SAE, the only national fraternity to have its roots in the antebellum South, is once again at the center of a story on racism


As I’m sure you know by now, a video surfaced a few days ago of well-dressed, white University of Oklahoma fraternity members singing together on a bus about how there will never be a black person in their frat – Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE).

“There will never be a nigger at SAE,” the men sang enthusiastically. “You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE.”

[The video can be seen at the bottom of this post.]

While the University of Oklahoma shut down the chapter and expelled the students who led the song, the story doesn’t seem to be dying. In fact, it’s continuing to grow as others have begun to come forward with stories of songs like this one being sung by members of other SAE chapters, and share information on previous cases, which would appear to indicate a pattern of racism within the organization. From the wearing of blackface on the campus of Syracuse, to an incident on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis during which SAE members allegedly sang racial slurs at African-American students, it would appear as though there is a long tradition of white-entitlement-fueled cruelty within the organization, which has its roots in the antebellum South.

As Shaun King points out on Daily Kos, “…what we are talking about here is not some isolated, freestyle racism made up on the go by a group of hateful Mississippi rednecks. This chant has real roots in this fraternity. These are college students, in tuxedos, on their way to corporate America, declaring not only the racial segregation of their fraternity, but their outright hatred for African Americans.”

And all of this got me wondering what members of our local SAE chapter might think of all of this… especially any non-white members that might be in the organization.

Before we get into that, though, here, courtesy of Inside Higher Education, is the history of SAE, which was founded at the University of Alabama on March 9, 1856.

…Two months before the Civil War began, Noble Leslie DeVotie was boarding a steamship when he slipped, fell into the waters of Mobile Bay and drowned.

DeVotie was one of the founders of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South. A chaplain at Alabama’s Fort Morgan at the time of his death, he became the fraternity’s — and some argue, the country’s — first Civil War casualty. Nearly 75 other SAE members would die before the war’s end, the vast majority of them fighting for the Confederate South. When the survivors returned home, many found their universities burned to the ground and the 15 chapters of the fraternity in ruins.

SAE spent the next three decades rebuilding its ranks, eventually establishing chapters at Northern colleges. But their presence there among the well-established Northern fraternities was an uneasy one, and so two members wrote a defiant march in which, as SAE’s manual describes it, the fraternity “entered, met and held at bay its rivals in the North.” It was the first of many songs SAE would produce, earning it the nickname “the singing fraternity.”

In the defense of the organization, some chapters do have black members. And, even the worst of chapters have had periods where things appear to have been good. This same Oklahoma chapter that we’re talking about today, for instance, had a black member ten years ago who told CNN earlier today that something like this never would have happened when he was a member. But those stories appear to be few and far between. And when you search for “black SAE members,” you’re more likely to find stories about the young Cornell student who was killed in hazing incident last year, than anything even remotely positive.

And, it was with this in mind, that I thought that I’d find a black member of the local Ann Arbor chapter to interview. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck toward that end, as it appears as though, at least judging from the photos I’ve been able to find online, there may not be any.

For what it’s worth, I’m not the only one wondering about the local SAE chapter. Channel 7 apparently sent a reporter to check in with them today, and he got the door shut in his face. Here’s video of that incident, followed by video of the University of Oklahoma students chanting proudly about how, “there will never be a nigger at SAE.”

[note: The UM chapter of SAE was not being questioned by Channel 7 about anything race-related. They were being questioned about a hazing violation in 2011 that has kept them from being officially recognized by the University of Michigan for the past several years.]

update: From Imgur:


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  1. Posted March 11, 2015 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Of course, the apologists will scream that black people are racist, too as if that somehow justifies this behavior.

  2. anonymoous
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I doubt that the men of this chapter wrote this chant themselves. It sounds to me as though it is a song that has been handed down over the generations. If that’s the case, closing one house will not fix the problem.

  3. Casey
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    It doesn’t matter if they wrote it or not, it’s wrong. To continue a tradition that perpetuates hate and segregation is completely and undeniably wrong. It’s horrible. And it is terrifying and sickening that kind of hatred exists today (or ever).

  4. anonymous
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I think you misunderstood me, Casey. When I said that the men in this chapter probably didn’t write the song, I wasn’t attempting to make the case that what they did wasn’t terrible. Quite the contrary, I was trying to make the case that it was bigger than a “one school” “one chapter” problem.

  5. Eel
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Why couldn’t these men just focus their youthful energy on date rape and property damage like other frats?

  6. Shane Davis
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Judging people by the color of their skin is a fool’s errand. If you look at the worst criminals (killing the most, stealing the most, ruining the most) of world history you will see that they are all older, white men.

    If we want to make a snap decision about the possible intent of another human and have that choice be a pessimestic, exclusionary one than we all should shun older, white men.

    Those fuckers are selfish and destructive!

  7. Relative
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    At least our UM frats make jobs for people of color by trashing hotel rooms.

  8. Chaely Chartier
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    That entire fraternity (if not all, but I’ll digress from that argument for the time being) needs to be shut down. Generations of systemic racism & privilege doesn’t need an additional outlet endorsed by our higher education establishments, particularly not the public ones.

  9. anonymous
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    This story is really shocking. I can’t believe our liberal media would lead you to believe that privileged white kids belonging to fraternities are douchebag racists. Next you’ll tell me HIV isn’t just spread by having sex with dudes! What is our country coming to?

  10. Shane Davis
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Something needs to be done Chaely but I’m not sure what. Shutting those frats down will just shuffle them in to another deck.

  11. Mr. X
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Replace frats with Obama Reeducation Centers?

  12. Chaely Chartier
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Burn them alive Shane? Jk, I don’t know what the answer is, but I feel that giving them the protections of an exclusive, elite society only feeds their unchecked narcissism. I can’t help but think that mixing them in with the general population might force an ounce of humility on them. Mob mentality is only more frightening behind a shroud of secrecy, so exposing it to public scrutiny could stand to lessen the impact. I cringe to think about what must have gone on at fraternities before cell phone cameras were around to indict guilty parties of misbehavior.

  13. Elf
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Three questions for the local SEA chapter:

    Has this song ever been sung in your house?
    Do you have any black members?
    How will you help you fraternity put its racist past behind it?

  14. D'Real R. Graham
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    If you’d like to help strategically plan and coordinate a conciliation encounter (with the residents at the SAE Ann Arbor house), or if you’d be interested in surprising the residents at the SAE Ann Arbor house this summer (with a flash mob!), leave a reply. Dancing solves everything!

  15. James Williams
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    You might be better off interviewing someone from one of the fraternities in the Black Greek Association. They would have a better idea of how many black students attempt to pledge in non-BGA frats. He also might have an idea of which non-Black frats are considered less welcoming of Black members.

  16. Posted March 12, 2015 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    This story is sickening. It is disgusting that such racist thinking and behavior is still alive at the college level. I was hoping it would all die out with the old-timers…. I just heard that there is a movie that is recently out (forgot the name) that mentions SAE, stating that its nickname is “Sexual Assault Expected.”

    It seems to me that, besides racism, Greek Organizations, especially Fraternities, have a lot of very serious problems, from sexual assault, extensive damage to resorts, clogging up emergency rooms with extremely drunk students, excessive noise and other debauchery.

    I would like to see a national rule enacted immediately that bans the use of alcohol in any frat or sorority house where anyone under age 21 lives or visits. I have been shocked for years at how the authorities turn a completely blind eye to constant excessive underage drinking at these establishments.

    I was in Ann Arbor a few years ago on a football game saturday night where drunk students were vomiting on the streets, laying in the yards, and complete chaos had ensued. The town was trashed with garbage and bottles and cans. Since a large portion of college students are under age 21, I was stunned that no one seemed to care. I was at 7-11 later that evening and ran into an on-duty officer in the store. I asked him why all these underage kids were allowed to drink and behave like this without the police giving them tickets for “minor in possession of alcohol” for the younger ones or “contributing to the deliquency of a minor” for the older ones. I couldn’t believe it when the officer told me so honestly: “I wish we could do something too, but it’s political and our hands are tied.” WHAT?!?!?!?!?!? WHY ISN’T SOMEONE DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THIS????????? Can someone please investigate this???? Can we interview the police? The universities? Ask them why you don’t have to be 21 to drink in college?????? I thought that was the LAW? Why are these kids ABOVE THE LAW?? What message does that send to them?

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