"Society offered us narrowly circumscribed opportunity and no security. Out of our need, our Fraternity brought social purpose and social action."
Jewel Henry Arthur Callis, 1969
With the opening of the 1970-1971 school year, eight aspiring youths attending Dartmouth College in the mountains of New Hampshire embarked on a journey. Similar to Cornell in 1906, Dartmouth College in the 1970's was an all male, predominately white institution that provided little unification and self-assurance for young men of color. Rising above the lack of voice and identity for African-American men on campus, eight visionary youths set out to establish our own unified voice by bringing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated to campus. Although two early aspirants were lost, the remaining aspirants, joined by one special addition, did not stop until they achieved just this.
Faith and the understanding of what bringing the first intercollegiate historically black Greek Letter organization onto campus inspired our early group of aspiring Sphinxmen. A Dartmouth graduate student, Anderson "A.J." Lonian, was introduced to the Light of Alpha by his natural brother Robert Lonian, a Brother of the Sigma Chapter in Boston, Massachusetts. Bro. Anderson, who grew to become the Theta Zeta Chapter Precursor, than began conversations with other undergraduate perspective members studying at Dartmouth College. Although mainstream campus fraternities and social organizations existed for black men; Alpha Phi Alpha, and later other black letter organizations, could and would bring a unified presence, pride, self-assurance, awareness, and an independent Black identity to Dartmouth's campus. In the spring of 1971, the regional and national offices of Alpha Phi Alpha granted permission for the implementation of a pledge program. Similar to Cornell in 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha turned the presence of the Black male on Dartmouth's campus from "I" to "We".
Will power drove our charter Brothers to Boston almost every weekend to have their pledge program carried out by the Brothers of Sigma Chapter. The seven diligent aspirants who formed Theta Zeta chapter's Charter Line are Paul Edwards, Johnie Tillman, A.J. Lonian, twin brothers Ron Smith and Don Smith, Doc Blanchard, and Ben Bridges. Their process continued throughout the fall, but in the winter of 1972, the Charter Line, named the Seven Branches of Ebony, "Black, Strong, and United" were initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. The dedication and unmatched perseverance of the Seven Branches of Ebony allowed for the Theta Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha to be chartered as the 381st chapter of Alpha on May 12, 1972. The first of a strong presence of historically Black Greek-letter organizations on Dartmouth's campus, would this initial line of Alphamen grow to be.
Able to expand on their accomplishment, our founding line of seven Brothers did not rest on their laurels. The Seven Branches of Ebony sought to permanently sediment the presence of Alpha on the campus of Dartmouth College. To do this they would have to establish Theta Zeta in its own right, not just as a branch of Sigma Chapter in Boston. In the spring of 1973, twelve strong brothers known as Ujoma, or "Family", bolstered the ranks of our fledgling chapter. Throughout the 1970's, the Theta Zeta Chapter continued to grow with six additional lines, expanding the chapter to sixty-nine total Brothers. With hard work and dedication, our early fraternity brothers began a legacy. The fraternity became a force on the campus first working against racial ignorance and promoting black culture on a predominantly white campus. The work was not without resistance from some mainstream Greek organizations as the different character and traditions of Alpha Phi Alpha were met with criticism across campus. Beyond the many meetings regarding the proceedings of the Chapter and fellowship in the Choates and Cutter/Shabazz Hall, the Brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity established the ideals upon which the Chapter they would hew.
Out of the 1970's came the exuberance of the 1980's, in which Theta Zeta continued expanding our presence on campus. With the assistance of Alumni Brother Jerry Nunnally, the Chapter demonstrated the need for a fraternity house through the positive influences we made in the minority community at Dartmouth during our ten years of existence. The first Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity house was secured on Dartmouth's campus in 1982. This decade also gave birth to the annual Bro. Martin Luther King, Jr. Candle Light Vigil at Dartmouth College which has grown and still thrives today. This diligence brought recognition to the chapter as Theta Zeta earned Eastern Region Chapter of the Year, College Brother of the Year (Albert Dotson '82), and Alumni Brother of the Year (Jerry Nunnally). Twelve additional lines, with fifty four new brothers, were initiated into the chapter during this decade. It was also during this era when the portals of Theta Zeta were opened beyond African Americans to Brothers outside of the African Diaspora. The Spring of 1986 ushered in the Brothers of "Spectrum", who entered the chapter as a multicultural/racial mix of Brothers. Theta Zeta Chapter, established and well-developed, grew at a constant rate until the late 1980's when membership began to dwindle and the Chapter moved from the original house on 42 College Street to 1 Occum Ridge at the end of Fraternity Row. Still the only Alpha Phi Alpha chapter in New Hampshire, Theta Zeta remained well known across New England, isolated and alone on top of the mountain.
Of all of the eras, the Brothers of the 1990's, were hit with tremendous adversity as new trends in minority enrollment saw shrinking numbers of black men enrolling at Dartmouth College. Combined with hardships in the national and local theater, our chapter could not continue to sustain large intakes and membership suffered. As a Chapter, we made a conscious decision not to compromise membership standards but as a result we were unable to maintain our large fraternity house. In the fall of 1992 Theta Zeta moved to its current residence of 203 Channing Cox. Although the membership had to bend, we were certainly not broken. Fourteen strong lines came through during the 1990's and even though the chapter was smaller, it was by no means less potent. The thirty-three men over this ten-year period worked as diligently as ever, maintaining the legacy and ideals of the fraternity on campus. Theta Zeta evolved using programming, and campus positions to enhance our presence over that of a physical house. Proving ourselves to be a mature chapter, we reacted to adversity in positive ways refusing to be lost in hard times and despair.
A testament to the strength of our chapter is how well we have evolved all the while maintaining true to the ideals of our fraternity. The Brothers of the late 1990's passed the scrolls of knowledge to the current youth of the chapter. Under the guidance of those that have come before them, the energetic college brothers and young alumni of today have propelled the chapter to new heights. Always marching onward and upward, this dynamic group holds major leadership positions in various arenas. Many programs that began in previous decades are still thriving today. The annual Black Men's Roundtable Dinner from the late 1990's, graciously sponsored and attended by Nelson Armstrong 71', gives itself to serious discussion and a chance for young men on campus to acclimate with one another. Our traditional cultural dance, better known as the Step Show, is continuously featured in the yearbook and has expanded to become the largest student run program on campus. Despite the trials and tribulations of Greek Life at Dartmouth, Theta Zeta remains strong and our presence on campus remains solid as stone.
Of the cozy confines at 203 Channing Cox in the River Apartment Complex, dynamic Theta Zeta brothers continue to operate in all facets of campus life. We have had over 190 Brothers cross the burning sands, and our ranks include a myriad of professions from academics, corporate executives, doctors, dentists, lawyers, artists, writers, bankers, professional athletes, politicians, military personnel, to retired gentlemen of leisure. Our undergraduate chapter continues to hold strong positions of leadership across campus and its demographic has included not only African and African-American Brothers, but Latino, Native American, Asian and even Caucasian Brothers. Across both undergraduate and alumni ranks, the Theta Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha has long stood at the forefront of the fight for equality and advancement on campus and in the surrounding community. Our Chapter remains the School for the Better-Making of Men, returning our talented youth to our community as men of leadership, pride, character, and hope.