Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity marks 100 years in Detroit -- here’s a look inside the historic house

Historically black fraternity is all about serving the community, president says

DETROIT – It sits in Detroit’s Midtown right on Elliott Street.

Driving by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity house, you will know there is a lot of history inside of it. Not just because of the historic monument sign on the outside, but because of the brothers on the inside.

“Gamma Lambda Chapter is the third oldest alumni chapter in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity incorporated history,” said Alburn H. Elvin Jr., Gamma Lambda Chapter president.

Elvin said the chapter is one of the largest in the entire organization.

“There are many chapters situated in the U.S., as well throughout the world, like the Bahamas, Germany,” he said. "The house that we’re sitting in right now is a house that was built in 1919, coincidentally the same year as the Gamma Lambda Chapter founding.

Thirteen men with a vision came together to start a local chapter March 22, 1919.

“One of our founders, Cornelius l. Henderson, this brother was an engineer and architect. He helped to design and build the Ambassador Bridge, the tunnel to Windsor,” said Elvin.

Elvin said the chapter didn’t call this house home until years later.

“Back when this house was built, this whole block was full of large homes. When you think about Brush Park, it wasn’t always easy for people of color to get places like this. But somehow, some way, they made a way and in 1939, 20 years after this place was built, we owned it,” he said.

That was an interesting time for African Americans.

“Detroit played a role in the underground railroad, so just think about that, I mean there was a lot of migration north to the city of Detroit,” said Elvin. “When you think about organizations like ours in general, it’s based on service. That’s first. I mean, our mission, the fraternity’s mission statement is Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated develops leaders, promotes brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our communities. That’s exactly what Gamma Lambda embodies.”

The chapter’s history is located throughout the house, starting as soon as you walk through the door.

“This is what’s known as the president’s corner. This space is reserved for the past presidents of our chapter,” said Elvin.

There is a museum upstairs.

“When we established this room to be the way it is, we set this book here for when brothers or females, when they come up and visit and get a tour of the Alpha house, sign in and let us know you were here,” said Elvin.

It’s a front row to Gamma Lambda’s history, but also a look into what’s to come.

“The key is we want our brothers to be leaders, elsewhere, not just leaders in this building, but leaders out in the community, pillars of the community,” said the president.

The history and the legacy of the Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated will continue. They will celebrate 101 years in March.

  • For more Black History stories in Detroit, go here.

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