History of the Boulé
Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, also known as the Boule, is the first Greek-letter fraternity to be founded by African American men. Significantly, unlike the other African American Greek -letter organizations, its members already have received college and professional degrees at the time of their induction. The fraternity's insignia is the Sphinx.
From the beginning, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity was a learned society, a social fraternity and an advancement organization, albeit a quiet one. As well, the fraternity believed absolutely in the equality of standing of its members and insisted that anyone who was eligible for membership was eligible and qualified for leadership. The founders were so certain of this fact that the fraternity selected its officers by lot, a custom that continued for the most senior officer until 1970.
The founders' devotion to equality and mutual respect stemmed in large measure from the devotion to democratic traditions that they traced to ancient Greece and to the traditions of leadership that existed there among free men. Central to this idea was the Boulé: the Council of Chiefs, or the leading noblemen of the society. Individual members of the Boulé were known as Archons. Thus Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity became the Boulé and individual members were designated as Archons. As the fraternity evolved and the spouses of members became an integral part of the organization as a family group, it adopted the Greek term Archousa (pl. Archousai) to distinguish Archons' wives.
Shortly after the establishment of Alpha Boulé, the founders looked to other cities in which to expand the fraternity and thus establish a national organization. Indeed, in the original constitution of Alpha Boulé the framers pointed out that "when the boulés shall number three, each boulé shall send at such time and to a place designated by Alpha Boulé two delegates who shall meet and form the Grand Boulé."
Upon inquiry, Minton found extraordinary enthusiasm for the fraternity idea in Chicago and in 1907 he, along with Algernon B. Jackson, led in the setting apart of Beta Boulé of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity. Just as Minton and Jackson had initiated a new Boulé in Chicago, they and others soon set out to do the same thing in Baltimore. In that city on May 8, 1908, representatives of Alpha Boulé came to Baltimore and set apart Gamma Boulé, the third member boulé. In recognition of that fact, and in keeping with the constitution, Sire Archon Minton of Alpha Boulé called the first meeting of the Grand Boulé of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity to convene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on August 31, 1908. During a four-day meeting they established the Grand Boulé of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity. In September 1908 Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity became a national organization.
When the leaders next set apart a member boulé, Delta in Memphis, Tennessee, some members complained about the method of the chartering. Their complaint centered on an issue that lies at the heart of the tradition of expanding membership in Sigma Pi Phi. Indeed, such arguments trace back to the very first expansion of the Boulé. Archons Henry Minton and Algernon Jackson's involvement in the setting apart of Beta Boulé is of major importance because it set the pattern for the establishment of member boulés and the election of new Archons throughout the history of the fraternity. The fraternity is based on the idea that it will elect only men of superior qualifications and that all new members of the fraternity will be equal to all others. No one could apply for membership, and only individuals whom all members of the fraternity had an opportunity to approve could be considered.
The process of setting apart new boulés or of the election of new Archons is meant to ensure that any member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity who, for whatever reason, has to move from his home boulé to the region of the jurisdiction of another member boulé can be assured that he will join with a group of Archons who are the intellectual and social equals of the members of the boulé from which he had departed. From the beginning the Boulé practiced high-class quality control of its membership, and the Archons jealously guard that right.