Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Blacks Need Not Apply: Modern-day Segregation, Greek Organizations, and the University of Alabama

By: Inoljt,

College is often described as a wonderful institution, a place in which many people have the best experiences of their lives. Students like me forge lasting friendships, take a leap into independence, and even sometimes learn.

College is also a place to make lifelong connections. If you’re destined to be a future Wall Street businessman and your roommate an important politician – good things can happen.

Greek fraternities and sororities are particularly good at this. Take the University of Alabama. Its Greek organizations run The Machine, a secretive organization which effectively controls campus politics.

Since student government was initiated in 1915, the Machine’s choice for the SGA Presidency has lost a grand total of seven times – the last of which occurred in 1986. That’s a century of unchallenged Greek dominance.

Machine candidates often go on to have shining political careers. In 2000, The New Republic reported that:

When the Machine’s members leave Tuscaloosa, they typically go on to Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery, and join Machine alums in Alabama’s political and business elite. Machine members work in Alabama’s most prestigious law firms and businesses; they have been state legislators, state party chairmen, congressmen, presidents of the state bar, members of the Public Service Commission, and federal judges. For most of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, both of Alabama’s U.S. Senators, Lister Hill and John Sparkman, were Machine alums. Alabama’s current governor, Don Siegelman, was the Machine-backed SGA president in 1968; Senator Richard Shelby is also said to have been a member of the Machine (although his office has denied this). As one former member of a Machine-affiliated sorority explained to the student newspaper The Crimson White, “The goal is to run campus politics, but the real reason they want to run campus politics is so they themselves can run politics in Alabama.”

The meat of The New Republic article, however, does not dwell upon University of Alabama politics – but instead on a rather different theme. It tells the story of one Melody Twilley, a sophomore student at the University of Alabama attempting to join a Greek sorority. Like many of her fellow students, Ms. Twilley “blended right in to the roiling mix of social ambition and social privilege.” Compared to her peers, however, Ms. Twilley was unique in two interesting ways:

For one thing, unlike the vast majority of rushees, who are admitted into sororities as freshmen, this wasn’t Twilley’s first time through. She had tried-and failed-to join a sorority the year before. Which may have had something to do with the other thing that set Melody Twilley apart: She is black.

…Indeed, when Melody Twilley stood in front of the Delta Zeta house last September, it was believed that no white fraternity or sorority at the University of Alabama had ever offered membership to a black student.

More below.

Now there are two possible reasons why this may be. To be fair to the Greek organizations, very few black students rush into white fraternities or sororities; instead, they join historically black Greek organizations (this also makes racial discrimination impossible to prove). According to director of Greek Affairs Gentry McCreary:

Of the 1600 women last year that went through sorority recruitment only two African American students participated.

On the other hand, perhaps no black students apply because none expect to be admitted (and because they prefer black fraternities and sororities). Which naturally leads to the second catalyst: segregation as a consequence of tradition and racial tension. Or in simpler terminology:


This phenomenon is not limited merely to Alabama; segregated Greek organizations occur throughout the South and perhaps (hopefully not) the nation. This Time Magazine article investigated racial exclusivity at the University of Georgia, while also noting Greek segregation at the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia.

The New Republic’s article ended with Ms. Melody Twilley’s second attempt to join a white-only sorority, encouraged by school officials:

“I’ve fallen in love with her,” Kathleen Cramer, the university’s associate vice president for student affairs, told me last September. “I think she’s incredibly brave to do it twice. I’m so hopeful it’ll work this time.”

Sadly, this time it did not work. Ms. Twilley was rejected from every single sorority once again, as mandated by The Machine.

Eight years later, the University of Alabama’s sororities have admitted a grand total of two non-white students, to the best of my knowledge (to be fair, they mistook one of these students as white).

Now, if participating in these Greek organizations was merely a matter of partying – this would not be so bad. Being denied access to a racist private club is not nearly so bad as being unable to drink at the same fountain as everybody else. Well then again, maybe not.

But the sororities and fraternities of the University of Alabama do far more than organize parties or encourage alcoholism. They select the future leaders of Alabama and offer a pathway into elite society. The students elected by The Machine will go on to become the state’s senators, governors, and CEOs. When these doors to success come with “white-people only” labels, unfortunately, they effectively bar minorities from achieving the American Dream. And that is an outright shame.


  1. sricki

    The politics of the institution are indeed complicated. I have a lot of friends who went there for undergrad. I can’t say much about the sororities/fraternities, because most of my friends are not the sort who would rush. (Though ironically enough, I was in a sorority until I transferred schools and found that my second undergraduate home did not have my old sorority on campus.) I did have a boyfriend who went to UA and who got together with friends and started his own fraternity in his sophomore year, but I have no idea whether it ultimately survived.

    But I have spent much time on that campus, and I know Greek life is a big deal. I don’t know whether they are true, but I have heard tales of young men and women committing suicide because they were rejected from the fraternities/sororities they wanted to get into at UA. Whether those stories are true or not, the fact that they exist still reflects the import of those societies on campus.

    I have read and heard much about the Machine, and it isn’t really known — even by people who attend UA — how much is true or untrue. Still, it is infamous, and for good reason as I understand it. And your contention that racism is deeply entrenched is such a system strikes me as very likely accurate.

    I remember at my undergraduate institution (a Southern one), there were few if any African Americans in sororities/frats. There were none in mine, but I was told none had rushed in years. The question, “Why?” occurred to me then and is something to think about. To a large extent, I think it’s probably institutionalized racism — the knowledge of its existence probably deters African Americans from rushing and prevents them from being accepted even if they attempt it. But down South (dunno about up North), people often segregate “naturally” anyway. African Americans sometimes don’t seek to enter into groups where there are already large numbers of White people and vice versa. Down here, sometimes even the kids know how to segregate themselves, even when they know it’s the “wrong” thing to do. For an example… my mother is a gifted school teacher — she has a lot of incredibly bright kids. Years back, she told her class (of 7th graders) that a photographer was coming to take pictures. The photographers stepped into the room, and an African American boy suddenly said, “Wait! We’re segregated!” And so they were — my mom says the room was split down the middle between African Americans and Whites. This young boy then orchestrated the reorganization of the class, mixing the kids together so that the photograph that was to appear in the paper would not show a “segregated” classroom. Smart fuckin’ kid. But I think it goes to show that even when some people realize they are doing it, they continue to separate themselves out.

    This is an article about segregation in UA’s Greek system which you might find interesting if you’ve not read it.  

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