmas season they would be hired as additional mail carriers because of the heavy load of Christmas mail to earn enough for the second semester. So, I knew that if I wanted to join a fraternity, I had to save up enough money not only for the additional fees of joining a fraternity, but to stay in the residence hall for that semester, because it would have been impossible to pledge while living off campus, as I and my brothers did. I also had to keep my newspaper delivery route the entire time of my college career.
I was 16 and would become 17 my freshman year. So, there was no chance I could deliver mail that year because you had to be 18 years old to do that. So, I had to really scrimp that first year just to pay for the whole year of college with the money I had made and saved from working as a dishwasher in Saratoga Springs, New York, where I had chosen to work rather than Connecticut, which had become the Gordon family tradition.
The following year, when I applied in October to become a Christmas substitute mail carrier, they said I was still too young, because I was to become 18 in November. Bureaucracies were the same then as now and they could not reason that when I was to deliver the mail in December I would be the legal age of 18. Because of this, I didn't get a chance to pledge my fraternity until my junior year.
In the spring of 1955, I wrote my letter to join Kappa Alpha Psi, even though most of my friends by now were members of Omega Psi Phi or "Ques", as we called them. It's not that I didn't want to be in the same fraternity as my friends, most all of whom were music majors like me. But, Kappa Alpha Psi impressed me in other ways.
First of all they prided themselves in being small. In those days, Alpha Phi Chapter boasted that they would never have more than 32 men in the chapter, because that was about the right size that guys could really know each other and because the Chapter Room in the basement of Seward Hall could comfortably hold about that number for meetings and activities.
The strongest reason was that there was such a diversity of majors and student activities among the members. There were athletes and music majors, agriculture majors and physics majors. They participated in different activities like the Debating Club, Student Council, the Band and a wide diversity of things. You see, I was painfully shy in those days, and the fraternity offered me a way to get out of my shell and to know people other than the music majors who were in all my classes. One of my older brothers, Ronald was a Kappa, but that was a minor reason. He had actually graduated in 1955, before I even joined.
Now, shall we get back to pledging? I hesitate to even show the photos I am about to display because they show some of the more dramatic public aspects of pledging that were quite prevalent at the time. The reason I am hesitant is because young people today sometimes long for what they had heard about in the "good old days" when people had to "pledge" fraternities and sororities. I mean the historically black ones.
Because of an increasing problem nationwide with a brutal aspect of hazing in which people are injured and even sometimes killed, our historically black fraternities and sororities faced with multi-million dollar law suits banned pledging so as to avoid the hazing, which had actually become synonymous with "pledging". They substituted pledging with a Membership Intake Program which includes mass initiation at the Provincial (District) level with great supervision.
Unfortunately, at this time there is still a lot of "underground pledging" and hazing, some of it quite dangerous and young people continue to be maimed physically, emotionally, mentally and painfully set back academically.
So, I pray that my story which will concentrate on the positive aspects of my fraternity life won't also revive that negative desire to hurt someone or demand servitude to join our organizations. I detest and abhor that.
These photos show some of the things that had become popular at Virginia State College in the 30', 40's and 50's. These were public skits devised by the pledge clubs who at this stage because they were usually within a week of actual initiation, were no longer called pledge clubs or "pledges" or in the African American pronunciation at that time, "pledgees"
The pledge clubs had distinctive names. For Kappa the club was called the "Scroller Club”. It was named for the distinctive scroll that appears on the fraternities' shield and coat of arms. On this scroll are usually found the Greek letters, "Phi Nu Pi", which symbolizes something very important in the traditions of Kappa Alpha Psi.
The Scroller Club manual of operations was the book that described everything from how to conduct a meeting, how to make a budget and how to prepare for initiation.
I still have my copy of the Scroller Manual, which is now an antique and which I will pass on to my great nephew, who was initiated 50 years after I was in April of 2005 at the Northeastern Provincial Meeting
Here my line Brothers and I are lined up to begin the Kappa Kat Race right on front campus. We are right to left.
1. Bernard Jones
2. Louis Gregory
3. Jerome Carter
4. Michael Gordon (This is me, the very skinny one)
5. Arthur Redman (He passed away a number of years ago)
6. Willie Shepperson
7. Arnold Miller
8. Leslie Coates
9. Calvin Swinson
10. .George Heath
11. Robert Robinson
Now, the Kappa Kat Race was one of several races at noontime that week. We also had the Hoop Race, Roller Skating Race and what else?
All of the fraternities and sororities on campus were also having elaborate skits and other activities at breakfast, lunch and dinner times. They reached that point during different weeks. So, it may have stretched out over four or five weeks total before all were finished.
They didn't just have skits. There was a lot of singing, going to and fro day and night. And actually the singing was gorgeous, usually in 4 part harmonies, or even 8 part harmonies like the moment I remember on campus when the Alpha Kappa Alpha Pledge group (The Ivys), appeared on campus early one morning before breakfast singing in 8 part harmony with about 25 young women. It was stunning! This level of singing required that groups practice two or three times a week in their fraternity or sorority rooms. During pledging, the pledge class practiced daily and wrote songs to suit their skits.
So, you must realize that singing rehearsals usually took place two or three times a week for each fraternity or sorority and more often for the pledge class. Often the fraternities would go out at night to the girls' dormitories to serenade the girls. The pledge classes would go out too. Sometimes a fraternity would meet an entire sorority on front campus to serenade the entire chapter. And when a Brother became engaged or even obtained a steady girlfriend, the entire fraternity would serenade her with the "Sweetheart Song". Each fraternity would have one. In my senior year, I was blessed with the honor of being the soloist for the "Kappa Sweetheart Song".
But, I digress!
After the Kappa Kat Race was over: if you can even begin to imagine the chaos all over campus with cats running here and fro, these probates are returning to some sort of composure. You cannot control cats in a race, believe me, and the big brothers knew this of course so that there would be great confusion!
So the probates were expected to catch their cats and line up again in perfect formation to bring closure to the whole thing. Here you see Brothers Arthur Redmond, Arnold (Ike) Miller, Willie Shepperson and Calvin Swinson, who had successfully retrieved their cats, (or somebody's cats) and are walking calmly along in Kappa 'Kool". To this day, I am not sure we all retrieved our cats or any cats.
Now, in addition to these skits, there were others that took place for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week for each group. Sometimes two or more groups would begin their probation the same week. So that was much competing.
Here is my line marching to dinner in Jones Hall dining Room. I am in the foreground, the one who just turned towards the entrance. And we are singing the whole time.
Now, to move forward, after many years of teaching and then administering music programs in New York City Schools I was recruited to join the faculty at Indiana University School of Music in 1975.
I was both shocked and honored to have been asked to join their faculty. I had not sought it. I and my small family were quite happy in New York City. But to be asked to join the faculty of the School of Music which has been consistently ranked and the finest school of music and the largest in the United States could not be ignored.
And as destiny would have it, Indiana University was also the home of Kappa Alpha Psi and the location of the Elder Watson Diggs Memorial House, the home of Alpha Chapter. It was the same house I had contributed my meager $100 to all those years ago to be built. I asked my tour guide when I went for my interview to take me to the Kappa House.
I was not prepared for what I found at the Kappa house that day. It was in disarray! A young Brother came out of the house that day with no shirt on. He greeted me and woman faculty guide with a distressed look and manner. He asked me three times. "Are you coming here to be on the actual faculty?" I said, "Well, perhaps so, if all the negotiations turn out ok". He replied, "I sure hope so. We need someone like you to come here". A chill went through my body when he said that.
My faculty guide quickly informed me in the car as we left, that this fraternity has a very shaky reputation on campus and advised that if I want to acquire tenure I should avoid getting involved. I had no intention of getting involved. At least not then.
I'll make a long story short to say that it was not until early in 1976 that I visited the House. As my destiny would have it, it was the same day I visited that officials of the fraternity arrived for the Chapter Meeting to reiterate that they were being removed from the house almost immediately. Later I learned that the house was to be leased to a historically white fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon.
Well, I ignored my faculty colleagues’ advice and got involved immediately. That year there were 4 new black faculty members brought on a campus where of the more than 1,500 full time faculty members of whom only 28 were black, including the 4 of us new ones. I was the only one who survived there after 3 years.
The main problem I surmised with Alpha Chapter is that they had few adult role models and advisors on a campus that had less than 800 black undergraduates out of 20,000 students at that time. Their closest chapter advisor was always of the Indianapolis Alumni Chapter which was 60 miles away.
After some serious consulting with my wife, we agreed that I would work with those undergraduates, if they would have me. An investigation of a hazing incident there in 1977 resulted in 4 men being expelled permanently and the chapter put on suspension and I was named Chapter Advisor. I also had set about to forming the Bloomington Alumni Chapter and it was chartered also in 1977.
In the front row middle, holding the charter was Edward Giles Irvin, one of two remaining original national Founders still living at that time. The other was Dr. Byron K. Armstrong, who was not able to attend. On Founder Irvin's right was Wesley Chapman, the North Central Province Polemarch. I am on the Founder's left, as Chapter Advisor of Alpha Chapter and First Polemarch of the Bloomington Alumni Chapter.
To my left was Edward Radcliffe, the Polemarch of Alpha Chapter. To the right of Wesley Chapman was C. Roger Wilson, who had been the Grand Polemarch back in 1955, when I was initiated. There are several very distinguished Brothers from everywhere who were present. We are surrounded by Brothers of Alpha Chapter and the Bloomington Alumni Chapter combined.
I set about with the Alpha Chapter and the Bloomington Alumni Chapters combined to work toward three goals and only these three:
1. Improve the image of Alpha Chapter, including raising the chapter GPA.
2. Eliminate hazing.
3. Get the House Back.
I will say it wasn't easy. It involved a lot of cooperation from a lot of people. It also involved a lot of enmity, sometimes from very surprising sources. I recently spoke about some of my experiences to Brothers on a Listserv for Kappa called Nupenet. Some Brothers (a minority) accused me of grandstanding and didn't want me to list any problems or accomplishments, especially if it involved eliminating hazing.
I will outline some very important things that happened and had to be overcome in another blog. But, I guarantee to anybody reading this, I was not and am not "grandstanding" I am relating facts: things that happened and things that had to happen. My family; my wife and two young children gave up a lot for me devote the monumental and persistent effort it took.
As I said a lot happened. One of the things that happened was that destiny called me again. This time I was called upon to be a candidate for Dean of Students for the entire campus. I had not asked for it. It was thrust upon me and I accepted the position in 1981, the fourth year of Alpha Chapter "exile" from the House. Later my title and responsibilities expanded to Vice Chancellor, a position I held from 1981-1991.
I had been nominated for the position, and I, at first refused to apply. Instead I submitted a list of ten faculty members who I thought would make excellent Deans. A persistent nomination process got me to reluctantly submit my resume.
In 1982, after much lobbying to Grand Chapter and National Board Meetings, Alpha Chapter resumed occupancy of the House. I organized the Elder Watson Diggs Memorial House Corporation, and I served as the President of the Corporation.
In 1983, Alpha Chapter won the chapter of the Year Award and I was named the very First Edward Giles Chapter Advisor's Award.
This award was presented at the Konklave in Louisville, Kentucky December 27, 1983. My wife, Thurman, went on the stage with me to receive the award. She should have gotten half of the award for all she did to support me and both chapters during this time. For example, during 11 years as Chapter Advisor, we had the entire chapter over to our house for dinner twice a year. One time we had 65 members of Alpha Chapter. That was a lot of Chili.
Here are Dr. and Mrs. Michael V.W. Gordon at the Louisville Konklave just before the award was presented.
So, we go on. I have had many joys and glories related to being in Kappa Alpha Psi. I had the thrill of hosting the "Pilgrimage to Bloomington" when the fraternity had its 75th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee and had 3,500 people for lunch on the lawn behind the Kappa House.
Here are past and Present members of Alpha Chapter at that event. At the podium was Jerome Conley who was the most effective Polemarch of Alpha Chapter at that event. Jerome Conley is now the Mayor of Oxford,Ohio.
I got to introduce Mayor Bradley of Los Angeles to the President of Indiana University, Dr. John Ryan. Mayor Bradley had also been a Past Grand Polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi. In front of Mayor Bradley and President Ryan is seated Gary Gold, and former Alpha Chapter Polemarch, winner of the Guy Levis Grant Award and Past Junior Vice Grand Polemarch. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Indiana University and becoming a Certified Public Accountant, he returned to Indiana University to receive his JD degree and MBA degree Gary Gold also served for a time as Associate Executive Director at the International Headquarters of Kappa Alpha Psi in Philadelphia.
I also got to give the "Occasion Speech" Some said my speech was too long. It really wasn't. I was not about to have all those people there and not tell them of the remarkable achievements of Alpha Chapter during and after their "exile". I was interrupted by applause 17 times and standing ovations 8 times for what I had said about Alpha Chapter. One thing I said that evoked the most response was when I told about Alpha Chapter having one graduate a year when I arrived. ten later when I as Vice Chancellor processed through the graduates at commencement, A young Kappa tapped me on the should as I passed by. I turned and saw this Alpha Chapter Brother and 19 others with him and that was in the College of Arts and Sciences alone.
That's why the speech seemed so long. But all those people who had contributed their little $100 dollars to build that house as I had done 25v years earlier needed to hear some things to counter the negative rumors they had heard for years.
It was a glory and blessing to demonstrate what planning and supervision of undergraduates can do. You cannot build a nearly million dollar house and just turn it over to 19 year olds, without guidance and supervision. Would you do that in your homes?
Gary Gold, while serving at Arthur Anderson Accounting Firm in Chicago wanted me to come to Chicago and meet one of our more distinguished older Kappas. He was our Fifth Grand Polemarch and Founder of Beta Chapter at the University of Illinois back in 1913. His name was Earl B. Dickerson, an attorney and executive of a very large Life Insurance Company in Chicago. He was more than 90 years old when we met at his home.
Brother Dickerson wanted to be sure who I was and what I represented. "Are you the Advisor to Alpha Chapter?"' he asked. "Yes," I replied. "And you are the Dean of Students?" "Yes.""Are you the Dean of the Black Students?" "Well all of the Students," I replied. "Is there more than one Dean of Students?” he asked. Well each college or school of the University may have its own Dean of Students, but there is only one Dean of Students for the entire University." "Are you are that one?” he asked. "Yes, I am he". I replied."I see!” he finished at last.
Tim Brown, who was a National Undergraduate Board member, accompanied us to Brother Earl B. Dickerson's Hyde Park Home that memorable evening.
Another great joy I had is being present at the initiation of my great nephew, Robert Lee Gordon, IV. He is the grandson of my brother Robert. He was a student at Villanova. The initiation took place at the North Eastern Provincial Conference in 2005, almost exactly 50 years after my own initiation at Alpha Phi Chapter at Virginia State College.
Rob was one happy young man when I pinned that Kappa Plain Badge on him at his initiation. But he was no happier than I was to be able to do it.
As I said before, I will be giving all my antique Kappa items to my great nephew Rob Gordon IV. The night of his initiation, I presented him with Kappa jewelry and my old Kappa Jacket from Virginia State.
See the "Alpha Phi" emblazoned on the front of the jacket? When I had that jacket made, I thought my Kappa son would somehow, one day wear it. But, you know God has his/her own way of doing things. "God's ways are not our ways", we are often told. So, fifty years later I present that jacket to my brother's grandson; the one that did not join any fraternity. I asked Rob to present it to someone in our family fifty or fewer years from now. I wonder who that will be?
Someone asked me recently, "If you knew what you know now, would you have pledged Kappa Alpha Psi?" Well it has been a long and sometimes rocky journey. What do you think?
I look into the happy, young face of my great nephew and wonder a lot of things.
In my home, over the years, and now here in Ghana, I have been surrounded by mementos, most of them have been given to me by members of Alpha Chapter. For example there is this six foot Kappa paddle.
When think of all the plaques, gifts and letters of honor given to me by members of Alpha Chapter, I will tell you it warms my spirit. When I retired from Indiana University I got even more gifts and even a video made by former Alpha Chapter Brother Tavis Smiley from the BET Studio, where he was at the time, which was played for me in front of all the guests.
Even now, I never know when someone will send a letter or e-mail, someone I have not heard from in 25 or more years. Sometimes the letters come from military service in Iraq or Afghanistan or from a law office or medical office or a letter from a father (and occasionally even, a grandfather). Our lives were touched by each other. Do I value that? YOU BET I DO!