Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., January 9, 1914, by three young African-American male students. The Founders, Honorable A. Langston Taylor, Honorable Leonard F. Morse, and Honorable Charles I. Brown, wanted to organize a Greek letter fraternity that would truly exemplify the ideals of brotherhood, scholarship, and service.
The Founders deeply wished to create an organization that viewed itself as “a part of” the general community rather than “apart from” the general community. They believed that each potential member should be judged by his own merits, rather than his family background or affluence…without regard to race, nationality, skin tone or texture of hair. They desired for their fraternity to exist as part of an even greater brotherhood which would be devoted to the “inclusive we” rather than the “exclusive we”.
From its inception, the Founders also conceived Phi Beta Sigma as a mechanism to deliver services to the general community. Rather than gaining skills to be utilized exclusively for themselves and their immediate families, they held a deep conviction that they should return their newly acquired skills to the communities from which they had come. This deep conviction was mirrored in the Fraternity’s motto, “Culture For Service and Service For Humanity”.
Today, Phi Beta Sigma has blossomed into an international organization of leaders. No longer a single entity, members of the Fraternity have been instrumental in the establishment of the Phi Beta Sigma National Foundation, the Phi Beta Sigma Federal Credit Union and The Sigma Beta Club Foundation. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, founded in 1920 with the assistance of Phi Beta Sigma, is the sister organization of the Fraternity.
HONORABLE ABRAM LANGSTON TAYLOR
(January 29, 1890 – August 8, 1953)
A. Langston Taylor, the founder of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated from the Howe Institute in 1909 which is now Lemoyne-Owen College in Memphis. He received his college and professional training at Howard and Frelinghuysen University in Washington, D.C.
Founder Taylor chose business as his life’s calling. From 1917 to 1926 he owned a real estate and insurance business. He was Secretary-Treasurer of the Potomac Investment Company, Director of the Federal Life Insurance Company and President of the Taylor Tobacco Company.
Founder Taylor coined the Fraternity’s motto, “Culture for Service, Service for Humanity”. He began serving humanity by founding Sigma, to which he gave twelve consecutive years of service as a National Officer, serving as National President, National Treasurer, National Secretary and Field Secretary. He also served as President of the Distinguished Service Chapter.
Founder Taylor was described as distinguished, poised and truly a hard worker. The members of the Alpha Sigma chapter called Founder Taylor “Prof”, short for professor, because he was always carrying a book, files or reading. In addition to holding national offices in Phi Beta Sigma, he served in various capacities in The Washington Art Society, The Derby Club, The Banneker Research Society, The Mu-So-Lit Club and the Tennessee State Club.
A tireless worker, Founder Taylor strove to ensure that Phi Beta Sigma would make a significant impact in the world well beyond his years of service. He served on the History Committee , providing numerous notations, minutes and oral history to be passed on to future members. Founder Taylor retired from federal service as an employee of the Smithsonian Institute.
Founder Taylor is buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland (right outside of Washington, D.C.). His gravesite sits at the highest peek.
HONORABLE LEONARD FRANCIS MORSE
(January 12, 1891 – May 22, 1961)
The Reverend Leonard F. Morse was the son of a distinguished New England family, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Morse of Boston, Massachusetts. Trained in the elementary and secondary schools of New Bedford, Massachusetts, he became the valedictorian of his integrated high school and entered Howard University. In 1915, he graduated from Howard University and was the first person to graduate in 3 years with two degrees, an AB and a B.Ed. degree.
Founder Morse earned the Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Payne School of Divinity at Wilberforce University, a Master’s degree from Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), and the degrees of Doctor of Metaphysics and the Doctor of Psychology from the College of Metaphysics (Indianapolis, Indiana). He received the Doctor of Divinity (honorary) from Allen University (Columbia, South Carolina) and the LLD at Edward Waters College (Jacksonville, Florida).
An outstanding educator, minister and a prophetic voice of his time, Founder Morse served at several academic and religious institutions. He was Dean of Theology and President of Edward Waters College and a Mason. Founder Morse founded and chartered numerous Sigma chapters, especially in Florida.
Founder Morse was a student of the Greek language; he is responsible for naming our Fraternity. In addition, he wrote Sigma’s first constitution and was the first president of the Alpha Chapter. In the 1915 Howard University yearbook entitled “The Mirror”, Founder Morse had listed by his name the following: Director of Social Service, YMCA, 1913-1914; Organizer and President of Phi Beta Sigma, 1914-15; President, Young Men’s Progressive Club, 1914-15; tutor of languages and history.
Founder Morse was married and had five children, two of which are Brothers in this fraternity. In the 1915 Howard University yearbook, Founder Morse left us with “Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep.”
HONORABLE CHARLES IGNATIUS BROWN
(August 27, 1890 – December 21, 1981)
Founder Brown is believed to have been born in Topeka, Kansas in 1890. Census records show that his father was the Reverend John M. Brown and that his mother was Maggie M. Brown. However, records at Howard University from 1910 have Founder Brown living at 1813 Titan Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He was very cordial and very popular with the student body and Howard University administration. Founder Brown is credited with choosing the nine charter members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. In addition, he founded the Delta Chapter at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, on April 9, 1917 and was a teacher at the Kansas Industrial School for Negroes in Topeka, Kansas.
In the 1914 Howard University yearbook, under the Personals and Applied Quotations section, Founder Brown left us with this, “No legacy is so rich as honesty”. Founder Brown graduated from Howard University on June 3, 1914. The last correspondence that the fraternity received from him was a letter to Founder Taylor in 1924, in which Founder Brown indicated that he was teaching in Kansas.
Census records and oral interviews show that Founder Brown lived in the Topeka, Kansas area until 1931. Some believed that he was a casualty of the First World War; others thought that he moved overseas. In the spring of 1949, Founder Leonard F. Morse wrote “We live in daily hope that we shall one day learn the fate of our beloved Brother and Founder”.
For more than 80 years, Sigma men pondered what may have happened with Founder Brown. It was hoped that he went on to live a productive and fruitful life – but the story of his disappearance, and speculation about what may have happened became folklore within the brotherhood. In 2015, a breakthrough occurred. A group of Sigma men who were determine to find out what happened with Founder Brown, enlisted the help of professional researchers and with the full support of the Fraternity, were able to track Founder Brown to his final resting place. Indeed, he had kept his commitment to the cause of Sigma, living and serving his last years in a Catholic parish in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founder Charles Ignatius Brown kept his promise to his brothers in Sigma!