This month, a White elementary student's blouse with the initials of a historically Black sorority caused a Nashville teacher to become well-known.
The sorority shirt broke the dress code at McGavock Elementary School "due to having written," a Metro Nashville Public Schools official told CNN. However, the representative emphasized that the shirt should not have been swapped for a school uniform polo without the consent of the wearer's parents.
The spokeswoman told CNN that "the school will follow the district's employee relations process and counsel the staff member on appropriate conduct in these regards."
Since then, the event has spurred discussion on social media about why the teacher reacted so strongly to the student wearing her sorority's letters and whether or not this kind of behavior is acceptable.
The teacher's actions were criticized by many members of the nine Black Greek-letter organizations, also referred to as the Divine Nine, although some members claimed to understand the teacher's reaction's intensity.
More than a century of history, commitment, and duty has made members passionately protective about who is authorized to represent a fraternity or sorority by wearing their letters, according to Lawrence Ross, author of "The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities," who spoke with CNN.
Ross, a member of Divine Nine fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., stated that he believes there is a difference between an adult who wears the letters knowing they are not members and a young girl who wears a shirt because she likes the signature pink and green colors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
He stated, "Those who think that (a shirt) is just a thing and doesn't really matter also don't really believe in or understand (Black Greek) fraternity and sorority life."
At the beginning of the 20th century, when racism and prejudice against Black Americans were rampant, many Divine Nine sororities and fraternities were established.
According to Ross, in the early 1900s, following graduation from religious schools and Freedmen's Schools, which were established to educate both adults and children following the abolition of slavery, African Americans started attending colleges in order to improve their educational and economic prospects.
He claimed that at the time, many White fraternities and sororities had discriminatory racial provisions in their bylaws that prohibited Black Americans and other persons of color from joining.
Black students, therefore, created their own fraternal organizations that were a reflection of their real-life experiences and culture.
The organizations that form the Divine Nine are:
- Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1906
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., founded in 1908
- Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1911
- Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1911
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1913
- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1914
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1920
- Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., founded in 1922
- Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1963
Throughout their history, membership in the Divine Nine organizations was not only about enhancing the collegiate experience but also uplifting the Black community.
Divine Nine founders and earliest members placed themselves at the forefront of critical issues in America, such as voting rights, racial justice, and equal education, Ross said.