After a five-month delay, Loretta Lynch made history last week. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general, the first African American woman ever to hold this Cabinet position. Her long-stalled nomination sometimes seemed in doubt, held hostage to partisan jockeying between Democrats and Republicans. But one political bloc never gave up, relentlessly rallying its support behind Lynch: the black sorority.
During her initial hearing, the seats behind Lynch were filled with more than two dozen of her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters arrayed in crimson-and-cream blazers and blouses, ensuring their visibility on the national stage. These Delta women—U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge and Joyce Beatty among them—were there to lend moral support and show the committee that they meant business. The Deltas were not alone. The Lynch nomination also drew support from congressional representatives from other black sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha members Terri Sewell and Sheila Jackson Lee took to the House floor to advocate for a vote while Sigma Gamma Rho members Corinne Brown and Robin Kelly and Zeta Phi Beta member Donna Edwards used social media and press conferences to campaign on Lynch’s behalf.
For Lynch, who co-founded the Delta chapter at Harvard University, the political support of the sorority sisters was not necessarily a surprise. But for those less familiar with the political activism of black sororities, their appearance at the Lynch hearing offered an unexpected crash course in the political influence of the black sisterhood.
Black sororities are not social auxiliaries of polite society, but are focused organizations with very specific civic and political goals. As elected officials from both parties are quickly finding out, these sorority-member activists are part of a growing power bloc of black women in the modern political landscape. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular has learned twice in the last few weeks, the black sisterhood will show up at your office and respectfully request that you take action on their requests without delay.
Outside of black communities, the sorority’s political influence, social action initiatives, and economic development often go unnoticed. Likewise on college campuses—particularly those that lie outside of the network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities—the general student body is largely unaware of the extent of black sororities’ work in communities and their contributions to expansive national programs in areas like education, health, and promotion of strong families.
Yet the reality is that black sororities are—and have been—hard at work on a political agenda that seeks to improve the American experience of blacks and women across the country. And unlike most other sororities, membership in a black sorority is not simply a college phase, but a lifelong commitment. Alumnae comprise 75 percent of the active membership of these groups. Black sororities do not confine their concerns to college campuses. And their fight for Lynch’s confirmation only represents the surface of over a century’s worth of work.
In order to understand the broader context of sorority politics, it’s worth taking time to look back at how these organizations developed, and to look forward to the new forms of political sisterhood that are emerging today.
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