"The Day Before"
September 18, 1963
The Story of The Day Before
Before emails, voicemail, texts, Instagrams, FaceTime, Snapchat, conference calls, speaker phones, three-way dialing, cell phones, smartphones, iPads, there were the simple rotary phones that adored kitchen walls, living rooms, bedrooms, and telephone booths across this nation. I always wonder in my mind about the day before something historic happened. What were the circumstances that move the historical event to culmination? This is what came to me in a dream recently. I think I will share it this morning with my fraternity brothers, friends, and blog social media family. I’m going to take my fraternity brothers of Iota Phi Theta back to a warm Wednesday, September evening in 1963. It was around 7:00 PM, on the 18th of September and the rotary phones of twelve young men, began spinning and yearning because a historic change in the black community was dawning whether these young men knew it or not.
Whenever you begin to create something it starts off with an embryonic, nurturing thought in someone’s mind. That thought is shared amongst friends and associates of the one who has the dream. The dream begins to evolve and then that dream becomes a concrete idea. That concrete idea becomes something that is more formalized because those thoughts are written on paper. Well, the dream of beginning a mature black man’s organization was nurtured on the Mall in Washington, DC. It was aligned with another young mature man’s dream of a better, more just society for black people in this nation.
Martin Luther King spoke of his dream on that August, Wednesday afternoon. It was a dream that realized an American society that black men and women would not be judged by the color of their skins but judged solely on the content of their character. King’s dream became the basis of another dream that was born that day. You see twelve black men wanted to create an organization of black men who wouldn’t be judged by color, nor by affiliations, but judging simply by its contributions to the black community, as well as its ability to develop other men as leaders in the struggle for black equality.
It didn’t have a name specifically at the time. The initial name was created to draw attention nothing else. It was a name that they hoped would excite other men to the dream. You see in order for this particular dream to become a reality. There had to be a sense of excitement, a sense of newness, a sense of difference, a feeling of belonging to similar causes. There were already black fraternities on the campus of Morgan State College at the time. There was even a newly formed social organization named Groove Phi Groove. Yet these twelve men were motivated by something different, some a little more powerful, powerful enough to shy them away from joining organizations that were already constructed. They needed to construct this nurturing dream that they all decided to venture to step out on faith and friendship to create.
So the telephone chain calls started that evening on those rotary phones Johnny Slade to Lonnie Spruill, Lonnie Spruill to Webster Lewis, Webster Lewis to Frank Coakley, Frank Coakley to Charles Gregory, Charles Gregory to Albert Hicks, Albert Hicks to Elias Dorsey, Elias Dorsey to Charlie Briscoe, Charlie Briscoe to Mike Williams, Mike Williams to Barron Willis, Barron Willis to Charlie Brown, and Charlie Brown to Louis Hudnell. The message was simple, succinct, and absolute, tomorrow, Thursday evening the stairs of Hurt Gymnasium at 5:55 PM. Why 5:55 PM, you ask? Each of these young men had all decided that this newly formed organization needed a 5-minute jump start towards greatness. Those 12 men with that nurturing dream that began on the Mall in Washington on a summer August afternoon. They spend the day with over 125,000 people who were united in the cause of seeking justice and the ability to stand as black men and black women straight, with absolutely no more bending or bowing. Alain Locke, spoke of “The New Negro” in 1925, these determined, bold, black men sought The Absolute Black man on September 18, 1963, the day before.
That magnificent idea that was once simply a passing thought caught on to the winds of change. The winds of change took that idea on a ride on the whirlwinds of possibilities, the whirlwinds of possibilities to that idea onto the waves of hope, the waves of hope took that idea now constructed and allowed its formation into the fifth largest black male fraternity in the nation. So that’s how I envisioned September 18, 1963. The day before the day that everything changed for so many of my Iota Phi Theta brothers many are still here, some passed on to fraternal glory. You see all of our black histories begins as an embryonic thought or idea that mushrooms into the imaginable dream. From that imaginable dream, a reality takes shape. That reality has the possibility to create change and hope for the many who buy into the vision. Tomorrow, the 19th of September Iota Phi Theta Fraternity celebrates its 54th anniversary of the founding meeting at 5:55 pm on the steps of Hurt Gymnasium. Let’s enjoy those circle of events that led to our organization’s creation and remember to never stop building on that initial nurturing vision of our twelve founders.