This article relies too much on references to primary sources. This article needs additional citations for verification. The fraternity was founded by albert hicks iota phi theta men — Albert Hicks, Lonnie Spruill Jr. Charles Briscoe, Frank Coakley, John Slade, Barron Willis, Webster Lewis, Charles Brown, Louis Hudnell, Charles Gregory, Elias Dorsey Jr.
Michael Williams — during the Civil Rights Movement. Unlike most of their fraternity peers, the founders were all non-traditional students. Many of them were three to five years older, worked and attended classes full time, had served in the military, and had families with small children. These experiences gave the founders a different perspective than the typical fraternity member.
Brothers participated in various protests and sit-ins throughout Baltimore to fight racial segregation. The earliest was a protest organized with a civic interest group, composed mostly of Morgan State College students, against the theater at Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland, located diagonally across the street from Morgan State College. This protest started February 15, 1963, and over the course of the six days, the total number of picketers involved reached 1500, and over 400 individuals were arrested. The protest took place in the context of a longer history of protests against the theater’s white-only policy. Annual demonstrations against the theater had been held since 1955, including a sit-in at Northwood and picketing downtown. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fraternity supported the Big Brothers of America. In 1974, the then Grand Polaris, Thomas Dean, appeared in a local television commercial on behalf of Big Brothers of America.
The first steps toward moving the fraternity from a regional to a national scope were taken with the creation of Upsilon Chapter at Southern Illinois University in 1974. While its NIC membership was and is beneficial, Iota continued contact with the NPHC, which at the time had no expansion policy with which to accept new members. At its 1993 national convention, the NPHC adopted a constitutional amendment which provided for expansion, and several years later, a NPHC expansion committee developed criteria for potential new member organizations and a procedure by which they might apply. In 1996, Iota Phi Theta submitted a formal application to the NPHC expansion committee for review, after which it was delivered to the NPHC Executive Board. After deliberation, the board unanimously approved Iota Phi Theta’s membership application. Effective November 12, 1996, Iota Phi Theta was accepted as a full member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, with all its rights, privileges, and responsibilities.