Curating an Oral History of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at The University of Texas || Part I

Delta Xi of Spring 1966: Camilla Jackson, Beverly Robinson, Karen Williams, Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin, Carolyn Cole, Ruth Franklin, Mary Gordon, Linda Lewis, Mary Poston, Shirley Tennyson, Barbara Ward, Debbera Williams.
Photo courtesy of Pamiel Johnson–Gaskin.

The honorable Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. was the first Black Greek-letter organization to be established at The University of Texas at Austin. Sworn in on May 16, 1959, at high noon in the Queen Anne Room, this particular group of women is dripping in legacy, poignant programs, community service, and rich history. As an archivist in training, with the unique opportunity to not only archive an oral history but curate it from scratch, I see it as my duty to extract the essence and diversity of these highly valuable experiences among the Delta Xi women. This blog series will contain three parts, one published each month during the summer of 2021.

A Brief History of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated was founded by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle of St. Louis, Missouri, at Howard University on January 15, 1908. Over time, the incorporation expanded to many higher learning institutions across the globe, growing to over 1,018 undergraduate and graduate chapters with the purpose of enriching the lives of Black women through service, networking, and social experiences. The incorporation promotes unity, friendship, and academic achievement among its members; it seeks to continue and provide opportunities for higher education through scholarship and donation. As the first Black Greek-letter organization to be established at the University of Texas, the brand-new members of the Delta Xi Chapter were serenaded by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at their swearing-in.

 

What Is Oral History? The Beginning Processes of Oral History Curation

Oral history-making is a method of conducting historical research to preserve the experiences, significant historical events, and stories of narrators, recorded by a well-informed interviewer with the purpose of making them accessible to future generations. Oral history not only helps us understand singular events in the past, but gives us a snapshot of any and all historical forces at play during a moment in time. Oral history gives us a first-person account of the memories and lives of individuals, groups, and organizations by capturing the essences and perspectives of those who are interviewed. It is a process of story-making that accepts the opinions, lessons learned, verified historical events, and viewpoints of the narrators while understanding they may challenge or support the stereotypical lifeways of people during the time period. Capturing little-known or vanishing ways of life is another task executed through the multi-faceted work of an oral historian. As an archivist-in-training and now an oral historian, I have been involved in the process of creating a blueprint for an oral recording of the first UT Black greek organization from scratch. I hope that this specific process of interviewing can be applied to future endeavors to preserve the Delta Xi history and possibly the oral histories of other Greek-letter organizations at The University of Texas at Austin.

 

June’s Honorable Members, Mentions, and Findings

Lareatha H. Clay is a prominent oral historian and Delta Xi member (among other accolades). She has created the Shankleville Community Oral History Collection, an archival collection focused on preserving the spoken histories of Shankleville, a historic freedom colony in Newton County, located in East Texas. Clay is currently working to organize the Aya Symposium taking place virtually on July 22, 2021. View the link to register below. 

 

Photographs featured in this post are courtesy of Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin, a Delta Xi sister and founding member of the Missouri City Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She serves on the Missouri City Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals and has also been a Board Member of the Houston League of Women Voters.

Photo courtesy of Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin.
Photo courtesy of Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin.

 

Looking Ahead

In an effort to be inclusive of the histories of Black women in higher education, my hope for this project is to shed light on the experiences of women like me in spaces of learning at a historically, and predominantly white institution. Stay tuned to this continuing blog series to learn more about the unprecedented, staggeringly successful, and valuable stories of the beautifully empathetic Delta Xi women. I look forward to updating you along the way.

 

Register for the Aya Symposium

View the Shankleville Collection

 

Briana Marie Davis is a recent graduate of The University of Texas with a B.A. in Anthropology and African American Studies. She is a problem-solving, creative, convivial individual who enjoys singing and playing piano in venues around Austin, Texas in her free time. She hopes to be of service to her community by uplifting groups that are marginalized through her research and artistic expression. 

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