The roll call of brothers is splendid, overpowering: educator-author-political activist W. E. B. DuBois, civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., super athlete Jesse Owens, former senator Edward Brooke, comedian Dick Gregory, historian Rayford Logan. They are all sons of Alpha Phi Alpha, bonded in a 76-year-old black fraternity founded on the principles of equality, fraternity, racial uplift, honor and pride.
Mu Lambda, the Alpha Phi Alpha local chapter, hosted a special dinner Sunday night at Howard University's Blackburn Center to honor 51 fraternity brothers who have been members for 50 years or more. Concert singer Todd Duncan and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall couldn't attend, but more than 40 Alpha men, many in their 80s, were presented special "golden" certificates signifying their half-century of being Alpha men.
Mayor Marion Barry, one of the dinner speakers and himself an Alpha, declared: "Once you become an Alpha man, you become good and you become great."
During the reception, old roommates and former running buddies mingled and reminisced while several pictures were taken of the honored group.
"This is an historic occasion. We're honoring a group of men of national and international stature who have made great contributions to both the fraternity and the world community," said Mu Lambda president William Calbert as he walked among the busy buzzing of old friends.
"These men are giants," said Alpha member Sterling Tucker. "These men have made contributions in all fields of endeavor: the law, medicine, the social sciences--you name it. They deserve to be honored."
"That's my husband, there . . . there!" said a beaming Elizabeth Atkins, pointing in the direction of yet another group posed for a picture to single out her husband Norris for a reporter. "This is one of the few times I'm proud of being old," she said. Norris Atkins glowed for the camera. A graduate of the Howard University School of Dentistry, Atkins still works out of the same office at 14th and U streets NW that he opened more than 50 years ago.
Also honored as a 50-year Alpha member was educator and historian Charles Wesley. In 1929 Wesley, now 90, wrote "The History of Alpha Phi Alpha," a book that has gone through 13 printings as it has been revised and enlarged through the years.
The men reminisced about good times on campus, about the "young, pretty things" who had strolled the grounds. Reception chatter was light and amusing, but during the dinner speeches, the Alpha men, known for their involvement in social action programs, got down to business.
Veteran newsman Mal Goode got a standing ovation after giving a rousing, passionate speech denouncing the domestic policies of the Reagan administration. Goode, also an Alpha, ripped into "the element among us who think things are great because they have something to drink and a car in the garage."
"Those folks are under an illusion," he said, "because all of us are only six weeks away from welfare."
The crowd yipped and whooped as he labeled President Ronald Reagan a "Robin Hood in reverse" and referred to Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman as a "punk." But the 200 listeners quieted when Goode described his deliberate daily trips through the ghetto of any city in which he happens to be. "Wall-to-wall people, on the streets, with nothing to do and all hope gone," Goode shouted.
After the awarding of certificates, the Alpha chorus closed the affair with the singing of their fraternal hymn.