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Deltas Retrace Footsteps of Group's Founders

Stacy M. Brown | 3/6/2013, 11:46 a.m.

The frigid temperatures sweeping through the nation's capital did little to dampen the excitement created by thousands of members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, who marched several thousand strong from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument.

The 100-year-old organization and the largest African-American Greek-lettered sorority in the world, retraced the steps of its 22 founders Sunday as they marked the centennial of the Women's Suffrage March.

"Two months after our founders received their papers to become a chartered organization at Howard University, they participated in the suffrage for women's right to vote even before African Americans had the right to vote," said Gwendolyn Boyd, one of the sorority's past presidents.

"It was part of the vision of the organization itself. They were about change and they wanted to make a difference in their lifetime because they knew the march was something they had to be a part of. They didn't know where it would lead, but they were hoping women would get the right to vote and eventually African Americans would get the right to vote," Boyd said.

Joined by several other groups and organizations, including members of the National Congress of Black Women, the National Women's History Museum, the National Organization for Women, and the League of Women Voters, the Deltas filled the West lawn of the U.S. Capitol with an estimated 20,000 who donned the sorority's colors which included its signature crimson and cream.

The crowd estimate, which was provided by Delta officials, was approximately 12,000 more than those who attended the original march in 1913. That gathering attracted a reported 8,000 people just one day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson.

It took seven years following the original march for the 19th Amendment to pass, legislation that gave women the right to vote.

Rallies took place before and after the march, similar to what occurred in 1913.

"I'm 51-years-old and it's my hope that I live to see a woman become the president of the United States," said Linda Brown, a Delta chapter member who hails from Baltimore, Md. "I also want to see more laws enacted to protect women [against violent acts]."

Prior to the march, leaders of the Deltas and others, fired-up the crowd with a litany of speeches that challenged them to continue to fight for women's rights.

"We still need justice to roll down like an endless river and righteousness like a never failing stream," said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the sorority's national chaplain.

"We still must speak up even now while the Supreme Court considers voting rights again and a statue of Rosa Parks is being enshrined on Capitol Hill," said McKenzie, the granddaughter of one of the sorority's founders, Vashti Turley Murphy.

Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers swarmed the area as Cathy Lanier, the District's first female chief, addressed the crowd. She stomped the streets and braved the cold with the Deltas during the historic march.

Lanier spoke of her personal struggles as a single mother with a 9th grade education trying to raise an 8-year-old child.