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Racism and Frat Culture

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DeVotie

Many (most? all?) white fraternities are white supremacist institutions. It’s not just the frat at the University of Oklahoma. And that white supremacist history goes back to their foundation. Robert Cohen breaks this down at History News Network, specifically connecting it to fraternities during the Civil Rights Movement.

The only difference between the racist chants in 2015 and 1961 that I can discern is that the fraternities today seem more inclined to do their chanting in private. At Oklahoma this semester the chant came in what started out as a private fraternity setting (a bus apparently transporting fraternity members from some fraternity-related event). The privacy was, of course, violated by the leaking of the tape of the chant, but clearly the chant was not designed for public consumption. The Georgia chant, on the other hand, was made in public, at a segregationist rally at the campus historic archway entrance in January 1961 at the height of the university’s integration crisis. Some 150-200 Georgia students had just hung a black faced effigy of Hamilton Holmes, who along with Charlayne Hunter, had in January 1961 become the first African American student to attend the historically segregated University of Georgia. The white students first “serenaded the effigy with choruses of Dixie and then sang “There’ll never be a nigger in the ________ fraternity house,” whose various names they inserted. Clearly, UGA students in 1961, operating in a historically segregated university and a segregated college town (Athens, Georgia) did not feel the pressure their 21st century fraternity counterparts do – at racially integrated campuses – to keep their racist displays to themselves. But if the venue was different the racist sentiment and mode of expression were virtually identical.

I mentioned the whole OU incident on Twitter. Historian Kevin Kruse (whose book on housing and white flight in Atlanta is must reading for all of you) tweeted this back at me:

Who is this Devotie? That is Sigma Alpha Epilson founder Noble Leslie DeVotie. It should be noted that the frat’s homepage proudly states that of its 376 members that fought in the Civil War, 369 fought for the Confederacy. Again, the white supremacist institution goes back a long time. Anyway, DeVotie, pictured above. He actually was the first person to die in the Civil War. From his Wikipedia page:

He drowned on February 12, 1861, while on duty as chaplain of the Alabama troops. He was 23 at the time of his death. As he was about to board a steamer at Fort Morgan, Alabama, he made a misstep and fell into the water. Three days later his body was washed ashore. He was the first man to lose his life in the Civil War. Even though the Civil War did not begin until April 12, 1861, Alabama had seceded from the Union in January, hence the reason for his being the first casualty.

These are the principles and the kind of competent leader this prominent organization was founded upon.

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