Long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hit the national stage and delivered his world-renowned “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, twenty-two African-American women had already blazed a major trail for Civil Rights in the same city more than 50 years earlier.
Fast forward to this past weekend, where in the nation’s capital, more than 12,000 members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority gathered together to celebrate the sorority’s 100th anniversary. The gathering in D.C. marked the celebration of the organization’s centennial year, with a weekend full of activities which included community service, a rededication and an awards ceremony.
The twenty-two African-American college students who founded Delta Sigma Theta on January 13, 1913 at Howard University wanted to use their collective strength to promote academic excellence, social action and community service among African-Americans.
The first public act performed by the founders of Delta Sigma Theta involved their participation in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington D.C., March 1913.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority is one of the country’s largest African-American sororities, boasting a sisterhood of more than 200,000 predominately Black college educated women and having over 900 chapters located in the United States, England, Japan (Tokyo and Okinawa), Germany, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Republic of Korea.
Wearing their coveted crimson and cream colors, the members of Delta Sigma Theta represent a unique segment of the nation’s demographic profile and include many notable national figures. Notable Deltas have included civil rights activists Mary McLeod Bethune and Dorothy Irene Height, singers Aretha Franklin and Lena Horne, and politicians Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan.
Jordan, from right here in Houston, Texas, was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors.
Prior to the 2013 Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority kicked off its year-long celebration by having a float in the historic 2013 Rose Bowl Parade on New Years’ Day.
The float entitled, “Transforming Communities through Sisterhood and Service,” was a floral salute to the sorority’s heroic heritage and the inspiring women that comprise all of its national and international sorority members.
The 2013 Centennial Celebration weekend began Friday, January 11, with a gathering at Howard University for a day of public service projects around the city. Members from across the country participated in 22 projects throughout Washington D.C. on Friday in honor of their 22 founding members.
On Saturday, the weekend continued with a luncheon and a gala. On Sunday, the weekend culminated with an ecumenical service and black-tie dinner at the Washington Convention Center.
Saturday’s Centennial Honors gala, hosted by actors Tim and Daphne Reid, praised people and organizations who serve as models for the sorority’s emphasis on education, health, economic development, and political and international involvement.
Award recipients included longtime educator Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, along with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Bill and Camille Cosby, radio personality Tom Joyner and his wife, fitness guru Donna Richardson Joyner, civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the National Council of Negro Women.
Karen Hauser, President of the Houston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, attended the Centennial Celebration in D.C. along with many other Houston sorority members and considered it a life-changing experience.
“Being among so many powerful women who are all committed to the same cause and who believe in the same principles as I do was an overwhelming feeling,” said Hauser. “It was empowering to be here this weekend with thousands of women who all decided to give back to the D.C. community this weekend and put the principles of our organization into action.”
Hauser became a member of Delta Sigma Theta at the University of Houston-Central Campus over 26 years ago and stated that her reason for joining the organization was because of their principles and their programs. She became chapter president nearly two years ago and cites the courage that the original 22 founders had, as being something that has contributed to her personal and professional growth.
“The women that founded this organization had tremendous courage to do what they did,” said Hauser. “They stepped out on faith and created an organization that was geared towards public service and focused on making an impact in the community. I am forever grateful for them making that decision.”
The major programs of the sorority are based upon the organization’s Five Point Programmatic Thrust:
• Economic Development
• Educational Development
• International Awareness and Involvement
• Physical and Mental Health
•Political Awareness and Involvement
Houston City Councilwoman Wanda Adams states that she had long dreamed of being a part of Delta Sigma Theta.
“I always wanted to be a Delta because of their emphasis on public service and because of their Christian principles,” said Adams. “Whenever the organization needs me, I will be there because we are an action-oriented organization and I am proud to be a part.”
Adams was not able to go to Washington D.C., but hosted a gathering at her home for many of the sorority members who could not attend the celebration in D.C. Adams participates at the local and national level with the organization and believes that the principles of the organization challenge her to give her all to the community.
“Our National President appointed me to be a National Social Action Commissioner,” said Adams. “In this role, I work with Delta Sigma Theta to deal with political awareness issues involving the sorority and social issues like homelessness, domestic violence, breast cancer, housing and other issues affecting women and the community. My decision to run for city council and my ability to be a good public servant for the people of Houston, were enhanced because of my involvement with Delta Sigma Theta sorority.”
As indicated, the weekend celebration was only part of a series of centennial year events for the sorority across the country. In March, Delta members across the country will re-enact the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913, in which their 22 founders were active participants. In addition, the sorority will gather in Washington D.C., once again, for its national convention in July.
Locally, the various chapters of Delta Sigma Theta will be holding their 2013 Joint Founders Day on January 26th at the Sugar Land Marriott Town Square, 16090 City Walk, Sugar Land, Texas 77479. There will be a Rededication Ceremony at 8:30 am, which will be closed to the public and for sorority members only. The public is invited to attend a Founders Day Program at 10 am, immediately following the Rededication Ceremony.