November 14, 2016 in 1950s-1960s
Continuation of Townsend’s eMemoir – see past posts by clicking the previous title below or see the full listing on the project page.
Greek life at Fisk ruled, indeed! Early mornings and late evenings during pledge season, the campus was abuzz with fraternities getting prepared to “cross the burning sands and to make their appearances at the infamous Greek shows which included Fiskites and students from A & I or Tennessee State University, a public “Negro” college in Nashville in walking distance from Fisk. (Wilma Rudolph, famous Olympian previous polio victim, runner hailed from Tennessee State). Greek pictures of all of the sororities and fraternities, all artistically arranged, dominated the Oval.
Frat guys marched and chanted (they call it “stepping”) around various dorms every day. Each had its particular step as a team. The Omegas or Ques stepped to the mantra of “Dog Team, Woof” as they all undulated forward simultaneously. Then the caller would yell “Dog, Team,” again, and they would all uniformly undulate backward. Then they would all march forward to “Qu “or Omega Psi Phi repeatedly bellowed. The Kappas had words that included: “I want to be a Kappa.” “I’ve just got to be a Kappa.” “I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying, and” I’m inclined,” Just got to be a Kappa.” The Alphas had their own unique walk where they skipped and came down on a back heel.
The sororities stepped, also, but not as dramatically and memorably to me as the fraternities. At Fisk, during my time, the Deltas were held in the highest esteem, but at Tennessee State, then, the AKA’s held as the highest respect. That varied, again then as now, across the country depending upon the times and the campus. The Zetas have most consistently been held as the sorority with the highest GPA. Guys from both institutions and passers by all commented upon the Deltas as being a “fine” line. And the Sigma ratings have varied.
I attended one Tennessee State Greek Show the one year that I was there and was very impressed. Small sports cars were driven through the wide doors to be followed by the steppers of designated fraternities or sororities, some of whom were escorted by Great Danes, Afghan Hounds or bull dogs on either side by a particular fraternity. One group featured a beautifully carved sarcophagus occupied by a pledgee who arose slowly and gracefully to the music of a piccolo or flute to the roar of the crowd. Of course, his stepping group followed him with loud music and intricate steps. What a show! Nothing compared to that until my younger daughter’s graduation from Stanford University eons later with their famed “Wacky Walks” all over campus. There were other delicacies that I can no longer recall, but I continue to have the feeling and can emulated the steps to this day. All of these proceedings were a novelty to me, and I am fortunate enough to this day to have rounded out my college social life by attending Fisk University for one year. Kentucky black college students at that time and to my knowledge had never participated in such experiences, I am sure, as it was not until a few years later that their attempts at WKU to even establish those fraternities occurred. Perhaps college students, everywhere, should make exchange excursions to get a better-rounded view of how others thrive.
Meharry Medical School was located right across the street from Fisk. It was a lighthouse to female students whose families were trying to assure that their daughters would have a future life of esteem and comfort by marrying one of the institution’s students. Some were often involved in the party escapades of Tennessee State and Fisk Universities’ all day long parties on the weekend. I had heard about such parties whereby the window shades were drawn and the participants partied all day long! I am sure they had fun as I was never brave enough to attend one. Black medical students had arrived at UK by the time I returned and I dated one who pushed for an engagement, with jewelry I still have, but I don’t recall any such parties or even hearing about them.