Deltas Come to D.C. to Celebrate Centennial

Stacy M. Brown | 1/9/2013, 9:34 a.m.

Delta Sigma Theta is coming home to Washington, D.C.

The 100-year-old organization and the largest African-American Greek-lettered sorority in the world, is scheduled to kick off its Founders Weekend here Friday, Jan. 11 to help celebrate the centennial of the organization.

"As we were celebrating our history, we were making history in California at the Rose Parade," said past president Gwendolyn Boyd. "We knew we had a lot to celebrate and we wanted the celebration to include an international forum like the parade to get our message out so that those who don't understand who we are or what we do, they will be able to," said Boyd, 57, who first pledged in 1975 while attending Alabama State University.

Delta, which has widely been lauded for its work toward economic development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health and political awareness and involvement, on New Year's Day became the oldest and first African-American sorority to participate in the 124-year-old Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of Delta's float in the parade was "Transforming Communities through Sisterhood & Service," and it featured a sculptured globe with brightly colored floral arrangements that contained insignia that represented the 22 founding members.

Now, the group is traveling east and back home to Washington D.C., where more than 13,000 of its members will unite to celebrate the organization's history with events in D.C. planned from Jan. 11 to the 13th.

"In many cultures, each new year is assigned a theme to represent the promise of a new beginning," said current President Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, 59. "This is a year that we have anticipated with much excitement. The Delta caravan will soon be pulling into Washington, D.C., the birthplace of our sorority for our Centennial Founders Day Weekend. This will be a celebration unlike any that our nation's capital has seen," she said.

Delta Sigma Theta was founded on Jan. 13, 1913 and has blazed a trail of community service and empowerment, Boyd said. The sorority was founded by 22 students who were disenchanted at what they said was a lack of progress, the group's political activism started almost immediately as they participated in what became the historic Women's Suffrage March in D.C. in March of 1913.

"We were the only black women's group that was organized to walk in the march and this was long before black people in general had gained the right to vote," Boyd said.

The Deltas count among its more than 300,000 members such distinguished black women as the late Lena Horne, Ruby Dee Davis, Shirley Chisholm, Dorothy Height, and Barbara Jordan. Many of the more prominent Deltas who include Natalie Cole, Soledad O'Brien, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Daphne Maxwell Reid and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin are expected to attend, Boyd said.

During Founders Day Weekend, Delta plans to honor their founding members by descending upon the campus of Howard University in Northwest, where the sorority originated.

A daylong event at the school on Jan. 11 will include a 22 Impact project in which various community service oriented deeds will be carried out by the group. "We gather not just to celebrate, but we gather to serve," Boyd said. A replica of an original stained-glass window representing the 22 founders of the sorority will be unveiled on the campus as well.

A rededication ceremony and a black-tie dinner are also planned.

Boyd and others said it's all part of what will be a yearlong celebration of the Deltas.

The sorority has already begun a 22-city tour of the Delta Torch, which Boyd said symbolizes the passion and commitment of Delta's global reach. The torch was lit in Los Angeles and will reach places such as Dallas, Charlotte, New York, Tokyo, Bermuda, and Washington, D.C., some of the homes of Delta's more than 1,000 chapters. A re-enactment of the March 1913 Women's Suffrage March is also planned for March 3 and the Delta's 51st national convention is set in D.C. for July 11-17.

"We must make sure that we keep moving forward," said Soror Ella McNair, 62, a graduate of North Carolina A&T University. "Our commitment is to empower women and what has made me most proud is our advocacy work for equality and civil rights."