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Mother of the Fraternity

There are many well-known and accomplished African Americans buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. The list is long and impressive. One of the lesser-known people is a woman named Annie Singleton, who at the beginning of the twentieth century provided a safe and supportive space in her home for a literary club of seven Black male college students. This gathering was the genesis for the first intercollegiate African American fraternity.

The seven young men attended Cornell University and founded the nation's oldest intercollegiate African-American Greek-letter fraternity in 1906 in the Ithaca, New York home of Mr. Archie Singleton and his sociable wife Annie C. Singleton. Their home was located at the foot of the hill of the Cornell University campus.

Archie Singleton was born a slave in South Carolina in 1854. He and his first wife were the parents of two children. Annie Singleton was born Annie Nixon in 1873 in Montgomery, Alabama. Her father was from one of the parishes in Louisiana and her mother was from South Carolina. When Annie met Archie she was known as Anna Coleman from a previous union.

By the turn of the century, Archie and Annie, who married in 1904, had relocated from South Carolina to the township of Ithaca, New York located in the Southern-tier Finger Lakes region of the state. They purchased a home at 411 East State Street in a racially mixed neighborhood where they were one of two African-American families residing on the street. Archie worked as a janitor and Annie worked as a domestic in the home of one of the white families in Ithaca. The 1910 U.S. census shows that the Singletons had a 4-year-old daughter Mary; and, in 1920 they were also raising a 17-year-old nephew Albert Nixon, who resided with them.

In their home at 411 East State Street, the
Singleton's rented out an upper bedroom to a young student from Washington, DC named Robert Harold Ogle. At that time, Black students attending Cornell University were not allowed to live on campus. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Singleton on E. State Street was one of several places African American students lived while studying at Cornell. This was a common occurrence in the town of Ithaca. Many African American families, who saw the need to be a "support system" for these Black students in a racially charged white environment, offered their homes to students and would support them in their endeavors. For many, 411 E. State Street offered a comfortable, home-like living arrangement.

It was in the Singleton's home that Robert Ogle and six other young Black male students from Cornell, known as Mrs. Singleton's "boys," met and formed a literary group out of which Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was foundered in December 1906.

At the 1939 General Convention in New York City during the World's Fair, thirty-three years after the founding of the Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity invited Mrs. Annie Singleton as its special guest. General President Charles H. Wesley, the eminent historian, who realized that the many members of the fraternity had not seen this grand lady, introduced her to the brotherhood. It was at this convention that the name "Mother" was endeared to the brotherhood and she was officially designated the "Mother of Alpha Phi Alpha."

"Mother" Singleton later moved from Ithaca to Toledo, Ohio during the early 1940s and then in 1946 to Buffalo, living with niece Mrs. Ruth Paige at 116 Northland Avenue until her death in 1960. At the 50th Golden Anniversary Convention of the fraternity held in Buffalo in 1956, she was once again honored.

"Alpha Phi Alpha today represents the triumphant fruition of the magnificent dream that moved the Seven Jewels (Founders) to assemble in my humble home many, many years ago, and I am extremely happy that I was able in a very small way to stimulate the realization of this dream through the trials and tribulations of the early years."

The "Mother of Alpha" Mrs. Annie C. Singleton died July 25, 1960 at the age of 86 and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. She was memorialized in 1960 at Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity's 54th General Convention in Washington, DC.

A tribute to honor "Mother" Singleton with a new headstone at her the Forest Lawn gravesite took place on November 16, 2011. The dedication was attended by the Alpha's National President, fraternity members from different parts of the country, and a great-great-nephew who acknowledged her as "a woman of strong will, generous and caring, but not a wilting flower".

Mother Singleton will always be remembered for her encouraging and nurturing relationship with her "boys."

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