Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hand Signs (Gestures) Used By Historically Black Greek Lettered Fraternities & Sororities (quotes and video examples)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides quotes about hand signs (gestures) that are used by members of historically Black Greek lettered organizations (BGLOs) and showcases BGLO videos that include hand signs.

This post also includes information about BGLO calls because of the close connection between historically Black Greek lettered organizations' calls and hand signs.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in this post and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

This post serves as a companion to a two part pancocojams series on historically Black Greek lettered organizations calls. Click for Part I of that series. The link for Part II (videos of BGLO roll calls) is included in that post.

The comment section below includes links to two blog posts/articles about the use of hand signs among PWI (predominately White [Greek lettered] Institutions). The 2015 article announced a ban on the publication on social media of photographs for members of Kappa Kappa Gamma if those photographs included hand signs. Most of the published comments with that article were critical of that decision. For the folkloric record, in this post's comment section, I've quoted a small portion of that article as well as several comments.

Although I've not quoted any of the comments in that linked six page blog post, some commenters in that discussion noted that hand signs are not only the norm among historically Black Greek lettered organizations, but are also the norm among Latino/a, Asian, and multi-cultural university based Greek lettered organizations.

These quotes are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.

Quote #1
This is an excerpt from the pancocojams post on BGLO calls whose link is given above:
From NPHC National Membership Intake Guide: A Statement About Calls & Hand Signs By National Pan-Hellenic Council
"Hand signs and calls have evolved into another historical facet of Black fraternal organization life. According to Kimbrough (2003), the concept of calls is embedded in both African and African-American tradition. These sounds were a form of yodeling known as whooping in the Congo and Angola tribes. Additionally, these audible sounds, also known as cries and arhoolies, could he heard being sung by slaves. It is not clear when calls were first used, however, it seems possible that calls used by NPHC organizations became prevalent during the mid-1970’s.

Much like calls, the exact origin of hand signs cannot be pinpointed. According to Kimbrough (2003), pictures from college campuses of Black fraternities and sororities indicate that hand signs became a part of the Black fraternal experience during the 1970’s. Although it is not clear how calls and hand signs evolved, these traditions are long standing.

These universal symbols can be seen as exclusive outward expressions of pride and of strong organizational identification."
Added August 29. 2016
"I'm a very inactive member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (Gamma Zeta chapter, New Jersey, 1967). During the brief time in 1967 that I was active with that sorority, I definitely recall hearing and performing that organization's signature call "Skee Weee". I also definitely remember seeing and doing the organization's secret handshake. I know how to do AKA's hand sign, but I'm not sure that I remember seeing or doing an AKA hand sign before I voluntarily became inactive (which, for various reasons was shortly after I "went over" - i.e. officially became a member of that organization)."
I should also note that the handshake and hand sign both feature the pinky finger.

Quote #2
From [Google Books]
Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 2003) By Walter M. Kimbrough

[page] 122
..."Calls are audible sounds made by members as a means to signify or acknowledge membership in a particular organizations, or to acknowledge or “call” a member who might be in range where they could hear the call and respond. Instead of yelling the person’s name, the fraternity brother or sorority sister would use the call to get the person’s attention. These actions are also steeped in African and African American traditions. Alternately named whoops, hollers, cries, and artwhoolies, they were a form of yodeling employed in the Congo and Angola among tribes (whooping), or sung by slaves (cries and artwhoolies). Call was also the name of the practice of black vendors who peddled and advertised their products.

Being verbal customs, it is difficult to determine when or why they appeared. Discussions with older members of the organizations yield varying responses as to when calls were first used. In a dissertation, Marcella McCoy explores some customs of Black Greek-lettered organizations. The topic of calls was raised through interviews with persons initiated throughout a period of 1941 to 1994. Some of the subjects said they heard calls as early as the late 1960s, but there was a great deal of inconsistency. One of the ways used to determine the origins was to look for these phrases written in student publications. At Alabama State in 1981, the phrase “OO OOP” was viewed on a T-shirt of Delta Sigma Theta members on the campus. Three years later at Alabama A&M, the phrase “SKEE-WEE” appeared. It is probable that these calls were mid-1970s inventions, but a much more detailed analysis of this aspect of Black fraternalism is needed and warranted.

[page 123 is not available online}

[page] 124

[quote begins on page 123 and appears to be a description of a photo]

[Virginia?] “Beach in the early 1980s showed a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority holding their sorority hand sign, characterized by holding out the pinky finger. Even though a seventies invention, within a decade, hand signs became ubiquitous. Since that time, practically all undergraduates pose for pictures while using their respective hand signs."

Quote #3
eview: Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities

Posted on April 26, 2014 by ancherise Standard
..."I’m sure African American students attending predominently Black colleges as well as predominantly white colleges have seen the Black Greek-Letter Organizations around their campuses repping their organization dressed in jackets with Greek letters, line names, colors, and numbers, as well as these organizations “throwing up” their traditional hand signs, and shouting out calls while stepping during parties. This book thoroughly explains the transformation of Black Greek-Letter Organizations and the history behind what these organizations have become in our culture today. It talks about the evolution of hazing and pledging, distinguishing the two. As I’ve stated in previous posts, people have different processes. It just all depends on the chapter and organization. This book highlights that. It brings some terms to pass that you might have heard around your campuses (paper, skaters, nupes, ques, wood, etc.). It also explains and attempts to date the history of stepping, and why these organizations throw up hand signs and shout out calls."

Quote #4
Google Books: African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision (University Press of Kentucky, Mar 11, 2005) edited by Tamara Brown
[page] 297
"What is a Call?
Calls, along with organizational colors, commonly serve as introductory features to BGLOs. Calls are vocal utterances, either words or sounds, coined for use of the respective organizations...Calls can be diverse in pitch and sound, ranging from a howl or a bark to a screech or whistle. It is understood that nonmembers do not use the call, because it is viewed as offensive and disrespectful toward the organization that coined it. The call is used to acknowledge and greet another member who is some distance away, to avoid yelling that person’s name. It is used to get the attention of another member and as a form of affirmation and approval in place of applause when members of various BGLOs are present. Common usage involves one member initiating the call and the member or members being addressed replying with the same call or another responding call....

Hand signals are used to accompany or substitute for the call in many situations. It is not uncommon for members to form the symbol of the group with their hands while posing for a photograph, especially if they are not wearing paraphernalia. The same exclusive rules of ownership that applies to calls applies to the use of hand signals."

These videos are given in chronological order based on the founding date of these nine historically Black Greek lettered organizations. Note that I chose to feature a combined video of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc because that video extensively featured members of those two organizations throwing hand signs.

These videos are given without any viewer comments or any editorial comment (by me) except to note that it appears that all of these organizations have more than one signature hand sign.

Many of these videos showcase fraternity and/or sorority strolling because hand signs are often performed while doing that performance art. I tried to chose videos that were less than 10 minutes and which didn't include background music that contained any profanity or what is commonly known as "the n word". Please suggest additional links to YouTube videos that showcase hand signs as long as they meet those criteria.

Video #1: Alphas & AKAs Stroll

Charles Sueing, Published on Nov 3, 2011

Morehouse/Spelman Homecoming 2011
This video showcases members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. hand signs can be best seen around 2:09 of this video.

Video #2: The Lambda Iota Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Presents "AcademiK Probation"

Lowdown Nupes Published on Aug 19, 2016

August 27th, 2016 | University of Tennessee - Chattanooga | Kappa Alphha Psi | UTC Nupes | @lowdownnupes

Video #3: Omega Psi Phi Talented 10th District Hop and Cadillac Hop

Mr. Party Promoter, Published on Jun 13, 2016

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. Talented 10th District Hop and What they Live for "Cadillacs" Hop

Video #4: 2014 UMD Block Show: Delta Sigma Theta

Shegaw MekonenPublished on May 8, 2014

The sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc's Kappa Phi chapter perform at the University of Maryland College Park Block Show

Video #5: Phi Beta Sigma WINS 2017 Atlanta Greek Picnic Stroll off (Official Video )#AGP2017 #DewXAgp

Atlanta Greek Picnic Published on Jun 26, 2017

The men of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc WIN the 2017 Atlanta Greek Picnic Stroll off. Saturday June 24th, Morris Brown College. Sponsored by Mountain Dew.

Video #6: Zeta Phi Beta, Tuskegee Stroll Off 2016

Kelli Lacy Published on Aug 31, 2016

Theta Beta Chapter!!! Stroll of Tuskegee Universtiy

Video #7: Sigma Gamma Rho Mu Xi Spring 2016 Probate Jacksonville State University #MovieMic Promos

MovieMIC, Published on Mar 15, 2016

#MovieMic my Alma Mater The Jacksonville State University

Video #8: Iota Phi Theta, Alpha Tau - Howard 2016 Step Show

Kaelan Laurence, Published on Oct 25, 2016
This video replaces another video of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. that was originally embedded but is no longer available.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Based on my reading several articles and blog posts about the use of hand signs in PWIs* (predominately White institutions i.e. fraternities and sororities), it appears that that custom dates from around 2006 but is quite common particularly among sorority members posing for group photographs.

    Note that hand signs are documented as being used by historically Black Greek lettered organizations around the 1970s.

    Also note that all of articles/blog posts that I found all referred to PWI women's organizations. I don't know if hand signs are used by historically White Greek lettered fraternities [to clarify, I'm referring here to male only organizations- since some PWI female organizations also refer to themselves as "fraternities"].

    *"PWI" is an abbreviation that I saw used on several relatively recent [the last two years or so] BGLO blog posts. It doesn't appear to be used by those organizations that are referred to by that abbreviation.

  2. Here's a link to a six page 2006 Greek chat discussion thread about the use of hand signs among pwi (predominately White [Greek lettered institutions), and particularly those sororities: "Hand signs"

    Based on their comments, most of the commenters in that discussion
    were members of PWIs, but a few commenters were members of BGLOS.

    The second commenter to that discussion simply wrote that "hand signs were gang signs". That comment was ignored until a commenter who appears to have been from a BGLO challenged it later in that discussion.

    Here's a link to an article with numerous comments about the decision to ban online photographs of members of Kappa Kappa Gamma if those photographs show members of that organization "throwing hand signs": "Throwing Without Knowing"
    By Kelly Matyas Magyarics, Pittsburgh, Fraternity Public Relations Chairman [Kappa Kappa Gamma]
    Posted by Blog Admin at 01/06/2015

    The Administrator of that organization stated that the organization made that decision because hand signs could be and were being interpreted as gang signs or White power signs.

    Most of the commenters vehemently disagreed with this decision to ban the publication on social media of photographs that include hand signs. For the folkloric record, I'll quote a portion of this article and a few of these comments in my next comment to this pancocojams post.

    1. Here are some excerpts from the article that I referred to above "Throwing Without Knowing" By Kelly Matyas Magyarics, Pittsburgh, Fraternity Public Relations Chairman [Kappa Kappa Gamma]
      Posted by Blog Admin at 01/06/2015

      For sure, Kappa Kappa Gamma is not the only women’s group whose members have adopted an unofficial hand sign; a quick Google search will return photos and articles with many NPC groups “throwing what they know.” We are positive that all of these photos are meant to highlight unity, friendship and sisterhood, and the pride that members feel to belong to the membership of Kappa Kappa Gamma. But as we know, social media is not just about intention— it’s also about interpretation.


      Did you ever stop to think that the photos with hand signs that members of our Fraternity take, post and repost—which are meant to show Kappa pride—could be misconstrued as a symbol of white supremacy? Or that the very concept of a hand sign may be associated by the general public as not a symbol of membership in a Greek organization, but in an organization that uses violent and intimidating tactics? Again, we always need to be mindful of interpretation, not just intention, when posting online or to social media sites."...

      Selected comments:
      "Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate your concern. The hand sign, unlike official Fraternity symbols, is something that has become popular in the past five years, and something about which Fraternity Council has had concerns for several years. As it is not an official hand sign or symbol of our Fraternity, we feel that it is not necessary to use it in order to show our unity and sisterhood. It is our ritual and our official symbols, the owl, the golden key and the fleur-de-lis, that are a better representation of the women we are and the women we strive to be. We want to share photos of our members showcasing our founders' ideals, and demonstrating what it truly means to be a member of our organization. We encourage you to share photos with us that reflect your personality, and help us share the greatness of our sisterhood."
      Posted by: BlogAdmin ( Email ) at 1/12/2015 2:26 PM

      "Thank you for writing about this trend. I've been bothered by it for some time. I'm not sure it is too far removed from a culturally insensitive theme for a social. If anyone is interested in how this is perceived by people outside of our own organizations, simply Google "White girls flashing gang signs" or "White girls throwing gang signs."
      Posted by: Andrea G Stanfield ( Email ) at 1/12/2015 12:04 PM


      It saddens me that many people associate "greek women" with "white girls" and use the terms interchangeably. I am sure this was not intended to be offensive but I hope that you will review your comments and understand why that could be hurtful to hundreds of members of our fraternity. I also did google the phrases you mentioned and nothing whatsoever about greek life popped up.

      My personal thoughts are that a hand sign does not define my sisterhood and I do not need to "throw what I know" to feel continuity within Kappa. However, I do know some members that do find their continuity in this symbol and they love the connection it brings them with other chapters. I think not posting the sign on social media is a decision to made by the fraternity and I understand the reasoning behind the decision. I just hope the fraternity weighed the loss of some continuity within chapters in the decision making process. If the fraternity felt the possibility of negative interpretations by the public outweighed the possibility of a loss of some continuity within chapters, then I have to respect the decision."
      Posted by: Annie ( Email ) at 1/12/2015 2:31 PM

    2. Here are some additional comments from that same "Throwing Without Knowing" article:

      "Annie - You are absolutely right that the use of "white girls" is problematic; however, that's how the people who find fault with this practice and those who ridicule it describe it. You may not have seen Greek organizations in your Google search because Google filters our searches based on our location and past searches. I work on a college campus and when I searched while on campus, I saw more than one picture with a sorority name in it.

      And while I think making efforts to foster sisterhood is important, that doesn't mean that every behavior is an appropriate way to do that. That's why we have rules about hazing.

      I think when we consider what is hurtful, we need to look at ourselves as well as those around us. Kelly's post states that some have misinterpreted these as symbols of the KKK. Certainly the implications of that are worth considering when we consider how to use our symbols and letters appropriately.

      This is not the first time our fraternity has gone against current trends, and I'm sure it won't be the last. It's one of the things that makes me proud to be a Kappa."
      Posted by: Andrea G Stanfield ( Email ) at 1/12/2015 3:56 PM

      "This is absolutely ridiculous. I think Kappa has bigger problems to worry about and solve at the moment, for example our Standards Policies and Procedures need to be updated and headquarters need to care more about their initiated members when they have concerns about their own chapter. "Throwing what you know" is not harmful. That's practically saying that wearing our colors and letters associates with being a "gang."
      Posted by: Raelyn ( Email ) at 1/12/2015 11:09 PM

      "I, as an active member of Kappa at the Beta Chi chapter am extremely appalled that this is being brought up. Is there a sensitive group who is bothered by the issue? Obviously we're not a white supremacy group, or the hand sign would've been disbanded years ago when this was more prevalent of an issue in society! It's called freedom of speech. And you cannot enforce something like this. Just because some people may not like the hand sign, they can choose not to do it, but why does their opinion have to bog down the rest of us? If you don't like it, don't do it. It's as simple as that, but our hand sign is heritage and a pride representation of Kappa in photographs. Besides, if we were the only sorority that didn't have a hand sign, we would probably look pretty foolish in the vast majority. Up until this was brought up, I have never even heard a faint whisper about this linking to white supremacy groups. FREEDOM OF SPEECH. VIVA LA KAPPA :)"
      Posted by: Makenna Lawson ( Email ) at 1/13/2015 2:27 AM

      "Thank you Kappa Kappa Gamma for making a statement on this issue and, hopefully, beginning the demise of the use of hand signs among NPC groups. As someone mentioned previously, while this does not preclude members sharing the sign on their own, it reinforces a better standard for KKG at the national level.

      I hope other NPC groups follow suit and this trend ends as quickly as it began."

      "I was reminded of this horror today, two years after the initial post. It's still just as irritating and terrible today as it was two years ago to feel like an organization that you gave so much time, effort, money, love, Sisterhood.... still has no idea what its members want. This isn't the first time, the second time, or even the 10th time, that this organization has acted with impunity. Disappointing to say the least."
      Posted by: Jordan B ( Email ) at 1/12/2017 7:33 AM

  3. I wonder why there appears to be little or no mention of freemasons' and other secret organizations' use of hand signs and grips by those who state that they are against the use of hand signs by predominately White university based Greek lettered fraternities and sororities.

    Instead of referring to freemasons-which clearly were a very large influence on historically White Greek lettered fraternities and sororities and on historically Black Greek lettered fraternities and sororities, people who oppose the use of hand signs by historically White university based sororities (and fraternities?) usually refer to the supposed similarities between those hand signs and hand signs used by gangs and White supremacy organizations.

    A number of articles and YouTube videos about masonic hand signs, and grips (hand shakes) can be found online, including this article:".