This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Charles Stewart, Jr., Ph.D. (B.S. 2000). Stewart is an Associate Scientist for the Office of Biotechnology and Manager of the Macromolecular X-ray Crystallography Facility at Iowa State University. He is a Spring 2003 initiate of Iota Iota Lambda (Ithaca, NY Alumni Chapter), Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Earlier this year, while browsing social media I stumbled upon a photo of Jack Trice with his fraternity brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha. I was drawn to this photo because like Trice, I am a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and attended ISU (B.S, 2000). Many in the Cyclone family are aware of Jack Trice’s fatal football game. However, Trice’s life on campus appears lesser known.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is the first intercollegiate Greek-lettered fraternity founded by African-Americans. The fraternity has been interracial since 1945. Alpha Nu was chartered on Thanksgiving Day in 1922 and initially served as the undergraduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha for college men from Iowa State University and Drake University.
As I browsed back issues of the Sphinx magazine, the official magazine of Alpha Phi Alpha, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few references to Jack Trice. The photo mentioned above comes from the June 1923 issue (Vol. 9, No. 3, Page 17) and is accompanied by a short article describing activities of the recently formed Alpha Nu chapter. The chapter was preparing to give educational talks to congregations of several black churches, presumably in the Des Moines area. These talks were part of a national service program of Alpha Phi Alpha called “Go-to-High-School, Go-to-College” which stressed the importance of a college education. This program continues to this day.
A significant portion of this 1923 article was dedicated to Jack Trice. The author writes:
Among the new brothers that have filled the ranks of Alpha Nu is brother John Trice, who is destined to reach great heights in the athletic world. Winning his numerals in football last fall, did not satisfy Brother Trice. This spring, his work on the “Prep” track squad was a revelation to the most keen fans of that sport. He has frequently thrown the discuss [sic] one hundred and thirty-five feet and passing the forty foot mark with the shot, seems to be an easy matter with him. Trice has not only shown ability on the track and gridiron, but his aquatic habits have obtained for him membership to the Iowa State College Life Saving Corps.
The June 1924 issue of the Sphinx (Vol. 10, No. 3, Page 17) also notes that the 1923 football team erected a bronze reproduction of Trice’s famous “Last Letter” in the men’s gymnasium (State Gym at ISU).
Since his untimely death, members of Alpha Phi Alpha have been active in keeping his memory alive. Several members were active in the effort to rename the football stadium after Trice. In particular, the late Dr. George Jackson, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, encouraged students and alumni to write to University and Board of Reagents in support of renaming the stadium.
Jack Trice embodied the aims of Alpha Phi Alpha- manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind. Trice’s life and legacy continues to inspire fraternity members today. Chandler Wilkins, senior in Community and Regional Planning and Chapter President of Omicron Pi (the current chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha for undergraduate men at ISU and Drake) comments, “I share Trice’s sentiments that he wrote about in his ‘Last Letter’. I knew I would face obstacles but quitting was not an option. Trice’s story gives me strength to persevere because I know my role here serves a higher purpose.” Kenyatta Shamburger, Assistant Dean of Students/Director of Multicultural Student Affairs and advisor to Omicron Pi, describes Trice as a trailblazer whose story we can all learn from. Shamburger states “I believe that students must channel positive energy in the pursuit of their academic goals while also remaining socially and politically conscious and aware.”
What about the other men from that 1923 photo? A.C. Aldridge, Rufus Atwood, J.R. Otis, Frederick Patterson, John Lockett are all alumni of ISU. Atwood, Otis and Patterson went on to become the presidents of Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University), Alcorn State University and Tuskegee University, respectively. John Lockett became the Director of the Agricultural Division and Professor of Agronomy at Virginia State University. Sitting to the right of Trice is Charles Preston Howard. Howard graduated from Drake Law School, co-founded the National Bar Association and went on to have a significant career in civil rights, journalism and politics. More work is needed to uncover the stories of the other men in the photo but through his fraternity brothers Trice appears to have found men whose ambition, character and temperament matched his own.
A famous poem of Alpha men concludes by saying that Alpha Phi Alpha is the “…college of friendship; the university of brotherly love; the school for the better making of men.” I am sure that Trice had a bit of fun with his fraternity brothers while also working with them to address political and social problems on campus and in American society. Trice’s ability to have a fun yet meaningful campus life is a standard we should set for all students.