Friday, August 12, 2016

The Military Influences On Historically Black Fraternities & Sororities - Book Excerpt & Phi Beta Sigma Website Excerpt

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides an 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.

A shorter excerpt on this subject from this same book is found in this 2013 pancocojams post: That post also excerpts from other sources and also showcases four YouTube videos that demonstrate the military's influence on historically Black Greek letter fraternity steppin.

This post also includes an excerpt from a Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. website on the history of stepping.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Click to read another previous pancocojams post on this subject.

Also, click for a pancocojams post that showcases a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. who joined that fraternity in 1966 performing the attention command & stance and also performing a chant that is similar to the United State's military "Duckworth Chant" (also known as "Sound Off").

[by] Tamara L. Brown, ‎Gregory Parks, ‎Clarenda M. Phillips et. al

Pancocojams's editor's note:
This excerpt is from the chapter of this book entitled "Variegated Sources". It is presented "as is" with no omissions except for citation numbers and citation information.

Google Books -

[Page] 327
"U.S. Influences on Stepping
Although African traditions and early adaptations of African movements are the foundation of stepping history, the United States lent its own influence to the performance through military cadences and marches, the songs of white fraternities, black music forms, and a variety of pop cultural inspirations. The shared aspect of stepping is further observed through the inclusion of these phenomena. Through marching, organizations exhibit public solidarity; the use of music and pop culture shows that sororities and fraternities exists in the larger framework of U.S. culture and that stepping is an outward symbol of this inclusion.

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 exists in a kind of symbiotic relationship. Blacks have enlisted and continue to enlist in the armed forces. The military has always been a place where those without money or opportunity can provide support for their family and distinguish themselves. As a result of blacks entering the military before, during, and after attending college, one finds BGLO behavior in the military and military behavior in the BGLO system.

The brothers of Omega Psi Phi with their paramilitary garb, trace stepping back to the military influence of the early 1900s. Ex-soldiers attending college would incorporate marches and drills into their BGLO behaviors. During the grand conclave in 1996, a group of Omega men were interviewed regarding the early influence of the military on stepping. “A lot of

[Page] 328

the brothers who helped form this organization were members of the military ROTC programs back in college…If you ever see a line of marching down pledges, they march like a military line that you might see when….marines do their drills. It’s the same with a pledge line or brothers when we step.

Shannon Rawls of Kappa Alpha Psi elaborated: “Members of black organizations, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi…that went to the military for World War II back in the late 30s and early 40s would come back home and incorporate some of the same cadences and military style back into…the stepping style, or the dance style that they did...

Stepping during this early period was called lining, descriptive of the formation in which soldiers marched. Some Omegas and other BGLO 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 consist of camouflage pants, or fatigues, and combat boots. These garments, although found at all fraternities, are especially prevalent among men of Omega Psi Phi. The Omegas wear this attire as a means of paying homage to blacks who were on the front lines during military conflicts. Over the last decade, the wearing of fatigues by sororities has become popular, especially among the members of Delta Sigma Theta. By adopting the military look, the sorors convey that they are every bit as capable of “real” stepping as the fraternity brothers.

The position of “attention” and “at ease” are often found in BGLO step performances. When at attention, the steppers face forward with their feet placed together, their eyes directed slightly above the crowd, and their arms either at their sides or slightly parallel to the earth with both fists meeting in the middle of their chest. When given the call for at ease, the performers spread their feet shoulder length apart, clasp their hands behind their backs, and turn their heads first to the side, then forward to face the crowd. Between the various segments of the performance, the steppers stand at attention or at ease as a method of showing readiness. The precision marching of the military is also found in steps such as Alpha Phi Alpha’s “Parade”, in which steppers form a tight group, and using cadence, execute sharp turns and coordinated hand and arm movements that are paired with the calls of the step master.

Alpha brother Reginald Love III states, “When we step, it’s got cadence to it. I learned that being in the military, a lot of [fraternity] cadence is military related.”

Versions of the chants found in BGLOs are also found in military jodies, commonly known as cadences. It is unclear which came first, but this dual

[Page] 329

presence suggests a close relationship between the two organizations. For example, chants such as the Alphas’ “St. Peter” exists in both places with only minor changes. The military’s version of “St. Peter” is as follows:

When I get to heaven (repeat)
St. Peter gonna say
How’d you get to heaven?
How’d you earn your way?
And, I’ll reply,
With a little bit of anger,
I made my way blood, guts, sweat, and danger.
I live my live as an airborne ranger.

The Alpha version of that chant is identical except for the omission of the last line.”...

The history of Stepping according to the Temple of Blue
"The Genesis
...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.


Brother Terrence A.B. Lewis
Brother Ahab El'Askeni

The Evolution

Aspects of stepping within fraternities became prevalent when brothers returned from World War II. As more and more military men joined or chartered chapters they brought march elements into the pledge process. Of course many practices are based upon the Masonic influence as well as the African influence of the marching armies of antiquity such as the Warriars of Carthage, led by the military genius of Hannibal Ruler of Carthage ( 247-183 B.C. ), the Nubian warriors of the mighty King Piankhy of Nubia ( c. 720 B.C. ), as well as the Zulu Legion of the famed general Chaka, the Zulu Monarch ( c. 1786 - 1828 B.C. ).

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 sergeants who were members. In the late 40's and early 50's, for the purpose of identification, many black drill sergeants carried canes. These canes allowed other black soldiers to identify with their rank, which was necessary on many bases where racism was prevalent. Of course there were some drill sergeants 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."...

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