The Boulé

Today’s SepiaSaturday prompt showed a wedding party in their posh clothes.  My photos are not of a wedding party but everybody is dressed up and most are wearing hats.  They are from my Cleage family collection and are labeled only “Boulé“. They were taken during the 1950’s in Detroit, I believe.  I had heard of the Boulé all my life as an organization my grandparents belonged to. I had no idea it was secret fraternal organization until I started working on this post.  I have labeled my grandparents.  I do not know who any of the other people are.

My grandfather, Dr. Albert B. Cleage Sr on the right hand end of the line.  Where is his hat?
My grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage, is second on the right.
My grandmother, Pearl Reed Cleage, 4th from the right.  Why is she giving her neighbor that look?  Because she isn’t wearing her hat?

Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, also known as the Boule, is the first Greek-letter fraternity to be founded by African American men. Significantly, unlike the other African American Greek -letter organizations, its members already have received college and professional degrees at the time of their induction. The fraternity’s insignia is the Sphinx.

From the beginning, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity was a learned society, a social fraternity and an advancement organization, albeit a quiet one. As well, the fraternity believed absolutely in the equality of standing of its members and insisted that anyone who was eligible for membership was eligible and qualified for leadership. The founders were so certain of this fact that the fraternity selected its officers by lot, a custom that continued for the most senior officer until 1970.”   Taken from the official Boule page. Click to read the more about the Boulé.

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37 thoughts on “The Boulé

  1. How cool is that?! What wonderful photos! They sure were smart dressers – every single one of them! You must have been very excited to learn of this Boule, Kristin.

    1. Kat, I always knew about the Boule but I just never knew the particulars like how one got to be a member and that it was sort of secret. My aunt mentioned once about having to polish the woodwork when there was a boule event coming scheduled at their house and looking at photos one of my uncles might say, that was the boule.

  2. The fair skin guy, with the open collar in the middle of the 2nd row, looks very much like Sam and Eddie Thomas. I wonder if it is their grandfather, Alf, or their Uncle Alf?

    1. He doesn’t look like a photo I have of their father around the same time. He wasn’t a heavy man in my photo. I don’t know what their grandfather looked like. Wonder if I can google him.

      1. I googled and found photos of their father, uncle Alf and grandfather Alf. I am pretty sure none of them are the man in the middle.

  3. Again, I stand in awe of your great photo collection and the wonderful stories that go with the photos.

    They were, as my daddy use to say, dressed to the nines!


  4. What fabulous hats. And I love the Billy holidayesque lady in the 1st photo wearing flowers (or maybe ribbons?) in her hair. Was she the trendsetter?
    Great photos and thanks for the info on such an interesting group.

  5. Wow, what a set of smart looking people in all their fine clothes.
    And I like the moodiness in some of these photographs.
    I love how you started your post saying this was “secret”…
    How long was it actually a secret???

    1. I think they must have met all the groups business was taken care of in private. They contacted you if they were interested in you joining. There was no way to join otherwise. Their events were only attended by themselves. I can’t imagine it was actually underground.

      1. Yes ma’am, I assumed she was passing but wanted to be sure. I did not mean any harm 🙂

  6. Not just the hats, but look at the long, formal dresses and the gloves! Surely they didn’t dress so formally for all their meetings? This must have been a special occasion, right?

    1. Yes, it must have been a fancy occasion, not a meeting. Probably a one of the “Summer Soirees” given by the Iota chapter in Detroit. I doubt the women attended the actual meetings.

  7. Outstanding photos all of them! The ladies my goodness they all appear to be the most lovely of all southern belles! The last photo gee the ones in hats were glad they wore them, like the one man holding his head to block the sun…probably wishing it wasn’t so darn sunny!

  8. Very interesting post. I hadn’t heard of the Boulé. I love learning about new things when researching my posts and reading others.

  9. Wonderful photos on the theme! I had not heard of this group but it ties into the role that fraternal societies played in earlier times. Today their influence is diminished, but once they were way people knew their neighbors, their business associates, and civic leaders. I love how Sepia Saturday bloggers come up with stories and odd information that help give a forgotten perspective on an old photo.

  10. I love the frocks as well as your grandmother’s “look” at her neighbour. Priceless. I hadn’t ever heard of this society so that’s something new I’ve learned today.

  11. What a wonderful group of photos – I like the style of that era. The women look so lovely in their dresses and hats and the men look spiffy in in their suits and hats. I enjoyed your post.

  12. Absolutely beautiful! I’m seeing this for the first time on Christmas morning 2012. I linked this from Pearl’s Facebook page. Thanks so much for sharing your family history with us.

  13. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos of your family in the Boule. My father was also was a member of the Sigma Pi Phi Boule’. These are such wonderful people, and they have been good to my family.

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