If you’ve never heard of the Boulé, that’s probably because it’s by design. Officially known as Sigma Pi Phi, the Boulé was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1904 by Dr. Henry McKee Minton and five of his colleagues. Among the group were doctors, dentists and a pharmacist. It is the nation’s first Black Greek organization.
Before being exposed to the general public by various individuals in the 1990s and 2000s, the Boulé was on par with white organizations like Skull and Bones – people knew they existed but couldn’t really prove it.
Meaning “Council of Chiefs” or “Adviser to Kings” in Greek, the Boulé was for much of its existence an elite, invitation-only secret society for Black men of high regard. Members are chosen based on their professional accomplishments and community standing.
It is considered the “father” of the Black Greek-letter organizations that make up the Divine 9 (Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Iota Phi Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho).
In a 2011 interview, political researcher and speaker Steve Cokely called the Boulé an “illegal criminal enterprise” full of “Black complicity in this centralization of worldwide power the new world order.”
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Cokely accused the Boulé of being in cahoots with white power structures to keep wealth and power limited to a very small part of the population.
“In page 28 of its first [Boulé] history book, it noted that it wanted to be like Skull and Bones at Yale,” Cokely said. “Those societies … and The Boule tend to make up a[n] aristocracy … in the terms of deputizing 10 percent of the population to assure that the 90 percent never catch on.”
In a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times, then incoming Boulé president Dr. Benjamin Major told reporter Karen Grigsby Bates that initially the organization was committed to maintaining its exclusivity.
However, Major said, they were shifting their focus to be more socially-engaged and making a commitment to uplift the less fortunate members of their community.
“Until eight or 10 years ago, we were just what we were perceived to be,” Major told the Times. “We don’t want to appear as if we were remaining above the problems of most black people. We know we didn’t get here solely by the dint of our own hard work. We owe a lot of people, and we have to give back to our brothers and sisters.”
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The Boulé boasts some of the most notable Black men throughout history among its ranks, many of whom are admired and respected for their work to attain equality for the Black community. They include: W.E.B DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, Whitney Young, Arthur Ashe, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Ron Brown, Eric Holder, Kweisi Mfume, Herman Cain, etc.
However, Cokely and others alleged DuBois and other members of the Boulé sabotaged other Black leaders like Marcus Garvey who were committed to a Pan-African agenda in hopes of maintaining the famous “talented 10th” DuBois wrote about.
“The importance to steal the Black professional away from Garvey because an Afrocentric organization that articulated and captured the Black professional would give whitey no safe haven in the Black community, so the Boulé – the remaking of the house negro was necessary to build a group of negroes who had an investment in protecting the white system as produced by whitey having stolen this land,” Cokely soid. “This is post reconstruction. Taking away the articulate negro, now desiring to replace them with organized institutions to keep them away from self-improvement.”
However, on its website, the Boulé said Minton founded the fraternity with the hope “that a special fraternity could effectively serve as the means through which desirable professional and social support for black professionals would be provided and maintained.”
The official history on the Boulé’s website also admits to its once secretive nature and current exclusivity.
“In its early years Sigma Pi Phi could be viewed as a secret organization that consciously avoided publicity. It was not until 1982 that the Fraternity adopted a policy of limited and selected publicity,” the website states.
It reiterated its commitment to uplifting the communities its members reside in – but members can be from other races and ethnicities.
“Although no longer “secret,” today it can be described as a fraternity that exists with little fanfare and one that actively seeks to improve the lives of the citizens in the communities in which the members are associated through its social action and public policy programs and initiatives,” its website reads.
Today the Boulé has over 5,000 members and over 130 chapters in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and others. Headquartered in Atlanta, the organization also has international chapters in places like England and The Bahamas.