First Row: Lester Braden, Louis A. G. Blanchet, Warren Llado, Rene J. Rousseve, Whitney Haydel, Clyde Reynolds, Numa Joseph Rousseve, Ferdinand Lucien Rousseve, Orlando Moss, Andrew J. Young, Charles Buggs, Rudolph Moses, Cleolus Blanchet, James Taylor.
Second Row: Clarence Clement Haydel, Theodore Wright, Walter Morial, Francis Hammond, Robert Pearson, Ralph Metcalfe, Harold Bouise, George B. Talbert, Peter Wellington Clark, Armand V. Boutte, Jr., Clarence T. Mason, Giles O. Wright, George Weber. Back Row: George Hamilton, Marshall Bennett, Jesse O. Richards, Percy Pennington Creuzot, Alexander Pierre Tureaud, Albert Bloom, E. V. Peppers, Charles Barthelemy Rousseve, James Brown, Osceola A. Blanchet, William E. Belton, Edward Maceo Coleman, William R. Adams, Herman A. Washington, Charles E. Burbridge.
Not Pictured: James Hall, Robert Sloane, Mahlon C. Rhaney, Floyd Baldwyn, Oscar A. Bouise, J. W. E. Bowen, J. Felton Brown, Ernest Cherrie, Frederick Hall, Walter King, Andrew E. McDonald, William H. Mitchell, Alfred Priestly, Ira B. Ross, Alvin J. Smith, Elmaurice Miller, Traverse Crawford.
The poet laureate of fraternalism, Edwin Markham, once wrote “The crest and crowning of all good, life’s final star is brotherhood.” Brotherhood and zeal were the watchwords of the week as the stout-hearted men of Alpha Phi Alpha gathered in convention at New Orleans from December 28th – 31st, 1937. While most were still enraptured by the greens and reds of the holiday season, it was all black and old gold for the members of Sigma Lambda and Beta Tau Chapters as they played hosts to several hundred of their brothers from around the nation. The site for all but one of the convention activities was then still-new Gothic campus of Xavier University of Louisiana. The convention’s concluding banquet was carried out in grand style on the likewise newly-erected campus of Dillard University.
The Sigma Lambda Chapter, an alumni chapter, was founded on December 5, 1925, making it the first black Greek-lettered organization in the state of Louisiana. At the time of the convention, the chapter was presided over by Ferdinand Lucien Rousseve, who also held the distinction of being the state’s first black registered architect. Beta Tau Chapter, an undergraduate chapter, was established on March 28, 1936 at Xavier University. The graduate and undergraduate members worked together in planning and executing four eventful days for their visiting brothers. The General Chairman of the convention was Dr. Percy Pennington Creuzot, a member of Sigma Lambda Chapter and popular dentist. A well-balanced budget was maintained and overseen by Whitney Haydel, an astute businessman who founded the Wylon line of products. Herman Washington was given charge of the menus and social affairs throughout the week while the scholarly attorney, Alexander P. Tureaud, was delegated to prepare the convention program. Arrangements for transportation and housing were handled by Harold A. Bouise and George B. Talbert, respectively.
The gathering was noted for being the first general convention held in the fraternity’s Southwestern Region. The columns of The Sphinx, the fraternity’s monthly magazine, observed with some degree of humor that number of collegiate faculty (including some eight college presidents) seemed to break the monopoly previously enjoyed at conventions by the attorneys. One of the fraternity’s founders or “Jewels,” architect Vertner Woodson Tandy, gave an impassioned and memorable address in which he encouraged the men to eschew fraternal politics and socializing to the exclusion of meaningful struggle: “We have got to do something for Negroes … Do something constructive so that your sons, your daughters and all who come behind them will be proud of you. We must fight until hell freezes over and then fight on the ice.” It was also during the 1936 Convention, that the first two Life Memberships in the organization were conferred. In addition to several business sessions, the men of the local chapters prepared a cabaret party, smoker, two dances, and a grand banquet for their visiting brothers. From the many jests and jabs found in the post-convention issue of The Sphinx, there is no doubt that as they say, “a good time was had by all.”
In keeping with the fraternity’s reputation of producing leaders, one can find in the representative group pictured above many of the “race men” who led the black community in New Orleans and helped to build bridges with the community at large during the era of segregation. The “firsts” and other accomplishments made by this group are far too numerous to mention. They are presented here as examples of those whose “manly deeds, scholarship, and love for all mankind” remain legendary in the Crescent City and beyond.
Sources: The Louisiana Weekly, 25 December 1938, 1-2; The Sphinx, October 1937, 20-23; The Sphinx, February 1938, 3-6, 14-16.