On Beale St., near what used to be the Bumpus Beale Avenue Grocery, is a historical marker that served as the destination of a march from the DoubleTree Hotel on Union Ave. in Downtown Memphis last Saturday (June 11). The good-spirited marchers shared a fraternal bond with the man the marker honored, Abram Langston Taylor.
A century ago – January 9th, 1914 – at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Taylor became the principal founder of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., along with Leonard F. Morse and Charles I. Brown. Four years earlier, he had conceived the idea at the grocery while talking to a recent Howard graduate about Greek letter fraternities.
That story was briefly recounted as the early Saturday morning marchers respectfully assembled for a wreath-laying ceremony. Theodore J. Lewis Jr. helped put things in context. He's the Southwestern Region Director, Tau Iota Sigma ~ Memphis Alumni Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
"Many organizations have come before us, but none will do it or have done it like us," said Lewis. "Right now in Phi Beta Sigma there is a large energy going on. You have more brothers than we have ever had financially (supporting us). ... We see a lot of brothers who want to renew that kindred ship they had."
Memphis, said Lewis, is really the birthplace of the fraternity, recounting Taylor's story.
"It took four years (from 1910) for it to come to the making, but when you are trying to do something right, some times it takes a little time. ... Now we are coming back home. You don't normally see that many people up at 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning."
James H. Bailey, the local chapter president, filled in the context for the wreath laying.
"Built on the principles of brotherhood, scholarship and service, this organization took an inclusive perspective to serving the community as opposed to having an exclusive purpose," he said, also noting what he called the fraternities unique constitutional bond with the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.
Soon after, the wreath was placed at the base of the marker as camera fingers snapped away in the chilly morning air.
Donna R. Williams, Tennessee Director of Zeta Phi Beta, represented her sorors, dubbing the gathering a "Sigma-sational Celebration."
"If the founders...were here, they also would be proud of you for upholding the legacy of truly exemplifying the ideals of brotherhood, scholarship and service. Reaching a centennial is a great milestone, the march must continue," she said.
"March on in building healthier communities. March on in building boys into young men...March on in helping young men receive their education by providing scholarships. March on by educating citizens through your Project Vote program. ...As you march on, we, your sisters of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority will be right there with you."
That afternoon, there was a Phi Beta Sigma/Zeta Phi Beta Joint Founders Day Program at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church at 918 Looney Ave. in North Memphis.