The Presence of the “Divine 9” at the University of Illinois
The first Black Greek letter organizations began in the early 1900s when African American students were excluded from dormitories (as was the case at the University of Illinois), study groups and social organizations at predominantly white institutions. Often ostracized, Black students began to organize themselves for mutual academic and social support. As these organizations evolved, they developed the values of scholarship, friendship, service, leadership, and philanthropy. Today, all nine historically Black sororities and fraternities have chapters, commonly known as the “Divine 9,” on the University of Illinois’ campus. Two of the earliest Black Greek organizations, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, were the first such organizations on the University’s campus to provide housing for their chapter members. The first residence for Alpha Kappa Alpha (Gamma House) was located at 1201 W. Stoughton in Urbana and the first home for Kappa Alpha Psi was at 707 S. Third Street, in Champaign.
The young women pictured on the steps in 1915 are members of the Gamma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority which was established at the University in 1914.
Additional facts about the Divine Nine at the University of Illinois:
1913: The Beta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity was chartered. It was the second chapter of the fraternity in the United States. In the 1928 directory, their house was listed at 904 E. Clark Street in Urbana.
1914: The Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority was chartered. It was the third chapter of the sorority in the United States. In the 1928 directory, their house was listed at 904 E. Stoughton in Urbana.
1917: The Tau Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity was chartered.
May 3, 1924: A Daily Illini editorial condemned a newly revised Inter-Fraternity Council constitution that allowed for the admittance of Jewish fraternities but not African American fraternities.
1929: The Pi Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity was chartered. The first house was at 412 E. Park Street in Champaign and still stands as of 2022.
1932: The Alpha Nu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority was chartered.
1933: The Inter-Fraternity Council revised its constitution to admit African American fraternities.
1935: With only a few African American fraternities and sororities, Black students primarily engaged in activities in the surrounding African American community. Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi established a co-operative African American restaurant—Boyd’s Cafe—the only campus restaurant to serve African Americans other than the University café. It closed after less than a year.
1972: On April 15, the Nu Delta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was chartered. On May 19, the Epsilon Xi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was charted.
1980: The Alpha Lambda Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity was chartered.
To learn more about current Black Fraternities and Sororities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, visit: https://fsaffairs.illinois.edu/join/recruitment/black/.
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Additional University of Illinois Trail Sites
Civil Rights, Social Justice, & Politics
Despite increasing numbers of African Americans matriculating into the University of Illinois in the 1930s and 1940s, discrimination was rampant on campus and in Campustown. Black students were prohibited from eating in dining halls and local eateries, forcing many students to walk 30 minutes each way for meals in the North End, Champaign-Urbana’s African American neighborhood.
Civil Rights, Social Justice, & Politics
The Special Educational Opportunities Program, commonly referred to as Project 500, was designed by the University of Illinois in 1968 to ensure equality of educational access and opportunities for all students, including those from underrepresented or disadvantaged communities. In 1967, fewer than 400 of the university’s approximately 30,400 students were Black. The program was the University’s response to demands from students and community residents, led by the Black Students Association and fueled by the community’s response to the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to recruit and enroll more Black students. The first Project 500 cohort in 1968 had 565 students, most of whom were Black, though some Hispanic and Native American students also enrolled in the program.
Sports & Recreation
The historic colonnades that grace the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, dedicated in 1924, bear the names of Illinois students who died in World War I. One of those students was William Frank Earnest, the first African American from Champaign County to die in the war.
Since 1900, when William Walter Smith became the first African American to graduate from the University of Illinois, many African Americans who attended the University have gone on to become important leaders, innovators, artists, and thinkers. This page features some notable University alumni. Please check back periodically as we continue to include more information.
In the fall of 1969, the University of Illinois’ Afro-American Cultural Program opened on campus to provide a safe space for Black students to gather and grow, to help Black students feel proud and welcome, and to educate the campus community about the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans. The Program was created in response to the Project 500 protest in September 1968, in which Black students demonstrated against inequitable treatment by the University. In 2004, the University rededicated the space as the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, named after a former director of the center.