Early last week (the day after the 50th Anniversary March on The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL) a video surfaced in which members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) Fraternity chapter were seen singing a racist chant. The chant was full of racial slurs and made references to lynching Blacks in addition to never allowing the admittance of Blacks in SAE. The chant was sung in the tune of the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” It went like this: “There will never be a nigger at SAE, You Can Hang Him From A Tree, but He’ll Never Sign With Me, There Will Never Be A Nigger At SAE.”
As expected the chant erupted into national anger a firestorm of controversy toward OU’s SAE. It also opened up investigations of SAE chapters around the country by the SAE national headquarters. The University of Oklahoma President, David Boren responded swiftly calling the chant “disgraceful” and expelled two of the students, Levi Pettit and Parker Rice, who led the chant. While many have applauded the president for his actions, former members of SAE are now thinking about suing both the university and the president. They have hired a high-profile attorney, Stephen Jones, known to have represented Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In the days following, there have been new developments in this case regarding the White Supremacist history of the fraternity.
SAE is now the largest fraternity in the United States and its racist history goes back as far as the Civil War. One of the founders, Noble Leslie Devotie along with 75 other members at the time died fighting for the Confederacy. After the war, the surviving members returned to find their campuses and 15 chapters lying in ruins.They spent decades rebuilding the frat’s ranks and expanding its ranks within Northern fraternities.
Over the last 30+ the fraternity has been accused of many incidents of discriminatory and racist practices and behaviors. However the frat’s “good” reputation remains intact at over 200 campuses around the country. According to Slate.com some of them are as follows:
- In 1982, the University of Cincinnati suspended its Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter after it organized a racist party around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. According to an article in the New York Times, fliers for the event encouraged revelers to “bring such things as a canceled welfare check, ‘your father if you know who he is’ and ‘a radio bigger than your head.’ “
- In 1992, the Texas A&M University chapter hosted a “jungle fever”–themed party that, according to an online exhibit created by the university’s Cushing Library, featured “black face, grass skirts and ‘slave hunts.’ ”
- In 2000, members of SAE at Oglethorpe University were among men from four fraternities who threw bottles at black athletes and yelled racial slurs during a cross-country meet.
- In 2002, a member of the Syracuse University chapter of SAE wore black face out to local bars.
- In 2006, two SAE students were suspended at the University of Memphis after harassing another member for dating a black woman and bringing her to the chapter’s house.
- In 2009, the Valdosta State University chapter caused outrage on campus after flying a Confederate flag on its front lawn. On Sunday, the Oklahoma State University chapter also drew ire on social media when a Confederate flag could be seen through one of its windows just hours after the controversy emerged at the University of Oklahoma.
- In 2013, the Washington University in St. Louis chapter of SAE was suspended after some of its pledges were instructed to direct racial slurs at a group of black students.
- Last year, 15 SAE members at the University of Arizona broke into a historically Jewish off-campus fraternity and physically assaulted its members while yelling discriminatory comments at them.
- In December, Clemson University’s SAE chapter was suspended after the fraternity hosted a “cripmas” party at which students dressed up as gang members.