A long-awaited tribute to the legacy of the pioneering African American Greek-letter fraternities and sororities on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus has formally been unveiled.
On Friday, Oct. 6, as part of Homecoming Week, a grand opening ceremony was held to introduce UTC Divine Nine Heritage Park, a monument and destination spot to educate the campus on the origins, history and purpose of the National Panhellenic Council’s “Divine Nine.”
“Divine Nine” refers to the nine historically African American fraternities and sororities in the U.S.; eight have chapters at UTC.
UTC Divine Nine Heritage Park is located at the on-campus intersection of Vine Street and Terrell Owens Way, adjacent to the University Center. The plaza includes pedestals with plaques commemorating the nine NPHC organizations, cast-in-place benches and a stone veneer.
Due to inclement weather, the opening ceremony was held inside the University Center’s Chattanooga Room, which overlooks the plaza.
Christopher Stokes, assistant director of multicultural affairs and the UTC NPHC advisor, served as master of ceremonies.
“Today is very, very special to me as an alum of this institution and a member of the Divine Nine Council here—as well as the NPHC advisor,” said Stokes, who received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from UTC and is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. “This has been an opportunity for us to see a dream come true for many people for decades to come.”
Other speakers included UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle, UTC NPHC President Amaria Spencer and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Alumni Affairs Jeff Cogburn.
“It’s hard to imagine a better fit for the site we have, which is so prominent on this campus—and really reflective of the role that the Divine Nine have played here,” Angle said.
“This is such an important event to mark. It’s part of the heritage of UTC and higher education, and we appreciate what all of you have done.”
Spencer is a senior education major from Memphis and a Zeta Phi Beta sorority member.
“As our alumni and community leaders, a part of NPHC, we hope that you look at this park as a reminder of your investment in the University and, most importantly, us students of the Divine Nine,” Spencer told the audience. “We hope you view this park as a new space for us to come together and celebrate the legacy of those who came before us.
“This park will serve as a symbol to visitors of the rich heritage of leaders, scholars and innovators that proudly represent the organizations of the NPHC.”
Stokes paid homage to some of the leaders in University annals, including Dr. Horace Traylor, Dr. Littleton Mason, Vanasia Parks, Dr. Richard Brown and his own boss, Associate Dean of Students Tara Mathis—the director of the Multicultural Center.
He also took time to single out former UTC Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Yancy Freeman, now the chancellor of UT Martin.
“Dr. Yancy Freeman Sr.,” Stokes said, “was one of the trailblazers and initiators for this project we’re celebrating today. Without him and a lot of the work that he was able to do, we would not be standing here having this celebration.
“Although he’s in Martin, he’s still a part of UTC and we celebrate him for that.”
Freeman, holder of three degrees from UTC and an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member, spearheaded the campaign to bring UTC Divine Nine Heritage Park to life.
“The UTC Divine Nine Heritage Park is a lasting symbol of more than 50 years of service, leadership and scholarship from our National Panhellenic Council organizations,” Freeman wrote in an email.
In August, Freeman joined UT Martin as its 12th chief executive officer after spending 25 years at UTC.
“This park reflects UTC’s commitment to students and their success,” he continued. “As a UTC alum, I am proud to have played a role in honoring a legacy of engagement and leadership from these groups. Congratulations on a huge community effort to open this space.”
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In 1971, just two years after UTC was formed through a merger of the University of Chattanooga and Chattanooga City College and affiliation of the resulting institution with the UT system, five historically African-American fraternities and sororities arrived at the University to promote civil rights, diversify the campus and establish chapters at UTC.
The Omega Psi Phi fraternity was the first of the “Divine Nine” to make its way to UTC, with the local Eta Beta chapter founded on Feb. 27, 1971. Three weeks later, on March 20, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s Zeta Kappa chapter was founded on campus.
Two sororities quickly followed: Delta Sigma Theta (Theta Rho chapter founded on May 22) and Zeta Phi Beta (Lambda Delta chapter founded on June 16). During the fall, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity arrived with the Eta Phi chapter’s establishment on Nov. 11.
In addition to those five Greek organizations, three other NPHC members arrived on the UTC campus in the 1980s: Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity (1982), Phi Beta Sigma fraternity (1983) and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority (1984).
The ninth NPHC member, Iota Phi Theta fraternity, was founded in 1963 at Morgan State University in Maryland.
“Our organizations began in the early 1900s, but Chattanooga has had an NPHC formal presence since 1925,” Stokes said, “and we’re about to celebrate 100 years of NPHC in this city.
“So this monument, this park out here doesn’t just speak to the founders. It doesn’t just speak to the charter members. It speaks to a long legacy of investments in this community. If it was not for those in 1925, we would not have had a 1971 to be able to have our college chapters here.”
UTC Divine Nine Heritage Park photo gallery by Angela Foster