Iota Omega has existed for over 90 years and its history of service to all mankind is too infinite to grace the space a webpage provides. As a proud group of African-American women, we believe the reader should be privy to significant historical points that demonstrate the tenacity and, as our 41st President Tracy Jackson coins, the "IT" factor that Iota Omega has defined. Despite the racial and class odds of the "roaring twenties", members of Alpha Kappa Alpha made a way out of no way during this decade.
In 1922, the Black community in America defied the limitations of Jim Crow by creating the Harlem Renaissance which transformed Black cultural thought, and created Jazz, the only true American art form. When capable, men and women of African-descent were entering college or the military, becoming entrepreneurs, artisans and skilled personnel. But one important act in 1922 furthered the cause and perpetuity of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the first Black sorority for college-trained women.
In August of that year, three college-trained women of virtue, members Evelyn Lightner, Wanser Bagnall and Helen Lawrence met in the Dorcas Sunday School Classroom at the Historic First Baptist Church, 418 Bute Street in downtown Norfolk, to discuss the possibilities of chartering a chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. These sorority members were graduates of Howard University and had been initiated at Alpha Chapter. Their research found that there were less than ten members residing in Norfolk, Portsmouth or Newport News who had graduated from college. These three stalwart women developed the proposal for a Tidewater Chapter for presentation to the Boule, under the conditions that in the Fall of 1922, these members would come together from the three cities to forge formally ahead in creating the chapter.
Golden Member Doris Jones reminds us that "in the early 1920s, there were very few college educated women in the Tidewater area which consisted of Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach and Suffolk, especially college educated women who were women of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Most of these women were initiated at Howard, West Virginia State, Butler, University of Illinois, Wilberforce, Temple University; or initiated in city chapters of Chicago, Boston, Kansas City, St. Louis and Cleveland." The 1996 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of The Alpha Kappa Alpha Ivy Leaf and The Ivy, confirms this oral history. Miss Jones reminds us that "there were only about 8 graduate chapters in the United States by the time Iota Omega was chartered, which is why members traveled regionally to be a part of Iota Omega."
It was agreed that Evelyn Lightner would serve as secretary. She wrote the National President, Lorraine Richardson Greene requesting permission to organize the chapter. In November 1922, a meeting was called at the old Community Center on 887 E. Princess Anne Road. Ten ladies responded to the call. At this meeting Iota Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha of Tidewater was organized. The Iota Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha received its charter in December of 1922.
In 1922, Virginia was part of the South Atlantic Region. Iota Omega would be represented nationally through the leadership skills of member Evelyn Lightner, who served as the second Deputy Organizer of the East in 1924 (South Atlantic Regional Director). This beloved charter member would also serve as an Associate Editor of the Ivy Leaf, our official organ. Iota Omega would provide cultural and health programs to poor segments of the Black community and host the South Atlantic Regional Conference in 1938. That same year, Iota Omega Member Aline Black made history in the fall of 1938, by becoming the first person to file suit against the Norfolk School System for bias and unfair teacher salaries based upon race. The NAACP rallied behind Miss Black and won the case, but city of Norfolk would not re-hire Soror Black and terminated her contract after 12 years of service.
A landmark for Alpha Kappa Alpha and Iota Omega was the founding of Lambda Omega in the cities of Newport News and Hampton on January 13, 1934. Iota Omega charter members Madeline Clarke Foreman and K. Pauline Jonakins Johnson became charter members of Lambda Omega, along with ten other members. Foreman would serve as the first Vice President and Jonakins would serve as the first Treasurer. All thirteen members were members of Iota Omega and had taken the ferry ride across the Chesapeake Bay to serve Alpha Kappa Alpha. Madeline Foreman also attended the first meeting to establish a graduate chapter in Hampton in 1937.
Another milestone for Iota Omega in 1939 was the chartering of Gamma Delta Omega of Portsmouth, Virginia, Norfolk's sister city. Iota Omega charter member Carrie O. Russell and nine other members from Iota Omega would take the 5 cent ferry ride to Norfolk prior to establishing the Portsmouth chapter. These members extended the ivy vine of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Iota Omega supported and applauded this effort.
During the 1940s and 1950s, civil rights were inextricably tied to competent health care. Through the sorority's national program, Iota Omega provided forums, fundraisers and worked with the physicians and hospital staff at Norfolk Community Hospital, the Black hospital in segregated Norfolk, to elevate awareness of health care regimens. Sorority members would overnight letters to state congressmen and senators regarding civil service requirements which were often unreasonable for Black men, and urged the passing of an Anti-Lynching Bill. In 1953, Iota Omega was no longer a part of the South-Atlantic based upon a phenomenal growth spurt of sorority chapters. The Mid-Atlantic Region was created, consisting of Virginia and North Carolina.
The year 1961 was pivotal for Iota Omega, as the chapter led a local campaign to help 1,500 children of Prince Edward County, who were being denied education in the public schools due to segregation laws. All monies raised from the campaign were used to assist the Prince Edward Christian Association, who had established training centers for these children. The following year in 1962, Iota Omega helped charter Delta Epsilon on the campus of Norfolk State College (now Norfolk State University).
In 1975, Iota Omega chartered Kappa Gamma on Old Dominion University's campus. This decade produced the first Black woman to be appointed to the Norfolk School Board, Iota Omega member Vivian Carter Mason. In 1976, several Iota Omega members residing in neighboring Virginia Beach chartered Lambda Gamma Omega, again extending the ivy vine of our sorority.
Sorority members Odessa Baker and Hermione Jackson penned and added a melody respectively to our chapter song. In 1987, members Sarah Lang and Ruth Jarvis wrote a proposal to the Southside Boys and Girls Club for an afterschool program. The program provided activities from tutoring, field trips, dance classes, art classes, health and nutrition seminars, movies, math, and science workshops to computer classes. This program lasted for sixteen years. In 1996, the city of Norfolk became blessed to have two chapters of the sorority, when some Iota Omega sorors chartered Upsilon Omicron Omega chapter.
Iota Omega is the 9th graduate chapter formed in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and the 2nd oldest chapter in the Mid-Atlantic Region of Virginia and North Carolina. The "IT" factor, Iota Omega continues...