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[icon type=”icon-clock” color=””][post_published]


I recall interviewing as a candidate for director positions, and “What is your vision?” was the most common question. The question requires candidates to take their limited knowledge of an institution and spin an ambitious fantasy out of the barest of understanding, as if a “vision” could suddenly emerge like Athena, fully formed from the head of Zeus.

I have found that the job of museum director is less about fantastical visions and more about defining practical objectives and choices for the entire institution and its constituents. The objectives are place-specific, and cannot be known in advance. As directors we must keep envisioning at the 1000-foot view, but unless we can ground that view in pragmatic examples that help our teams link aspiration to action, the 1000-foot view remains an elusive and frustrating dream. Being a director requires understanding process and articulating how to manage change, evaluate the institution, and develop staff and community partners thoughtfully.  These steps, over time, will realize goals even more exceptional than one could have predicted.

While recognizing that every museum has its own unique challenges, audiences, and possibilities, I’d like to share three of the ways the Chazen is starting to interrogate and experiment with our approach to realizing the museum’s mission.

Imagine for a moment everyone in the organization prioritizing one or two goals each year concerning diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. How far can an organization shift if everyone on the team becomes responsible for actionable items in their own area? Small steps, accumulated, make a huge difference. We have implemented this process at the Chazen for the first time this year. Already, it is changing the way some staff view their portfolio of work and how it’s critically linked to our strategic goals.

Providing multiple access points to the Chazen’s wide-ranging collection is central to our mission to serve campus and community audiences. Among our diverse holdings is a pedestal-sized, marble version of “The Emancipation Group” (1873), by Thomas Ball. A collaborative project created with artist Sanford Biggers and the MASK Consortium, entitled “RE:mancipation,” will study this sculpture and its complex history while cultivating a more nuanced understanding of our nation and ourselves. This important work cannot be solely institutionally driven, it must be conducted in partnership with artists, and the results of such projects should influence how we approach all collection display and interpretation.

1969 homecoming queen
The 1969 Homecoming Court. Carolyn Williams, the first Black Homecoming Queen, is 3rd from the left. They are pictured with Bill Cosby who headlined a stand-up show at the Field House to kick off that year’s Homecoming weekend. Courtesy UW Archives.

The reluctance of BGLOs to participate in mainstream campus activity did not result in a complete boycott. Rather, the BGLOs actively worked to reform these mainstream activities while simultaneously hosting their own events, evidenced by the election of Carolyn Williams as UW–Madison’s first Black woman as Homecoming Queen in 1969. Carolyn Williams was sponsored by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. who hosted their own vote alongside the Homecoming committee’s vote to ensure that the final election count was not tainted.[4] Even in participating in existing structures, Black students felt they could not trust the university’s intentions. The election of Carolyn Williams was discussed by some students as “a step towards improvement” regarding the race relations on the campus.[5] This student interpretation of progress is slightly misleading, however, as the election was only accomplished through an immense push by the Black student community, and even then, their distrust of the primarily white student body to honestly participate is evident in their double-check of the vote. The BGLO engagement with mainstream campus activity was limited to reformative purposes. Until the white campus community tried of their own will to welcome Black students into the community, this limited interaction with campus-wide social activity and the separate institutions crafted by BGLOs would necessarily remain.

Black Students in White Fraternities

G. James Flemming pictured on the cover of the Wisconsin Alumnus Magazine, April 1949. Courtesy UW Archives.
G. James Flemming pictured on the cover of the Wisconsin Alumnus Magazine, April 1949. Courtesy UW Archives.
For the larger part of UW–Madison’s existence, only white fraternal organizations were established on campus. There are very few instances of Black students attempting to join a fraternity before the establishment of Madison’s first Black fraternal organization. In my own research, I have only come across one. But this one instance demonstrates the veracity of discrimination within white fraternal organizations that bore the necessity of the BGLO. In 1932, UW–Madison student James Flemming was urged by university leaders to join the national honors speech fraternity, Delta Sigma Rho. Flemming, a Black student and decorated speaker and debater, was denied membership based on his race. Delta Sigma Rho kept an anti-Black provision within their constitution which prevented the Madison chapter from admitting Flemming. While both the university and the local chapter petitioned the National organization to rid itself of this racist clause, the National fraternity did not budge, and they subsequently dropped the issue.[6] The unwillingness of an honors fraternity to part with its history of racism left little hope for traditional social fraternities whose function was decreasingly scholarship and increasingly social.

The prejudices of UW–Madison’s fraternal system were challenged 17 years later. In the fall of 1949, the first Black student was pledged into a white fraternity at UW–Madison – Phi Sigma Delta. Weathers ‘Sonny’ Sykes was welcomed into the Jewish fraternity whose members, when questioned, stated they “came to see him as a man, rather than as a color, and it was on that basis that ‘Sonny’ was suggested and discussed for pledging.” In this discussion, the pledging of a Black man was not at all overlooked, rather it was a severe deduction from Sykes’ status as a potential pledge. Over more than five hours, the members of Phi Sigma Delta discussed Sykes’ character and the implications for their chapter in the pledging of a Black man. To Sykes’ luck, “in the final weighing, the positive factors over-balanced the negative ones.”[7] Each student, deciding that pledging Sykes was worth breaking past precedent, voted to admit Sykes into their social fraternity. The milestone of this event even made it into local newspaper coverage. When questioned by students on why this event was covered in the news section, rather than being published in the social section, The Daily Cardinal responded that “when the time finally arrives that the pledging of a Negro to a white fraternity is not an unusual event and can be handled on the society pages in the routine way, a great goal will have been achieved. But until that goal is in sight, each milestone is news and must be recorded as such. Every innovator, from Archimedes to Henry Kaiser gets a lot of publicity.”[8] The pledging of Sykes was clearly a newsworthy event.
G. James Flemming pictured on the cover of the Wisconsin Alumnus Magazine, April 1949. Courtesy UW Archives.
Weathers ‘Sonny’ Sykes pictured in Phi Sigma Delta’s 1950 Badger Yearbook photo. Sykes is in the fourth row, fifth from the left. Courtesy UW Archives.
The Jewish background of this Fraternity is crucial to this event. Because Jewish students at the time were similarly barred from most white fraternal organizations, they created their own. It was because of their prior exclusion from other fraternities that their newly created body, Phi Sigma Delta, possessed no restrictive clauses in its constitution which ultimately allowed Sykes to be admitted. The fraternity was therefore pre-disposed to operate in a non-exclusionary way. Even before the pledging of Sykes, Phi Sigma Delta was involved in the Fraternity Inter-Racial Committee which focused on increasing understanding between racial and religious minorities on campus. There was already an effort on behalf of this fraternity to close the racial gap. Few other social fraternities would follow suit.

Discriminatory Clauses

Unlike Phi Sigma Delta, most historically white fraternal organizations did not care to admit students of color and often, under the terms of their national constitutions, forbidden from doing so.[9] A significant number of the white fraternities and, to a lesser extent, sororities at UW–Madison possessed discriminatory clauses at some point in their time on campus. Interestingly, sororities often did not have discriminatory clauses in their charters, yet they remained exclusively white organizations, speaking to a culture of active exclusion.

As popular opinion shifted, this exclusionary philosophy grew questionable to students, followed by faculty. In November of 1948, the UW student government, called the student board, hosted a session on discrimination in which they voted to ban fraternities and sororities that did not rid themselves of their discriminatory clauses within the following 3 years.[10] The Human Rights Committee, established in 1950, was in part a response to this student board session. In its first statement after its founding, the committee described discrimination as a corrosive ideal that the university would be working to eliminate.[11] In 1952, the Human Rights Committee published Document 1041 including what would become the infamous “1960 clause” which stated, “that no such organization which has in its national or local constitution or pledge instructions a discriminatory clause shall be approved by the University after July 1, 1960.”[12] The clock was officially ticking for the white fraternities and sororities at UW–Madison—if after that date they still possessed discriminatory language within their constitution (later amended to both discriminatory language and behavior) they would no longer be allowed to affiliate with the university. As white ‘Greek’ students and alumni clung onto the discrimination they had so thoughtfully nurtured, the university dissolved its toleration for discriminatory behavior and began to dismantle it within the fraternal and sororal systems.

Hence began a rather tumultuous period for white Greek-letter organizations on campus; many members of WGLOs did not enjoy the moral microscope that they were put under in this process. Some members of the organizations demonstrated this discontent by refusing to cooperate with and even protesting the Human Rights Committee. Many within the fraternal organization—students and alumni alike—contended that discrimination was an essential part of the fraternal system. ‘Greek’ students tended to take one of two sides on this point. On one hand, students claimed that if the discriminatory ways of the system were to be challenged, the system would fall apart. This is evident in the many newspaper articles written by students within the white Greek-letter system who accused members of the Human Rights committee of seeking the destruction of fraternities and sororities, claiming victimhood for themselves in the process.[13]On the other hand, some ‘Greek’ students encouraged their ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ to welcome this change, inspiring empathy and discussing the necessity of modernizing to keep the system alive.

By 1962, most of the fraternities and sororities on campus (social and scholarship based) had successfully met the requirements of the “1960 Clause” and removed their discriminatory policies. However, there remained cases of discriminatory behavior. In 1961, Margaret Mitchell claimed that she was refused from a sorority because she was Black. This was investigated by the Americans for Democratic Action, a student organization.[14] Claims such as this persisted on both a formal and informal level throughout the 1960s provoking a few investigations. In response, the university threatened to kick a couple organizations off campus; no punishments were administered. Outside of these instances, there is no record of interaction between minority students and white fraternities and sororities. The pledging of minority students into the WGLOs and communication between BGLOs and WGLOs halted during this time, even as discriminatory clauses fell away.

The university continued to keep an eye on white fraternities and sororities as their national organizations could enforce discriminatory practices without them being written. The reluctance of the white fraternal system to rid itself of the discriminatory culture that permeated it left it as the last social institution to be segregated at UW–Madison. With every other organization at UW–Madison seeking to expand and broaden the diversity element of their membership after years of segregation, the fraternal system remained an artifact of the era in which it was created. Some would argue that it stubbornly remains that way.[15]

Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi in the 1940s

It was in this environment that Black Greek Letter Organizations were first established on campus in 1946. In part due to the small Black student population, these organizations remained small and few until the 1970s. The Madison Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Beta Omicron, was established at the university on April 22, 1946. In its first yearbook appearance, the fraternity stated its purpose was “to inspire its members to an achievement in all fields of human endeavor.”[16] The fraternity hosted several annual social events such as a summer picnic and a homecoming dance. Even in its first years on campus, it was active in the political scene, engaging the primarily white student body in presentations about Civil Rights.[17] Also in 1946, the Madison Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Gamma Epsilon, was established. One of its members, referred to in the yearbook as I. Miller, even served on the Inter-Fraternity Council in 1948 – a managing body on each University campus that promotes cooperation between the fraternities by providing a space for representatives of each fraternity to gather.[18] Cooperation between BGLOs and WGLOs in this fashion is rarely seen again. Ironically, as WGLOs were faced with more pressure to cooperate with BGLOs, they became more reluctant to do so. As BGLOs grew in strength and number, they participated in their own managing body, the Black Greek Council, creating a collaborative space where they were respected rather than tolerated.
phi sigma delta 1950 yearbook
The Beta Omicron Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity pictured in 1948 Badger Yearbook. Courtesy UW Archives.
Re-establishments and Establishments in the 1960s and 70s

Madison’s Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. chapter was deactivated in 1954 due to a lack of participation and therefore lost funding before being reactivated in 1963, and again in 1968. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was deactivated in 1961 for unrecorded reasons, though it seems to have remained informally active until its reestablishment in 1969. In 1968, it still hosted a dance and a Thanksgiving food drive in the wake of MLK’s assassination despite not being formally recognized by the university.[19] Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. is established in 1967, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in 1968, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1969, and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. in 1973. Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. all begin their efforts of establishment through pledging several UW–Madison students through the organizations’ Milwaukee chapters before the chapters are established at UW–Madison. The flurry of establishments of BGLOs at the university was met with no administrative resistance if paperwork and pledges were in order. The agreeable nature of the establishment process, in contrast to the usual sticky bureaucratic policies that tend to slow such practices, was justified by a university administrator who stated that they “believe we jeopardize the college experience of our present negroes for the long-range goal of integration by not accepting the predominantly negro fraternities…why try to create other means of integration, which are often artificial and rejected, when an existing system can assist us in obtaining our objectives?”[20] Perhaps in some ways supportive of the growing Black community, and in other ways eager to be relieved of their diversity-initiative duties, the university welcomed the establishment of BGLOs during this time. As a result, BGLOs became the first organized Black space on campus.

Relationship between BGLOs and the Black Community

The necessity of the independence of these organizations and their structures has already been discussed, but the impacts of these organizations on the Black community—the community for which they were created and of which they are composed—at UW–Madison is crucial and understanding their significance. Black Greek Letter Organizations at UW–Madison expanded beyond the campus community and were directly involved in the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. released a pamphlet entitled “The Dream Lives On” following MLK’s assassination where they discuss the plight of Black students at the university. The pamphlet stated, “No one knows the ‘test of a man’ as well as the undergrad Brothers here in Madison. Not only do we Brothers deal with keen classroom situations, but also the social, economic, political, and everyday coping that seems to be a constant deterrent.” The pamphlet also discussed how the members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc felt grateful to have a campus community of Black students.[21] The Black fraternal system’s focus on bettering Black lives was again demonstrated by a public policy statement published by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., upon request of the UW–Madison Fraternity-life coordinator, sent a 10-page pamphlet underscoring the national fraternity’s public policy to the university for distribution to the student body. The pamphlet detailed the national fraternity’s stance on many political issues facing Black Americans including but not limited to higher education, unemployment, fair housing, racism in the media, and political prisoners. [22] The BGLOs were on the same frequency as most other Black students at the time—the issues facing the Black community required focus and action, regardless of the university climate. BGLOs made the most of the space they created, immortalizing themselves as a place of Black community on campus.

Within the Black student body, there were divides along ‘Greek’ and ‘non-Greek’ lines. At the height of the Black Power Movement, some Black students questioned the necessity of BGLOs, suggesting that they stood in the way of the central idea of unity. BGLOs, however, saw themselves as contributing to unity among the Black student population. Alpha Kappa Alpha Fraternity, Inc., stated in a newspaper article in 1969 that “The Black Movement is composed of different groups, Black arts, politics, etc., and what we are all doing is social and service. What is essential to a Black movement is Black people and a sorority doesn’t negate this.”[23] The members of the sorority asserted that they were contributing to the Black Power Movement, and that any questions of their Blackness were unwarranted. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., newly established in 1969, added onto this defense: “We are Black and being a Delta doesn’t make any difference.”[24] Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. similarly represented themselves as Black students first and ‘Greeks’ second. Sara Jackson, the president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. in 1969, characterized this difference as two groups within the Black student community. Jackson said that every Black student was a part of the Black Power Movement, but the divide laid between those who were “very, very, very into the Black Power Movement,” and those who “had the same concerns, but were not as strong into the struggle.”[25] Many Black students at this time were activists; some simply spent more time with their activism than others. Regardless of this divide, BGLOs were still recognized as an important part of the Black student community. In a pamphlet catered towards incoming Black students, Black ‘Greek Life’ was praised as a place of community building and social thriving.[26] BGLOs contributed to the small Black community at UW–Madison. This community was essential to the Black student’s well-being at a predominantly white institution.


Black Greek Letter Organizations have long been denied the recognition that they deserve on campus. Conceptualized and created by Black individuals who knew themselves deserving of social organizations at institutions of higher learning, BGLOs carry an impressive legacy as centers of Black community and Black excellence, characteristics which ring true for the BGLOs on UW–Madison’s campus. Their existence at the University of Wisconsin–Madison was prompted by the institution’s whiteness. As the university decided to confront the racial disparities that it fostered, white fraternal organizations clung to their discriminatory traditions. The white fraternal system’s reluctance to modernize in some ways inadvertently created space for BGLOs on campus. However, it is important to recognize that these institutions were and are far more than a mere response to racism—they are a cultural and social institution that, above all, were established on UW–Madison’s campus to promote community among the Black student population. In the face of a largely unsupportive and unsympathetic university, BGLOs survived and thrived. Now half a century old, the predominantly Black fraternal and sororal organizations have established a permanent presence on this campus and continue to pursue the goals they have always stood for.

If you or anyone you know was a part of the BGLO community during the 1960s and 1970s and wishes to add that story to our growing collection of information, please contact us! Individuals are not often taught to think of themselves as sources of historical knowledge, but they are. Individuals hold intimate knowledge of their campus, their neighborhoods, and their communities. That is why we want to hear from you. We believe that this project will be the most successful when it deeply engages all of those in our community. If you have a story to share, an event you think should be researched, or a person you think has been overlooked, please contact us.

In April of 2021, UW–Madison campus leaders and students gathered to break ground on the new Divine Nine Garden Plaza on East Campus Mall. The plaza will create a garden space and install historical markers recognizing the contributions of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities in the nation. This is an important step in recognizing the deep history and the significant contributions that Black Greek Letter Organizations have made at UW–Madison. Student Affairs has launched a fundraising campaign to create the garden plaza, which is estimated to cost about $250,000. Information on donating can be found on the Student Affairs website.

[1] H. H. Holloway to George Bohrnstedt, Mar. 27, 1963, Coordinator of Fraternity Affairs Records, UW Archives.

[2] Kathryn Kreinz, “Black Homecoming,” The Badger Herald, Nov. 5, 1970, Coordinator of Fraternity Affairs Records, UW Archives.

[3] “1969 Black Student Strike,” UW Madison News; The earliest report of student attendance based on racial/ ethnic identity did not occur until the 1974–1975 academic year in which 825 students identified as African American out of 36,915 undergraduate and graduate students, which is roughly 2% of the student population. Between 1967 and 1974, however, an effort to recruit Black students to the university was undertaken, therefore the figure in 1969 is most likely lower than that of 1974.

[4] “Homecoming,” The Black Student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1970, Afro-American Center Records. Box 1, UW Archives. P. 6.

[5] Millie Clark, “sister reigns over UW,” …and Beautiful, Dec. 11, 1969, Wisconsin Historical Society.

[6] “Bar to Negro Stirs Campus,” The Journal’s Madison Bureau, May 15, 1931; “On the Cover,” Wisconsin Alumnus, Apr. 1949.

[7] “Phi Sigma Delta breaks precedence: Fraternity explains Negro pledging,” The Daily Cardinal, Nov. 15, 1949, The University of Wisconsin Archives.

[8] University of Wisconsin Madison, Wisconsin Badger (Madison, WI: 1950), 368, UW Digital Collections.

[9] For more on the history of exclusion in White Greek Letter Organizations at UW–Madison see Angela Peterson, “Rewriting Chapters: Resistance to Addressing Discriminatory Practices in University of Wisconsin–Madison Fraternities and Sororities, 1947–1962” Archive Journal, Volume 23, May 2020, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

[10] Jim Zucker, “Board Will Vote Tonight on Greek Restrictive Bars,” The Daily Cardinal, Nov. 24, 1948, UW Archives.

[11] “Document 933: University Committee Report on Human Rights for Students,” Feb. 6, 1950, Coordinator of Sorority Affairs Records, UW Archives.

[12] “Document 1041: Report of the Committee on Human Rights,” May 19, 1952, Coordinator of Sorority Affairs Records, UW Archives.

[13] Roy Clark, “Is Destruction the Goal?,” The Rattle of Theta Chi, 1953, Coordination of Sorority Affairs Records, UW Archives.

[14] “New Officers for ADA Committee Picked Wednesday,” The Daily Cardinal, Oct 9, 1961, UW Archives.

[15]  For more see Maryam Gamar, “Greek life is losing members. Here’s why.,” Vox,  April 23, 2021; Charlotte Hogg, “Sororities and fraternities are finally confronting their racist past,” The Washington Post, October 21, 2020; Ezra Marcus, “The War on Frats,” The New York Times, August 1, 2020.

[16] University of Wisconsin Madison, Badger ’47,  (Madison, WI: 1947), 292, UW Digital Collections.

[17] University of Wisconsin Madison, Badger,  (Madison, WI: 1948), 278, UW Digital Collections.

[18] University of Wisconsin Madison, Badger,  (Madison, WI: 1948), 263, UW Digital Collections.

[19] Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, The Dream Lives On, 1968, Alpha Phi Alpha Records, Box 1, UW Archives.

[20] Letter from Robert Winkler to Roland Hinz, Oct. 12, 1967, Committee on Human Rights Records, Box 19, UW Archives.

[21] Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, The Dream Lives On, 1968, Alpha Phi Alpha Records, Box 1, UW Archives.

[22] Alpha Phi Alpha, Public Policy Statement, 1970, Coordinator of Fraternity Affairs Records, UW Archives; Letter from Earl Settlemyer to Laurence Young, Nov. 9, 1971, Coordinator of Fraternity Affairs Records, UW Archives.

[23] “Black groups on campus,” …and Beautiful, Dec. 11, 1969, Wisconsin Historical Society.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Sara Jackson-Brunson”, transcript of an oral history conducted 2021 by Kayla Parker, UW–Madison Public History Project, University of Wisconsin–Madison Archives, pg 3.

[26] “Greek Life,” The Black Student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1970, Afro-American Center Records, Box 1, UW Archives. P. 14.