Summary of the First District
The First District is one of the five original districts designated by the Fraternity in 1922. Over the nearly one hundred years of official existence, it has consisted primarily of the New England states. And though it comprises one of the smallest districts, its contributions to the foundation and development of Omega are significant. Its framework is the dense concentration of the great colleges and universities which have attracted men of the highest intellect in pursuit of their academic endeavors. Since the start of Omega, and when other regions either denied scholastic opportunities to her sons or opposed the establishment of such an organization of noble men, the Founders recognized the importance of raising and maintaining the standard of Omega in the New England states.
Founder Just had completed much of his coursework there, graduating from Kimball Union Academy and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, in addition to his time researching at Woods Hole. Founder Love also matriculated to the region first in 1913 to pursue his undergraduate studies at Boston University and again in 1916 for graduate school. Founder Love presided over the Fraternity during his second term as Grand Basileus from the epicenter of the area, and it is there he first executed the Charter of Incorporation for the Fraternity on October 21, 1914.
The Founders, along with those other pioneers of Omega, broad in their world views and desire to promote a spirit of sacrifice for a common good, set out by design to expand the Fraternity secured in the area later designated as the First District. As a territory, none other can boast within such narrow limits, a greater array of institutions which compare in collegiate standing, facilities, and tradition for the pursuit of higher education. It is for this reason, Omega remained alerted toward establishing and strengthening a position among the men of these schools and promoting its influence as a fraternal group in this region.
Previous attempts to expand proved sporadic and abortive, and Beta chapter came upon the request of its sponsors and not by design instituted by the Fraternity. After years of corresponding and other preliminary work, the authorization of Gamma in 1916 thus represented the first chapter to grow out of the desire of Omega to propagate the fraternity through methodical precision and sober judgement.
Unlike the first two chapters confined to their respective institutions, Gamma encompassed the entirety of the New England states as the first regional chapter. Covering a multitude of institutions, it served as the archetype for the First District. As if by pre-concerted plan, its initial members included Founder Love and members of both Alpha and Beta. The following year Raymond G. Robinson would transfer to the chapter while attending Harvard university, along with several other stalwart sons from the two elder chapters. Laboring under very adverse circumstances, these men, by their examples of real fraternal spirit, astute scholarship, and exalted manhood, succeeded in winning a place in the hearts of the people of New England and in bringing into the fold men who measured up to the Omega standards.
Grand Basileus Robinson, by writing, telegraphing, and personally visiting brethren who contemplated pursuing professional courses, induced many of them to pursue such studies at institutions throughout New England. As a result of his untiring efforts, Omega included members at Williams and Amherst in Western Massachusetts, Tufts, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in its hub of greater Boston, schools like Dartmouth and Bates in the northern states of Maine and New Hampshire, Brown University in Rhode Island, and at Yale in Connecticut. The planting of the flag of Omega at these institutions meant a permanent residence and influence in New England.
This assembly of men included national civic and cultural leaders like Reverend Garnett Russell Waller of the Niagara Movement, attorney Matthew Washington Bullock, who had found notoriety in the athletic arena, legal sector and the battlefields of France, and Roland Wiltse Hayes, the internationally renowned tenor. Their zeal and enthusiasm secured the annual meeting of the Grand Chapter in Boston. With a public meeting attended by over 10,000 people, addresses by Calvin Coolidge and Dean Pickens, performances by Roland Hayes, and a debate on the political direction of Black Americans by Col. Charles Young and Lt. Osceola McKiane, the event would forever change the manner of Omega’s conclaves, and stamp an indelible impression upon the hearts of the New England populace.
Their vigor and dogged determination to impress upon the New England a realization of racial achievement and solidarity continued through the successful drive for the study of Negro History and Literature. And with Omega firmly fortified throughout New England, intellectual giants like Jasper Alston Atkins continued to matriculate to the region. He would establish Chi as the second chapter on June 11, 1921 to serve the academic and most prominent professional men of Connecticut. The brethren elected Atkins Grand Basileus and George Ignatius Lythcott Keeper of Records and Seal, both serving from New England. Atkins who would officially establish New England as the First District and referred to it as the mother of the idea of economic development of the Fraternity because there derived the plan for a national headquarters.
Atkins would convene a committee composed of these scholarly men surrounding him in New England, directing them to produce something concrete that ensembles the glory of Negro intellect. And it is there that through the spirit of progress and posterity, they remodeled the essential classic rites of the Fraternity into hollowed treasure making a complete revision of the Ritual. As the First District continued to grow in influence throughout the regions, additional chapters joined its fold.
The brothers of Harvard University numbered sufficiently to obtain the charter of Eta chapter, initiating men of extreme measure like Robert Clifton Weaver. While Alpha Psi, known as the New England Phalanx, included a pantheon of brothers like William Montague Cobb, Mercer Cook, William Hastie, and Charles Drew. Eminent professional and civic leaders like Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, the first Black psychiatrist, and Dr. Alfred Pierpont Russell chartered Eta Phi as the first graduate chapter in the District. The youthful Founders’ luminous dream of an international organization actualized when Sigma chapter extended Omega’s reach to the halls of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. And for the years the brothers of Sigma chapter fellowshipped at Montreal, the First District counted them on its rolls.
Over the decades, the conclaves would return to Boston, the hub of the First District in 1950, and again in 1967, on the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Gamma chapter. The city would also host the leadership conference in 1993 and the centennial celebration of Gamma in 2016. The First District would produce several grand officers and national leaders with significant impact on both the Fraternity and in the broader community. Matthew Bullock would shepherd the fraternity through the Great Depression and revised the ritual; and Herbert Tucker instituted the Life Membership. However, the greatest contribution of the First District and the New England states is the men it has birthed and educated, who have gone out to charter new chapters and raise the banner of Omega and her principals across the nation.