Printer-Friendly Version

"News and Views: The Continuing Segregation of Fraternities and Sororities at the University of Alaba"
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
October 31, 2001


In common with the big city politics of former times, an organization called "The Machine" rules the campus of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Well known to most people at the university, The Machine is a clandestine group of white students and alumni who work to preserve on campus the racial and cultural traditions of the Old South. The Machine used to hold meetings in an old gravel pit until its secret meeting place was revealed in an Esquire magazine article. In 14 of the last 15 student body president elections, the Machine-backed candidate has won. In 1993, when a white student tried to run an independent campaign for student body president, she was attacked by a masked man with a knife. Later, she received a reminder which read, "Machine rules, bitch."

Fraternities and sororities at the University of Alabama have once again rejected all black applicants during this fall's rush. But later on, the Tuscaloosa campus was stunned to learn that a woman with a black father has been a member of a sorority since last November.

In common with the big city politics of former times, an organization called "The Machine" rules the campus of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Well known to most people at the university, The Machine is a clandestine group of white students and alumni who work to preserve on campus the racial and cultural traditions of the Old South. The Machine used to hold meetings in an old gravel pit until its secret meeting place was revealed in an Esquire magazine article. In 14 of the last 15 student body president elections, the Machine-backed candidate has won. In 1993, when a white student tried to run an independent campaign for student body president, she was attacked by a masked man with a knife. Later, she received a reminder which read, "Machine rules, bitch."

One of The Machine's principal goals is to preserve the segregated fraternity and sorority system on campus. Some 170 years after its founding and 45 years after its initial racial integration, no black student has ever been admitted to a white fraternity or sorority at the University of Alabama. As this journal reported in the Summer 2001 issue,(*) not only does the university permit this segregation to continue, but it also provides financial support to the all-white fraternities and sororities.

This academic year hope emerged that the racial barrier would collapse. Faculty and administrators moved rush week forward on the calendar so that black students would feel more comfortable on campus before they decided whether they wanted to join a fraternity or sorority. Members of the University of Alabama faculty proposed a resolution that fraternities and sororities which refuse to accept black members would no longer be welcome on campus. Racially segregated fraternities and sororities would lose the sweetheart lease deals that the university affords Greek organizations that have houses on state-owned university land. There were reports that black students who have been rejected in the past were planning a lawsuit against the university.

Efforts to integrate the campus' fraternities and sororities were dealt a blow when, to the amazement of most progressive observers, the black president of the university's chapter of the NAACP held a press conference and announced his opinion that the fraternities and sororities should be free to discriminate if they so chose.

Nevertheless, the university's administration actively backed the candidacy of Melody Twilley for membership in one of the university's 15 all-white sororities. Twilley is a black junior with a grade point average of 3.87. She sings in the campus choir, is said to be beautifully dressed, and speaks eloquently. Twilley was featured prominently in the local press and on television and appeared to be a good bet to finally break the racial barrier.

Despite the fact that more than 80 percent of all women students who participate in rush week are asked to join a sorority, only one of the 15 sororities -- Alpha Delta Pi -- asked Twilley back to participate in the final cut. But this was the end of it. This sorority too declined to invite Twilley to join.

The Sorority Barrier Is Secretly Broken

After rush week Christina Houston, who has been a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority since last November, announced that she had already broken the color barrier. Houston is a biracial child of a black father and a white mother but she has largely Caucasian features. Some reports said that Houston "looks like a white girl with a nice tan." Reliable sources at the University of Alabama told JBHE that Houston, when offered the choices of white, African American, or mixed race on her university registration form, chose "white." These sources also note that the Gamma Phi Beta did not know Houston was biracial when they accepted her for membership.