A Historical Review of the Tuskegee University Chapter – The Gamma Epsilon of Kappa Alpha Psi.
(Historical Review written by Billy Abrams (F’65) in collaboration with Almon Smith (S’83), and Christopher “OC” Williams (S’97)
In the late 1940s there was much discussion about the value of allowing Greek Lettered organizations on the Tuskegee Institute campus. Many in the administration were not clear how these fraternities and sororities would enhance student life, and were not convinced that they would not be a distraction for the students, and adversely affect their academic status. After much investigation, and looking at fraternal organizations on other college and university campuses, it was in 1947 the decision was made by the Institute to grant the established Greek Lettered fraternities and sororities a place at Tuskegee.
It was in late 1947 that the first Kappa Scroller Club was formed at Tuskegee, and it was the Tuskegee Alumni Chapter, along with Kappa men who were athletic coaches under Brother Cleve Abbott, who guided the processes for the Scrollers, as they prepared for the chartering of a new collegiate chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi on the campus of Tuskegee Institute.
Some of the initial members of the Scroller Club in 1947 were:
Whitney VanCleve, President; Robert Brown, Vice President; Claude C. George, Secretary; Stanton B. Shaw, Treasurer, Clement A. Bronson, Sergeant-at-Arms; Herbert Banks, William Surcey, Alfred J. McGill, John W. Carroll, Prentice E. Jones, Lewis Owens, David D. Powell, Russell G. Kirkpatrick, Clyde O. I. Jackson, Cecil W. White, Curvin H. Hollimon, Melvin Leeper, Charles Ryan
There were many more young men added to the Scroller Club in 1948, but there were 24 chosen to be initiated as the chartering members of the Tuskegee Institute Chapter designated as Gamma Epsilon of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. So it was, on April 17, 1948, that these 24 young students, called Scrollers, were initiated into the newly organized chapter that was on its way to start a legacy.
The 24 Charter Members
Leodies U. Arburtha, Clarence T. Bell, Clement A. Bronson, Robert G. Brown, John W. Carroll, George E. Chapman, Robert E. Fair, Wayne Frederick, Curvin H. Hollimon, Prentice E. Jones, Cecil B. Keene, Russell Kirkpatrick, Melvin Waddell Leeper, James A. Lomax, Alfred J. McGill, George D. Merrick, Lewis Niam J. Owens, David D. Powell, Charles H. Ryan, Leonard J. Small, Carl Smoot, William Surcey, Whitney L. VanCleve, Ulysses T. Washington.
Today, there are no known Charter members who are alive. Charter Brother Prentice E. Jones, of Maryland, crossed to Chapter Invisible in the spring of 2018. Unfortunately, the Gamma Epsilon membership was not aware that he was alive; however, an on campus memorial service, at Tuskegee University, was held in his honor on the Kappa Steps by Gamma Epsilon members, both collegiate and alumni.
Robert G. Brown, was the first Polemarch of the Gamma Epsilon Chapter and served from 1948-1949. He was born on August 8, 1924 in Canton, Georgia. He was the 4th of 14 children. Prior to his initiation, Brother Brown was elected President of his Freshman and Sophomore Classes, served as Associate News Editor for the Campus Digest, and was a member of the Delta Phi Delta National Journalistic Society. The next year he was elected as Editor-in-Chief. He was a member of the Southern Negro Youth Conference, and attended the Southern Student Christian Conference, and served on the Institute Council. He graduated with honors from Tuskegee Institute, and served with distinction in World War II. Brother Brown was a member of the historical Buffalo Soldier 92nd Infantry Division, and was awarded the American Theatre Ribbon; EAME Theatre Ribbon with 3 Bronze Stars; Good Conduct Ribbon; World War LL Victory Medal, and the Purple Heart. Later, he continued his education by attending the University of Chicago, and Purdue University – West Lafayette earning two Master’s Degrees; one in Mathematics, and another in Public Administration – graduating Cum Laude. Brother Brown taught for a while in Chicago, then moved to Gary, Indiana where he was employed for over 40 years with the Gary School Corporation as a teacher, personnel administrator, and domestic recruiter. Brother Brown was a favorite principal at Bailly Middle School; Beckman Middle School; West Side High School, and retired from his last assignment at Tolleston Middle School located in his own neighborhood. He was an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi, serving by setting up educational endowments. As a member of the Saint Augustine Episcopal Church. In his marriage to Edna S. Brown, two sons were born – Carter and Frederick. Brother Brown crossed over to Chapter Invisible on November 18, 2016 at age 92.
Leodies U. Arburtha was from Dermott, Arkansas. He was a member of Alpha Kappa Mu, President of The Technical Arts Club from 1947-1948, and President of the Tuskegee Institute Choir. In 1946, he was one of eight students who made the Dean’s List. He graduated with a degree in Industrial Technology. In Chicago, he worked some years with the Tribune, before making a career in education. He became an Assistant Principal in a Vocational High School until he retired in 1992. He was one of the founders of the Chicago Assistant Principals Association and was active with the group for 26 years. Annually, he planned seminars and workshops, and served as the President. Brother Arburtha was active in the Chicago Tuskegee Alumni Club, and Kappa Alpha Psi. The Chicago Tuskegee Alumni Club hosts an event in is honor called the “Leodies Arburtha’s Back-To-School Cookout”. He crossed over to Chapter Invisible on September 24, 1997 at the age of 73. He was married to Mildred, and had two daughters Alexis Reid, and Louise Corsetta Moore.
Clarence T. Bell transitioned to Chapter Invisible in 2006 in Louisville, KY, at the age of 77. He was a member of the Kentucky Football Officials Association, National Federation Officials Association, and the Louisville Army Mapping Service from the Defense Mapping Agency for 33 years. He was married to Rosemary , and had two sons, Clarence and James.
Clement A. Bronson was from Tuskegee, AL. He was known as “Mr. B”. As a student at Tuskegee Institute, he was the Advertising Manager for the Tuskeana, a member of NAACP, YMCA, Institute Council, National Farmers Association, Paramount Club, and the Ag Forum. He received his degree from the School of Agriculture. During his prime years, he became the Commissioner for Macon County in the early 90s. Dr. Bronson taught at Alabama State University. He crossed into Chapter Invisible at age 87 on September 30, 2007.
Curvin H. Hollimon was an accomplished architect who was born on April 19, 1925 in Houston, TX where he attended public school, and finished at the age of 16 with honors. After spending two years at Tuskegee, he was drafted into the United States Army Air Corp where he served two years as a draftsman specializing in airfield design and construction. Brother Hollimon worked on two airfields in Hawaii, and built about one fourth of the main highways in Guam. He was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, and the World War Victory Medal. After his honorable discharge, he returned to Tuskegee and graduated with a degree in Commercial Industries with a major in Architectural Engineering. He earned a Master’s Degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Moreover, he received a Master Degree in Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and a degree in Engineering from Drexel University. Brother Hollimon was the first black licensed architect and engineer to be employed by the city of Philadelphia, the U.S. Post Office, and the Bureau of Engineering and Architecture in Harrisburg, PA. He was a member of numerous professional organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, National Society of Professional Engineering, and the American Management Association. He was a member of the Tuskegee Alumni Association, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. NAACP, and a Life Member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and the Philadelphia Alumni Chapter. Brother Hollimon married wife Edna Morgan in 1953, and birth one daughter. He retired in 1991, and crossed over to Chapter Invisible on October 26, 2016.
Prentice E. Jones was born May 25, 1921 in Malvern, Arkansas, and was the oldest of five children. He attended Peake High School in Arkadelphia, AK where he graduated in 1939. Brother Jones joined the US Army Air Forces, 9th Calvary in Kansas in 1940. He married Inez Parker in 1942, and over years birth six children. In WWII, he fought in Oran, Algeria, and Naples, Italy. It was on November 2, 1945, he received an honorable Discharge as a Master Sergeant. On January 30, 1946, Brother Jones joined the masons, St. Luke Lodge 23 in Malvern, AK. He went on to Tuskegee Institute, using the GI Bill, and earned a Bachelors of Science Degree in Agriculture, and Education in May of 1949. After graduating from Tuskegee, he was involved in an alarming racial incident that forced him to re-enlist into the military in 1949. This time he joined the US Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant. While serving at McChord AFB in Washington, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1951. Bother Jones was deployed to Pusan, Korea. After
his return to Wrights Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH, he was promoted to Captain in 1955, and Major in 1965. Subsequently, Brother Jones continued to achieve, and obtained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in January 1967 while serving as the Chief of the Counter-intelligence Division in Japan. After moving, and living in many cities throughout America, and foreign countries, Brother Jones retired from the military on July 31, 1974. But, he was not finished. He went on to work at George Washington University as Captain of Campus Security until 1984. His transition to Chapter Invisible occurred on April 30, 2018. A special memorial ceremony was held in his honor on the campus of Tuskegee University by collegiate and alumni members of the Gamma Epsilon Chapter.
Melvin Waddell Leeper was a member of the Southern Negro Youth Conference.
James A. Lomax was an educator in the Jefferson County Public School System in Louisville, KY. He was a member of the Jefferson County Retired Teachers Association, Kentucky Teachers Association. He retired as the Assistant Director of Vocational Technical Programs. He earned his Master’s Degree from the University of Louisville. For 53 years, he was a dedicated member of the R.E. Jones United Methodist Church, now a part of the Mosaic United Methodist Church. Brother Lomax was a life member of the fraternity. He crossed over to Chapter Invisible on November 9, 2005 at the age of 80 years old.
Charles R. Ryan was President of his Junior Class from 1948-1949.
William Surcey was born in in Jacksonville in 1918 to Will and Maggie Surcey. He finished the Ole Stanton High School in 1939. He earned the honor of Eagle Scout. In his sophomore year at Tuskegee Institute, he enlisted in the Army Air Corp, and trained as an aircraft mechanic. He became a member of the 99th Fighter Squadron, later called the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1944 he fought during the invasion of Italy. He made major repairs on seven P-40 aircraft which earned him the Bronze Star for distinguish service. Brother Surcey was honorably discharged in 1945 with a Master Sergeant ranking. Brother Surcey eagerly returned to Tuskegee, and earned his degree in Auto Mechanics. During his tenure, he was Business Manager of the Junior Class, 1946-47. While at Tuskegee he met his wife, Future Trammell, who he married in 1948. After settling in Jacksonville. Brother Surcey started his business called “Bill’s Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service”, and operated it until he retired at age 87. Additionally, he worked as an aircraft mechanics at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. Subsequently, he worked almost 30 years as a supervisor for the USPS. He was a dedicated member of several organizations including The Tuskegee Airmen, the Jacksonville (FL) Chapter of the Tuskegee Alumni Association, Boy Scouts of America, Kappa Aloha Psi Fraternity, David Dwight Boy Scout Committee, American Legion Post #197, and the Saint Paul A.M.E. Church. Brother Surcey crossed over to Chapter Invisible on May 6, 2011.
Whitney L. VanCleve was born April 6, 1922 in Kokomo, IN. He played fullback for Tuskegee Institute from 1940-1941, and again from 1946-1947. At Tuskegee, Brother VanCleve played baseball, basketball, and was an All-American fullback, and received letters in each during his four-year collegiate participation. He was Business Manager for the Physical Education Club. In May of 1948, he received B.S Degree in Physical Education, then, entered New York University and earned a Master’s Degree in the same field in 1949. That same year, Head Football Coach Brother Cleve Abbott brought him back to Tuskegee as Assistant Football Coach. He was also slated to pilot the baseball team in 1950. VanCleve was an assistant football coach at Grambling University under Head Football Coach Eddie Robinson for a period of time. He became the ninth head football coach for the Tuskegee Golden Tigers for nine seasons from 1955-1963. His coaching record was 42-35-5. Coach VanCleve left Tuskegee and became the 15th head football coach at Alabama State University for five seasons from1964-1968. His record was 35-14-1. At Alabama State, he won 2 SIAC Championships in 1965 and 1966. In 1969, Coach VanCleve moved to Hampton University as the 13th head football coach until 1973. Unlike his success at Alabama State, Brother VanCleve posted a record of 3-44-1. After a four-year absence, he began coaching at Albany State University from 1977-1979, posting a record of 12-17-2. In 1979, he returned to Tuskegee. Coach VanCleve’s career record was 91-111-10. During his absence from coaching, he was inducted into the Tuskegee Institute Athletic Hall of Fame in 1974. He retired in 1987, and was inducted into the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 1995. Brother VanCleve crossed over to Chapter Invisible on January 21, 1997 in Montgomery at age 74.
Ulysses T. Washington as a student at Tuskegee Institute was President of the Junior Class from 1944-1945. He was a member of the Institute Council on Campus Life, and was on the Honor Roll during school year 1945-1946.
The Second Line
The first initiation performed by the charter members of the Gamma Epsilon Chapter was held on November 8, 1948. The six (6) initiates in this first group of brothers are: Kenneth H. Fearn, Gordon H. Kitchen II, Courtland T. Milloy, John T. Parker, Albert Pratt, Jr., and Porcher L. Taylor, Jr. During the early years, these 30 brothers were considered by many as chartering members since they were all initiated in 1948.
Porcher L. Taylor, Jr. Of the six members of the second line, one known living member is Col (Ret) Porcher L. Taylor, Jr. Ph.D., who resides in Petersburg, VA with his wife Ann. PT, as he is called, was born August 9, 1925 in Jacksonville, FL, where he attended public school.
Before entering Tuskegee Institute in 1946, he joined the US Navy in 1943, and served three years in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. While at Tuskegee, he played varsity football, as a first-string fullback, for three years under the legendary Brother Head Football Coach Cleve Abbott. He enlisted in the Tuskegee Institute Reserve Officer Training Corps completing his training in 1949. He graduated from Tuskegee in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Commercial Industries (Business). Brother Taylor is one few living Americans who served the United States in three major wars – World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War – in both the US Navy and Army. He served in the Navy for three years, and the Army for 25 years. In 1961, Brother Taylor received a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Virginia State University, where he also served a President for Student Affairs, and as Director of Counseling. He became one of two Black persons to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education from the University of South Carolina in 1972. He was inducted in the Tuskegee University Athletic Hall of fame in 1985. His military awards include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. PT had a son and two daughters by his second wife before she died; Ann had a daughter by her husband before he died; and they had one daughter together.
Courtland T. Milloy is believed to be alive in Louisiana. Among the brothers at Gamma Epsilon, he was known as the “The Lady’s Man”, and some called a “Playboy”. His major was in Mechanical Industries. He was a Rewrite Editor, and advanced to Co-Editor of the Campus Digest from 1946-1947, Co-Editor of the Tuskegee Handbook, member of the Little Theatre, and the NAACP. He was awarded a Certificate of membership to the Zeta Chapter of the Delta Phi Delta National Journalistic Society on the basis of achievement. Recently, KLSA News 12, in Shreveport, LA honored Brother Milloy, during Black History Month celebration, on February 27, 2018 for being the only surviving Charter Faculty Member of the Booker T. Washington High School in 1950. As an instructor, he taught graphic arts, and journalism at the Shreveport campus that was established that year. Brother Milloy also owned the photography company named Milloy’s Reprographics.
The Gamma Epsilon Chapter, at Tuskegee Institute (University), had a great start with the talents and dedication of its new members. The enthusiasm for young men to join the organization continued strong for there was a pledge line, as it was called, each year for a period of 25 consecutive years. The Polemarchs who lead the organization are as follows:
1948-1949 – Robert G. Brown
1949-1950 – Herbert C. Blanks
1950-1951 – Frazier E. Hemphill
1951-1952 – Frazier E. Hemphill
1952-1953 – Frazier E. Hemphill
1953-1954 – R. L. Nicholson
1954-1955 – Ricoberto M. Garcia
1955-1956 – James T. Tolbert
1956-1957 – Horace L. Martin
1057-1958 – Edward Thomas
1958-1959 – Willie Vincent
1959-1960 – Nelver Carter
1960-1961 – William F. Clopton
1961-1962 – Eddie Peters
1962-1963 – Richard Henry Webb
1963-1964 – Edward G. Clausell
1964-1965 – Esau Nichols
1965-1966 – Esau Nichols
1966-1967 – Raymond E. Marbury
1967-1968 – James Lucas
1968-1969 – Nedom Ramsey
1969-1970 – Errol Jackson
1970-1971– Ramsey Davis II
1971-1972 – Ronald K. Washington
1972-1973 – J. Cedric Thornton
1973-1974 – Ashby Cowart, Jr.
1974-1975 – Frank D. Whiteside
1975-1976 – Freddie L. Holyfield
1976-1977 – Ben J. Davis III
1977-1978 – Jerry E. Harris
1978-1979 – Jerome Powers
1979-1980 – Willie J. Pass
1980-1981 – Edward Merritt
1981-1982 – Edward Merritt
1982-1983 – Daniel Sykes
1983-1984 – Reginald Hill (Florida A&M University – Alpha XI)
1984-1985 – Tyree Davis
1985-1986 – Almon Smith
1986-1987 – Dennis Cleveland
1987-1988 – Garfield Warren & Michael Towns
1988-1989 – Steven Carnes
1989-1990 – James Lawrence
1990-1991 – Cleophus Thomas
1991-1992 – Darryl Gilbert
1992-1993 – Robert Stephenson
1993-1994 – Arthur Spencer
1994-1995 – Vacant
1995-1996 – Vacant
1996-1997 – Vacant
1997-1998 – Foster Ware
1998-1999 – Roosevelt Phillips
1999-2000 – Josederic Scott
2000-2001 – Kendrick Richardson
2001-2002 – Treylon Raines
2002-2003 – Cedric Keeton
2003-2004 – Vacant
2004-2005 – Vacant
2005-2006 – Vacant
2006-2007 – Ralph Gordon (Morris Brown College – Beta Delta)
2007-2008 – Nicholas Arrington
2008-2009 – Steven Loud
2009-2010 – James Capers
2010-2011 – Robert Young
2011-2012 – Roderick Milligan
2012-2013 – Damicco Rashaad Robinson
2013-2014 – Vacant
2014-2015 – Vacant
2015-2016 – Vacant
2016-2017 – Vacant
2017-2018 – Vacant
2018-2019 – Justin Wallace Williams
2019-2020 – Michael Rowe
Over the years, Gamma Epsilon has had two chapter Polemarchs who were not initiated at Gamma Epsilon. They are: Reginald Hill, who was initiated in the Florida A & M University Chapter the Alpha Xi of Kappa Alpha Psi and serviced from 1983 – 1984, and Ralph Gordon, who was initiated in the Morris Brown Chapter the Beta Delta of Kappa Alpha Psi, and served from 2006-2007.
The Dark Days
As mentioned earlier, the Chapter was initiating members each year from 1948 through 1974. There was at least one pledge line and most often two pledge lines during the school year for the first 25 years. Then, from 1974, a culture shift took place in the minds of Gamma Epsilon members in line with societal changes taking place around them. What was the norm was replaced with the signs of the black movement in thinking, dress, music, and dance. In viewing the annual yearbook, at Tuskegee Institute, the Tuskeana, one can see the move from the stylish bowtie headshots for the Kappas of Gamma Epsilon to more casual pictures, and with dashikis. Some of the pictures in the Tuskeana were group shots taken on the Steps, and in various locations on campus, with members wearing various types of clothing. It was a tradition to list all officers, and the members in the Tuskeana with their pictures. Through the years, this key information has not been completed, and there have been years in which Gamma Epsilon was not represented in the yearbook at all. During the 11-year period from 1980-1991, there were three years where there were no Gamma Epsilon pictures included in the Tuskeana. Moreover, there were 5 years where pictures were included but the officers were not listed. Now, some of the inconsistency has come as a result of the Chapter not being allowed to function on campus, either by restrictions from the University, or by the Fraternity for infractions against the rules and regulations set by the organizations. For the last 43 years, from 1974, the first year where there was no in-take line, to 2017, there have been 20 of those years where there has been absolutely no in-take (1974, 1981, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000 – 2006, 2010, 2012-2017). All of this can change with the new MTA, in-take process, and proper guidance, because Gamma Epsilon members are being groomed to raise the bar of excellence in all of their activities, and put risk management of the Chapter in the forefront of their thinking. The future will prove that naming Gamma Epsilon the Lighthouse Chapter is as relevant today, as it was when it was first introduced.
The Lighthouse Chapter
The recap of the dark days in the story of Gamma Epsilon, is written, not to diminish the great work that was done by those brothers who were initiated during that period. The light of brotherhood that burns so bright in GE could not be extinguished by those happenings because all change is not bad. It was the unswerving dedication to each other, and the positive traditions that existed then, and still exist today, that led Brother Willie Pass (S’77) to brand Gamma Epsilon the Lighthouse Chapter.
Gamma Epsilon was named the Lighthouse Chapter in early 1978. Willie J. Pass, after deciding not to return to college for the Fall 1977 semester, was driving in Atlanta, GA when he passed the General Electric Company building, and saw the GE logo which of course reminded him of GE, Gamma Epsilon. As he tells the story, he began thinking GE, electricity, light bulbs, lighthouse, and the concept was formulated in his mind. It was in January 1978 while he and other Gamma Epsilon brothers were attending a Step Show at Columbus College that he revealed his idea to those brothers, and the Lighthouse Chapter took hold, and is known throughout Kappadom. It was later that year in 1978, for the homecoming celebration, that a Gamma Epsilon, Lighthouse Banner was created by a member Architect student, Charles K. Daniels (F’76).
The Lighthouse symbolizes the chapter as a beacon of light shining throughout the Province. The Gamma Epsilon Alumni members have excelled in their many fields of endeavor, and their success will be captured and shared in future writings. (To Be Continued)