In 1956, Martin Luther King was given the Alpha Award of Honor for “Christian leadership in the cause of first class citizenship for all mankind” at the 50th-anniversary convention of Alpha Phi Alpha (Papers 3:339). King called the event one of the happiest moments of his life and said that the award gave him “renewed courage to continue in the great and momentous struggle for justice” (King, 21 August 1956).
Founded in 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Alpha Phi Alpha was the first fraternity created by African American students. Operating under the guiding principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character, and the uplifting of humanity, the fraternity counts Thurgood Marshall, W. E. B. Du Bois, and King among its notable members. King joined the Boston Sigma chapter of Alpha in June 1952, while a student at Boston University. Fraternity brothers supported King during the Montgomery bus boycott, sitting behind him at his trial and donating money to the Montgomery Improvement Association.
During the civil rights movement King spoke at Alpha chapters throughout the country, and members continued to financially support his campaigns. In 1984 Alpha Phi Alpha initiated a campaign for a Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed congressional legislation authorizing the memorial, which broke ground in November 2006.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Membership Certificate for Martin Luther King, Jr., 22 June 1952, in Papers 2:155a.
King, “The Birth of a New Age,” Address Delivered on 11 August 1956 at the Fiftieth Anniversary of Alpha Phi Alpha in Buffalo, 1956, in Papers 3:339–346.
King to James E. Huger, 21 August 1956, MLKP-MBU.
Frank L. Stanley to King, 22 March 1956, in Papers 3:201–202.