Delta days on Capitol Hill

by on March 1, 2009  •  In Congress, Race

From Politico

If a woman in red demands to be noticed, a thousand women in red are impossible to ignore. At least that’s what the members of Delta Sigma Theta are counting on when they head to the Hill next week, clad in crimson and cream, to lobby their senators and representatives on the African-American sorority’s national agenda. Don’t let the word “sorority” fool you: The Deltas won’t be pushing to lower the drinking age or fighting for their right to party. Most of the women who will attend the 20th annual four-day legislative seminar known as Delta Days at the Nation’s Capital are long out of school, and they’re coming to learn how to be effective advocates on issues like poverty, affordable housing and education.

“It’s an awesome sight to see so many black women here on the Hill,” says Nicole Williams, communications director for Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “There’s a powerful message, I think, that black women have a place at the political table.” From Hill staffers like Williams to elected officials like Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), members of the sorority formed in 1913 by African-American women at Howard University have followed trailblazing sorors — as Delta sisters call one another — including former Reps. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Jordan (D-Texas) and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) to become a quiet force in the nation’s capital.

Delta and the other “Divine Nine” African-American fraternities and sororities serve as built-in career networks, support systems and social clubs for many of their members in the capital, but Delta has a particular history of political action that its sorors are committed to paying forward. Its founders broke away from Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first black sorority, at Howard in part because they wanted to be more civically engaged. Their first public action was to take part in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington — although, because they were black, they had to march at the end of the line.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), who died last year, was an outspoken Delta who made red her signature color and was buried wearing her DST pin.  Fudge, who served as Tubbs Jones’ chief of staff, recalls that when she and Tubbs Jones first arrived in Washington, former secretary of labor and soror Alexis Herman held their first fundraiser. Fudge and Tubbs Jones shared an apartment but didn’t have any furniture. The Deltas brought them some. When Fudge ran for mayor back in Ohio, it was the Deltas who raised the money for her campaign. And after the loss of her friend and mentor, Fudge says, it was the Deltas who persuaded her to run for Tubbs Jones’ seat.


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