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The Delta Sorority's Special Sisterhood

The nation's largest Black women's sorority pays tribute to its past during its 100th anniversary

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Earlier this year, 75-year-old Norma Dotson-Sales joined the hundreds of Deltas from metro Detroit who traveled to Washington, D.C. to reenact the 1913 women's suffrage march.

For Dotson-Sales, attending the march—part of a yearlong celebration to honor the sorority's centennial anniversary—was an energizing reminder there is still much to do. "There was just this sea of Black women in front of me and in back of me, as far as the eye can see," she recalls. "It was powerful."

Now marking 100 years, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. is celebrating in Detroit on Saturday, April 6, as its Centennial Torch Tour reaches the city (see for details).

The society was founded just 25 years before Dotson-Sales was born, on Jan. 13, 1913, by 22 women who were Howard University students in Washington, D.C. Delta, like other Black sororities and fraternities that have reached the 100-year mark, was founded when academic and employment opportunities were few for Blacks, and segregation was at its highest. Many were children and grandchildren of former slaves, and the first generation of college-educated Blacks in the country.

African Americans have come a long way in the past century, and Delta's Detroit Alumnae Chapter is showing off its crimson and cream to celebrate the accomplishments and struggles of the past—and looking forward to the future.

Beverly Gray, president of the Detroit Alumnae Chapter, says, "Because of the centennial celebration, people will see and hear a lot about the sorority, but I like to say that we were always here."

Community service efforts

She cites the sorority's large initiatives such as the Delta Manor, the 100-unit senior citizen home, as just one of the service-focused sorority's efforts. Besides health initiatives and outreach programs for veterans and the homeless, the sorority supports troops overseas with cell phones and provides scholarships for local college-bound high school seniors. Deltas are out in the community at church, in schools and in the workplace every day.

Dotson-Sales says the sorority always has been a powerful force in the Black community. "I have wanted to be a Delta since I was a young girl, in part because there were so many of them who were my teachers and women I would see working out in the community doing good work," Dotson-Sales says.

Although she pledged Detroit Alumnae Chapter in 1979, she still gets emotional when she talks about what the sorority means to her. She was in law school while she was pledging and got ill. "My kidneys started to fail, and my doctors told me that I might not make it. But I wanted to be a Delta before I died."

Dotson-Sales got her wish when the Deltas came to her hospital room to induct her into the sorority.

"I love Delta," she says, and her voice breaks.

The Detroit Alumnae Chapter stands out as one of the largest in the country (second to Prince George County, near Washington D.C.), with more than 1,000 members. Inkster, Southfield and Pontiac also have large, active chapters. On a national level, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. has more than 250,000 members in 950 chapters worldwide.

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