The nation’s first Black American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, plans to build a monument in honor of the organization’s birthplace in Central New York.
On Thursday, Cornell University announced the organization had acquired two properties in Ithaca, New York. The first building, located at 411 E. State St., will be converted into a monument after seven Black men founded the Greek-lettered organization in 1906. The second building, located at 105 Westbourne Lane, was purchased in Sept. 2021 for $1.5 million, which will become the first physical fraternity house owned by Alpha Phi Alpha in Ithaca, the Cornell Chronicle reported.
“The memorial will realize an aspiration of our founding members, who dreamed of having a monument to the beginning of Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities in Ithaca, which will hopefully center attention around the reason why we were founded when we couldn’t be members in mainstream society,” said Ernest Eric Elmore ’86, J.D. ‘89, an antitrust attorney at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. and former president of the Alpha Chapter Alumni Association.
The fraternity was founded at a time when Cornell was one of a few universities that accepted Black students- though they weren’t allowed to live on campus. Instead, Black students found lodging in a community with local Black families. After several of them witnessed their white counterparts taking part in fraternity chapters exclusively for them, the students changed history by establishing Alpha Phi Alpha.
Since its inception, the organization has established more than 900 chapters across the country, with prominent members, including Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Dubois, Duke Ellington, and Thurgood Marshall.
“As African Americans in the age of social segregation in the early 1900s, they felt it was important to come together and support one another and navigate Cornell and Ithaca, so a number of members of that study group wanted to become a fraternity,” Elmore said.
The monument will be celebrated during a fundraising weekend starting May 13-15.
“This monument will be part of a larger Ithaca Freedom Heritage Trailways,” Elmore said. “We welcome being part of that African American history and the significant cultural spots that are in Ithaca and the greater Central New York area.”