In the Beginning…

“The Birth of Phi Eta Psi Fraternity”

 

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By the end of 1959, Willie Buck had touched the heights of fame in
Flint, Michigan. Back in those days, when “urban legends” were built primarily by word-of-mouth, Willie’s feats on the unpaved tracks of the City’s South Side, firmly fixed his name in the hearts and minds of folks all across the City of Flint. Young, handsome, and charismatic, Willie was widely celebrated as the fastest junior high track star in the history of the City. At the fresh age of fifteen, Willie Buck had already reached the rank of “local legend.”

Even on the North Side of Flint, as James Humphrey was forming a firm reputation for stirring up passions, with a “fresh” point-of-view, somebody was almost always putting Willie Buck’s name into the mix. It was customary, in neighborhoods all across the City, for residents of the North and South sides to be aptly referred to as the others’ arch rivals. However, as expected of men that innately believe in lasting legacies for vital heroes, there were never negative words uttered about Willie Buck!

Willie was as serene as he was heroic, however. His calm demeanor matched the mood of a man at rest behind a noble shield that guarded his more private and sacred thoughts. At any time, only God and Willie knew the faint images lingering in the gray silence of Willie’s mind. During an unprotected moment, however, he hinted of a moving dream - a dream more powerful than his mild conduct could put across. Humphrey argued later, “Words in the mind stir and direct the energy within us to move the material world.”

Now, Humphrey wasn’t known as a star athlete like Willie Buck. But, it was widely rumored that Humphrey could “catch and hold” anybody’s attention! James Humphrey was celebrated as a confrontational talker. As it was with Moses, and his brother Aaron, visionaries may find it fitting for a voice more vigorous than their own to reveal a dream. Like fabric cut to fit, Willie Buck and James Humphrey were destined to come together.

As for the truth of that destiny, after graduating from their respective junior high schools, Willie entered Flint Central High, on the South Side; and Humphrey registered at Flint Northern High. But, as vision unveils the promise of form, a world of destiny follows. To some people, both vision and destiny, as do all things, flow from God. In this light, on entering his junior year of high school, Willie was transferred to Flint Northern High!

Finally, early in their junior year, the “legend” met the “talker.” On their first meeting, the two young men fused together in a forceful friendship that would last for a lifetime.

The camaraderie between Willie Buck and James Humphrey crossed beyond the realm of chaos where envy and mistrust break up the friendship bonds between ordinary men. Beginning at Flint Northern, “Buck” and “Hump,” became like “for real” brothers, continuing Northern’s “golden era” of championship sports; and good times.

Since the mid 1940’s, Flint Northern High had reigned as the undisputed “king” of high school sports, in the State of Michigan. Moving into the 1960’s, Northern’s winning tradition of state championships in football, track, and wrestling continued, making its sports program the most successful in the history of the state. It was in this sports rich environment - at the seat of a winning tradition - that Willie Buck began blazing an even greater trail! Willie, from the “rival” South Side of Flint, would soon become captain of the Flint Northern High football team, and captain of the Flint Northern High track team. Beaming high in the sky above the City, Willie Buck’s flame was still burning bright!

Until their friendship, Flint had rarely seen Black men, from different sides of the City, come together like these two! They were “brothers” cut from the same cloth! The strong fiber of friendship linking this “dynamic duo” together would soon be sewing together an ever expanding tapestry. Shortly, it would be consisting of three. After their graduation, Buck and Hump enrolled, together, at Flint Community Jr. College (FCJC). At FCJC, they linked up with another celebrated South Side brother, Rondy Harris!

“Harris” was one of less than a handful of brothers across the entire city considered as “cool.” He was often seen cruising along the streets of the City in a sweet, “baby blue,” convertible, Chevy Nova. Soon, it would be said about this trio, “If you only see one, just wait a minute! It won’t be long before you’ll see all three, back together again!”

This trio wasn’t held hostage by old conventions either. They resided in a wider world - one that was broadened by their thirst for adventure; a healthy appreciation for education; and a hearty appetite for first-class fun!

Tied by a thick thread of respect, self-love and tenacity, “Buck,” “Hump,” and “Harris,” as they were called, would soon embark upon an even greater “spirit of brotherhood.” Seen only by the light from the burning flame shining across the gray silence keeping hope alive in their coming together, these three young men, generational “soul brothers,” would soon bring into the world a new vision, giving birth to a “silent dream.”

Amply supplied, madness ruled the day. Flint, like the nation, was separated by more than mere concrete boundaries. It was divided by hatred, envy, and widespread mistrust. Even Buck’s coaches at Northern, which was predominately a white school at the time, were rumored to have hidden his college scholarship offers away from him. The practice of closing doors to opportunities for Blacks was common among institutions of all kinds, during this period of time. “Jim Crow” was the law of the day. These were insane laws; laws that were foolishly designed to be devastating to Blacks.

The insanity of laws establishing and sustaining segregation, lay in their routine use in shaping and supporting economic, political, and social norms. These standards were the “blueprints” for the erection of the institutional structures that governed the daily affairs of all Americans. But, these institutions, envisioned by the sickly minds of the majority, stifled the potential of willing and able Blacks to proudly build an even better nation. However, increasingly, the bells of freedom were ringing! A new hope filled the air.

A burgeoning awakening was taking shape in Black communities all across the country. Roars for “self-love,” and “equality of opportunity” through self empowerment, were rising from the ringing voices and rapier pens of a people fed up with the one-sided “point-of-view” of racism. Blacks also suffered the debilitating effects of racism caused by disunity among them. The ill effects of that disunity were manifested in the development of internal violence, mistrust, and an overall lack of a viable economic base. Reaping the benefits of a wealthy nation, built by the unpaid hands of a proud people, was a promise yet touched by time.

Buck, Hump, and Harris saw racism as it was, a crippling disease - chronic insanity! They saw no benefit in constantly complaining about someone else’s sickness. However, inoculating oneself against the effects of the disease was necessary.

The trio saw hope in the new vaccine of “self-love and empowerment” in songs like James Brown’s, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and, “Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself.” Just as moving was Curtis Mayfield’s “Keep on Pushing.” Also, throughout the 1960’s, James Baldwin, transferring “his faith…to literature,” wrote at length on the cutting impact of racism. He also centered on another dispossessed group. Their classification, like his own was, “Black and gay.”

The seeds of change were taking root all around. The “promise” of hope was spreading. By a viral mix of self-love, unity, and respect, “wicked chains” would soon be broken! New chains, however, that linked together the best of a proud people needed to be forged. 1965 had arrived!

On a mellow night late in the month of March, as Buck was cruising up Hamilton Street, with Harris sitting up front, Buck casually turned to Hump, and he said only four words, “Let’s start a fraternity.”

Before Hump could speak, which was surprising, Harris quickly turned to him and said, “Hump, you can organize it!”

In truth, Hump had never organized anything before, except long sentences. But, he was a business major, and Buck and Harris knew that he owned a record shop on the corner of Hamilton Street and Industrial Ave. However, Hump’s mother, Pearlie Mae, had turned the business over to him only after his sister had run the record shop for about two years. Organizing a fraternity would be a big challenge, at any rate! Cries for “Black power” didn’t seem to fit anything that was “Greek.” But, that little hitch didn’t bother Hump. Buck and Harris were with him. He knew their coming together would make it work! “Brothers,” doing something big together! Hump gladly agreed to organize the fraternity.

But, the first order of business in organizing it would be in finding a suitable site to meet. Of course, the record shop! That seemed simple enough to Hump, it was like, or as if, somebody had already thought it through!


It was
Monday, April 5, 1965. After Buck wished his mother “Happy Birthday,” Buck, Hump, and Harris met at the record shop on Hamilton Street, and formed the structure for the new fraternity. It was agreed, of course, that Buck would serve as president of the fraternity, with Hump as vice-president, and Harris as the treasurer. Hump was given the task of finding ways of funding the new fraternity, and Buck would establish its name, and its colors. Harris was to open a bank account with money they contributed that day. Buck closed the meeting, and said they would convene again as a fraternity, Thursday, April 15, 1965.

On Thursday, April 15, 1965, Willie Buck opened the fraternity meeting. The first order of business was to give the fraternity a noble designation. Buck said that the name of the fraternity should be Phi Eta Psi. He stated that the reason he chose this name centered on the idea of time without end - perpetuity. They would recognize each other as, “Philosophers of the Eternal Soul.” They, and those to follow, were brothers of the soul, “forever.”


 

By acclamation, among the trio of three, the new fraternity would be, “Phi Eta Psi.” The next order of business was “colors.” Buck put forward that the colors for the fraternity should be “green and gold.” He said the colors represented attentiveness toward control of land and money, the best means of perpetual wealth. By acclamation among the three, the colors for Phi Eta Phi would be, “green and gold.” Buck’s dream had been fulfilled. Phi Eta Psi Fraternity was now, “for real.”


 

Buck then handed the “baton” to Hump. The fraternity needed to be recognized by Flint Community Junior College. The “talker” gladly undertook the task. He would ask for what had never been done before. Hump asked FCJC to hold open the door, to the best fraternity under the sky - a Black fraternity - the proud and majestic men of Phi Eta Psi!


 

The initial statement of the philosophical and fraternal ideals of Phi Eta Psi Fraternity was prepared by Willie Buck, James Humphrey, and Rondy Harris. The trio would soon expand to include, Leon Lucas, Ronald Thompson, Jerome Davis (Jihad Hassan Sharif), Lincoln Murphy, and Eugene Tolbert. These were the Founding Fathers of Phi Eta Psi Fraternity. The Founding Fathers would soon be joined by Alvin Clark, John Summers, Jimmy Smith, and Wilbert Woods. This unique group of young men also represented the best of Flint. They were the “Original Brothers” of Phi Eta Psi Fraternity. The expansion had begun. The path towards perpetuity would soon be paved. “Philosophers of the Eternal Soul” was how they started together. Yet, it was only the beginning.


 

Later in 1965, Phi Eta Psi Fraternity crossed its first pledge line. The “baton” was then passed to Gerald Smith, Al Collins, Ron Hawkins, Michael Petross, Darnell Cole, Vance Truss, Preston Strozier, Robert Marve, Robert Seay, and Joseph Wright. Collectively, they were called, “The First and Ten.” The historic attribute of this line wasn’t in the fact that they were the first to pledge and cross into Phi Eta Psi brotherhood. But, because, it was a member of this first line, Brother Gerald Smith, “The Imperial Wizard,” that developed the first fraternity “coat-of-arms,” and developed the first “secret hand shake,” and, was the first to utter the word that is now the name of endearment among Phi Eta Psi members, “IMP.”


 

Phi Eta Psi continued to grow, pick up momentum and gain in popularity. Today, the presence and influence of Phi Eta Psi Fraternity, Inc. stretches across the nation and literally around the world. The vision and ambition of those special young men we revere as our Eternal Founding Fathers is alive still today and continues to motivate, influence and inspire the brothers of this sacred fraternal brotherhood.

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