K-State will be the host to a national event for one of the nation’s oldest historically black fraternities next month.
The Charles I. Brown Historical Symposium, on Aug. 18 and 19, will draw members of Phi Beta Sigma to K-State, said Pat Patton, a research specialist in Hale Library. Patton said she has been researching members of the fraternity for the past decade.
Kevin Christian, a Phi Beta Sigma member to attend the event, said 12 to 15 members will attend, and among them will be key brothers who have a vested interest in the history of the fraternity.
K-State was home to the fraternity’s Delta Chapter, which started in 1914 but ended in the early 1930s after the Great Depression forced many members out of school. It was the first chapter of the fraternity to start at a mixed-race university west of the Mississippi River, Patton said.
The chapter’s house still stands at 1020 Colorado St. in Manhattan.
“When I listen to the stories that these men of Delta Chapter endured and how their lives and careers were shaped, it just goes to show me, that you can overcome obstacles, odds, and persevere, if you believe,” he said. “It is obvious that they believed, and in doing so, paved the way for countless men to become members of this great organization.”
The fraternity is considering several universities to be its repository of the papers and records of its members, Patton said. She said K-State is one of the schools likely to be chosen.
“Howard is a likely site. K-State is a likely site, and a few others are also likely,” said Gerald Smith, former national executive director of PBS.
Smith said he will be giving a presentation at the event focusing on the history of the fraternity. He said the goal of PBS was not to turn its members into leaders as other fraternities did, but something different.
“They did not intend us to be leaders,” Smith said. “They intended us to be public servants.” He said that now, with eight years until the fraternity turns 100, is the time for the fraternity to consider its past and decide if it is going in the right direction.
The symposium is named for Charles Ignatius Brown, one of three men who founded the fraternity at Howard University in 1914. After graduating that year, he moved to Kansas and worked as a teacher in Topeka and founded the Delta fraternity chapter at K-State in 1917.
Smith said he doesn’t have any proof, but believes Brown was a part of the family involved in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that ruled segregation as unconstitutional.
After that, he seemingly disappeared. Patton said she and other researchers have gone through countless records looking for mention of Brown, but nothing definitive has surfaced. She said she’d heard many stories as to what happened from living fraternity members, but never found anything concrete.
“Different members would call and had heard that he’d been murdered,” Patton said.
The fraternity is back at K-State, she said, but doesn’t have a chapter house. None of Phi Beta Sigma members could be reached at press time.