Shrouded in secrecy since its founding in 1913, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated embraces traditions characteristic of most college-based and graduate chapter sororities throughout the United States. Delta Sigma Theta sorority is a private, nonprofit organization of college-educated women, like most sororities. They have their colors, crimson and cream, or red and white in the eyes of lay people. They perform perfunctory sorority rituals and righteous codes of sisterhood resulting in enduring connections and commitments to community service. What is lacking is the public’s full awareness of the profound role Deltas have upheld while paving pathways in America, particularly for women.
Despite its January 13, 1913, pre-civil rights and early women’s suffrage era beginnings on Howard University’s campus, the sorority’s unprecedented membership of pioneers in their professions, women rights advocates, civil rights activists and inspirational visionaries has produced today’s largest African-American women’s organization in the world. Unfortunately, heritage, hue and history have kept the Deltas’ stature and distinction as a truly unique American sorority one of the nation’s best kept secrets. But on New Year’s Day, the secret goes public when the sorority reaches its largest audience ever. On the streets of Pasadena, on televisions, on computers and on mobile screens around the world, millions of viewers will discover the Deltas when their inaugural Tournament of Roses Parade float debuts, kicking off the organization’s year-long centennial celebration.
Why now? Timing is everything when making a difference. This is a fortuitous moment for the Deltas to join history’s parade. On January 1, two parades take place distances apart linked by the common threads of progress and diversity. In Washington, D.C. at the National Archives, lines of people will parade past the original Emancipation Proclamation to view the document signed 150 years ago on January 1,1863 by President Abraham Lincoln declaring slaves “henceforth and forever free.” On the West Coast, the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade will march into history attuned to America’s changing demographics with the second woman president of the Association in its 123-year history followed by the first Asian-American taking the reins in 2014 and the first African-American set to lead in 2018.
Embodying the theme “Transforming Communities Through Sisterhood and Service,” the 55-foot-long by 17-foot-high Delta float pays tribute to their heroic heritage and mission. Designed and built by Fiesta Parade Floats and decorated with the assistance of sorority volunteers, the approximately $250,000 cost was underwritten by sponsors and member donations. Four major components dominate the more than 15,000 roses—including red Black Magic and Freedom—spread throughout the float’s garden beds and flower-filled structure. A sculptured globe at the front of the float highlights the nonprofit’s worldwide humanitarian efforts. The float’s center stage is a rotating hexagon of six floral graphs with one serving as a replica of the sorority’s service medallion and the other five depicting the Deltas’ five-point programs. The rear design is a representation of Howard University’s Douglass Hall, where the sorority was founded. Twelve people will ride the float including the national president, national executive committee members and seven past Delta presidents all representing the 300,000 members from more than 900 chapters throughout the word. Walking alongside float lineup No. 46 will be 100 members—or sorors—and 22 people symbolizing the 22 founders.
Ultimately, the Delta float will exude the spirits and values of the many pioneers who led the way, changed the world and improved the plight of women, and all people, during the last 100 years. From Sadie T.M. Alexander, the sorority’s first national president, who in 1921 was the Nation’s first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D.; to Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to run as a major party candidate for the presidency of the United States; to Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, the first African-American from the South to serve in the U.S. congress since reconstruction; and Dr. Dorothy I. Height, the sorority’s tenth national president, who headed the National Council of Negro Women and counseled numerous American leaders.
After the parade passes, the images may fade but the inspiration will be indelible. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated is one women’s organization that has continually and consistently made history. They exemplify that during challenging times, new journeys still begin, new reasons for hope endure, and new opportunities to serve always exist. They float beyond.