Zeta Phi Beta president reflects on her connection with sorority’s founder

by YOLANDA YOUNG (Rolling Out)

On Jan. 16, 1920, Fannie Pettie joined four other Howard University coeds in founding Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. In their organization, sorority elitism and socializing would take a back seat to the primary mission: defeating the prejudices and poverty that acutely affected the Black community.

Intent on doing things differently, the women began their expansion by granting chapter charters to historically Black colleges and universities in the segregated South rather than on White campuses in urban areas. They distinguished themselves in other ways by becoming the first National Pan-Hellenic Council organization to charter a chapter in Africa, centralize its operations in a national headquarters and be constitutionally bound to a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.

As the decades passed, founder Pettie Watts, as she became known after marriage, organized two additional Zeta chapters, doing her part to help Zeta grow to 100,000 members with 800 chapters worldwide. After teaching junior and senior high schools in Savannah, Georgia, she returned to Brooklyn, New York, where she was an active member of the Delta Alpha Zeta chapter. In 1982, a Zeta perspective would knock on her door.

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