Friday, November 29, 2013

Military Influences On Fraternity & Sorority Steppin

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised August 7, 2016]

This is Part I of a two part series on the influence of the United States military on historically Black Greek lettered fraternity & sorority steppin. Video clips are added throughout this post to illustrate the points that are made in the excerpts.

Click for Part II of this series. In that post I speculate about the possible relationship between the military referent "devil dogs" and the "Que dog" referent for persons associated with Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

UPDATE August 12, 2016

Click for an expanded excerpt from the 2005 book African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision by Tamara L Brown, ‎Gregory Parks, ‎Clarenda M. Phillips, et. al. as well as an except from a Phi Beta Sigma fraternity website.

By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive presentation of information on the subject of the influence of the United States military on fraternity & sorority steppin. For instance, this post only features videos of two historically Black Greek lettered organizations: Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Furthermore, the huge influence of military cadences on fraternity step chants and vice versa isn't discussed in these posts.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

(These excerpts are presented in no particular order and are numbered for reference purposes.)

Excerpt #1
From African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision edited by Tamara Brown
Google Books, p 327-329
"The military has played a large part in the formation and continuation of BGLO chants and steps. One might even say that the performance behaviors of both the military and BGLOs exist in a type of symbiotic relationship.... As a result of blacks entering the military before, during, and after attending college, one find BGLO behavior in the military, and military behavior in BGLO system.

The brothers of Omega Psi Phi with their paramilitary garb, trace stepping back to the military influence of the 1900s. Ex-soldiers attending college would incorporate marches and drills into their BGLO performance…Shannon Rawls of Kappa Alpha Psi elaborated: “Members of black organizations, brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi...who went to the military for World War II in the late ’30s and early ‘40s would come back home and incorporate some of the same cadence and military style back into....the stepping style, or into the dancing style that they did.”

Stepping during that early period was called lining, descriptive of the formation in which soldiers march. Some Omegas and other BGKO members still refer to stepping as marching on account of this early military influence.

This military behavior is further observed in the clothing, stance, and marching of BGLO members. Part of the basic working military wardrobe consists of camouflage pants, or fatigues, and combat boots. These garments, though found in all fraternities, are especially prevalent in brothers of Omega Psi Phi..."
"BGLO" = Black Greek letter[ed] Organizations

Excerpt #2
From Soulstepping: African American Step Shows by Elizabeth C. Fine (University of Illinois Press (2007, pp 56-57)
"Perhaps the most striking nonverbal facial expression that reveals the lowly, liminal status of pledges is what students throughout the country refer to as “the grit”.

Appearing to grit their teeth, pledges performing in their first steep show, called a “probate” or “neophyte” show, frequently affect a stoic demeanor as they stand in line with fellow pledges, their lower lips often thrust out...When questioned, examined, and sometimes taunted or criticized by members of the society they want to join, they strive to keep their cool and show respect by staring straight ahead without moving or showing any emotion. The stance closely resembles that required by the military when new recruits stand stiffly at attention under review by their superiors. It is possible that returning Black G.I.’ brought the grit to campuses when they joined fraternities after World War I and the Korean War. The compulsory ROTC participation requited by Howard and other land grant universities may also have contributed a military influence to stepping....

In addition to ROTC and the influence of returned service men and women, military influences were perhaps from a tradition of the mock military reviews that were held among slaves. During “Training Day” performances, slaves “lampooned white military practices”. “Burlesque" military-style parades flourished in the 1830s from New England to Georgia and later became a standard feature of minstrel shows and other forms of entertainment. Many African American benevolent and secret mutual aid societies enjoyed elaborate public parades and encouraged youth to participate in drill teams….Vecause of their emphasis on piety and respectability, the black schools established by northern missionaries after the Civil War refused to allow students to dance. Some, however, “permit[ed] them to ‘march’ on social occasions, E. Franklin Frazier notes.”

Excerpt #4
The history of Stepping according to the Temple of Blue [Phi Beta Sigma] SOURCES:
Brother Terrence A.B. Lewis
Brother Ahab El'Askeni
..."Other elements of stepping formed after the return of brothers from World War II. Various elements of military marching and line formations were implemented into fraternities with the end of the war and the advent of peace time. This, along with the founders influence, are some of the origins for the use of the cane by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. in many regions. To this day the military influence as well as Masonic influences can still be seen in the step process as well as the pledge process of most Black Greek Lettered Organizations. It is through these and many other factors that stepping began to become an intimate part of Black Greek Lettered Organizations...

For Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, in many regions, canes were used due, in part, to the influence of the founders, but for the most part by the military drill sergants who were members. In the late 40's and early 50's, for the purpose of identification, many black drill sergants carried canes. These canes allowed other black soldiers to identify with their rank, which was neccessary on many bases where racism was prevalent. Of course there were some drill sergants that were members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. as well as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and it is possible that these were some of the influences for using canes as a part of the step process."

Comment (added on August 5, 2016)
Here's a comment from the discussion thread of the video given below as Video #3:
George m, 2013
"These POGES need to stop barking, they STOLE that Bulldog bark from us the Marine Corps, they are NOT a TRUE brotherhood WE ARE! throw a grenade in the middle of that crowd and see if a q dog belly flops on top of it, I THINK NOT! The Marine Corps have been doing that WAR BARK a lot longer than you have, THATS WHY WE ARE DEVIL DOGS!!!! You guys are Pathetic, do something constructive instead of Hazing and popping each other in the Ass which is what you guys do seeing as you are a Greek club."

Video #1: Omega Psi Phi 2013 Atlanta Greek Picnic Hop team @atlgreekpicnic

Atlanta Greek Picnic Published on Jun 10, 2013

2013 Atlanta Greek Picnic Omega Psi Phi Hop team/ Stroll Off ||
Follow us

The video that was initially showcased is no longer available.

Notice these men's army fatigue pants.

Video #2: NCCU Homecoming 2012 Step Show- Phi Beta Sigma

NCCULife, Published on Nov 9, 2012

This video is uncut, raw footage filmed by NCCU students. Congratulations to the men of Phi Beta Sigma on their 1st place win for the second year in a row!

Video #3: Omega Psi Phi Que Doggs


mrchangeurlife, Uploaded on Jul 18, 2008

Gamma Sig Ques Settin' It Out 75th Conclave 2008
Note the Step master standing on the side of the step team, similarly to how the Drill Sergeant stands to the side of his unit.

Video #4
Phi Beta Sigma WINS 2013 Atlanta Greek Picnic $10,000 step show @Atlgreekpicnic

Atlanta Greek Picnic·Published on Jun 10, 2013

Phi Beta Sigma WINS 2013 Atlanta Greek Picnic $10,000 step show

OTHER RELATED LINKS This is Part I of a three part series about cane (kane) twirling by historically Black fraternities & sororities. Part I provides some historical information about that subject.

** This post shows the similarities between steppin and the camel walk performed by Prince Hall Shriners

** This post shows a movie version of Black military cadence marching.

Also, click for a pancocojams post on branding and "mean mugging".

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post, to those who are featured in these videos and to the publishers of these videos. Thanks also to all members past and present of historically Black Greek lettered organizations.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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