White, Linda M. 1942–
Linda M. White 1942–
When Ebony magazine named Linda M. White to its list of the 100-plus Most Influential Black Americans in May of 2003, it underscored the important role national African-American sororities have played in the black community and American society in general. White, elected international president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority in 1998, oversees an organization with 954 local chapters all over the world, over 170,000 members, and a roster of individual projects with budgets that might run to millions of dollars. Mindful of the growing political clout of Alpha Kappa Alpha, such luminaries as New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton met with White during her term as president.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 21, 1942, Linda Marie White was raised in Chicago and has lived there for most of her life. Her father was a railroad dining car waiter. She attended Chicago’s Parker High School, graduating in 1959 and then entering Atlanta’s Clark College. White became first became involved with AKA at Clark in 1960. She graduated magna cum laude from Clark and then returned home to Chicago to continue her political science studies. White earned an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1969, joining AKA’s Theta Omega chapter while she was there. In 1971 she received a certificate in systems management from Stanford University, and she also studied management at the University of Michigan—top-flight schools all.
White’s first job was with the federal government, as a management analyst for the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. She stayed in that position for two years and then came back to Chicago and took a job with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Over nearly 30 years with the agency, White rose steadily through the hierarchy. She became acting director of field operations for the Chicago region, helmed an inner-city Social Security office, and finally became Northern Ohio Area Director (based in Chicago), responsible for managing 29 local offices and a $32 million budget.
Over this entire period, White remained active in Alpha Kappa Alpha. For more than 20 years she served with the sorority’s educational foundation, eventually becoming its national president. At the same time, she rose through the sorority’s structure of administrative posts, some of which have Latinate names. She was president of the Theta Omega chapter in Chicago and served as international secretary and as international protocol liaison to the sorority’s overseas membership in the Caribbean, Germany, Korea, England, Japan, and Africa. She became Supreme Grammateus, First Supreme Anti-Basileus (a vice-presidential post), and, in 2002, the 26th Supreme Basileus, or president, of AKA.
One of several national black sororities founded early in the twentieth century at Washington, D.C.’s Howard
At a Glance…
Born on April 21, 1942, in Cleveland, OH; Education: Clark College, Atlanta, GA, BA, magna cum laude, 1963; University of Chicago, MA, 1969; Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, certificate in management, 1971; University of Michigan, graduate study. Religion: Methodist.
Career: US government, Department of Health and Human Services, management analyst, 1971-73; U.S. government, Social Security Administration, Chicago, office director, acting field director, Northern Ohio Area Director, 1973-2002; Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Chicago, Supreme Basileus (international president), 2002,
Selected memberships: United Negro College fund, member, board of directors; NAACP, life member; St. Mark’s Methodist Church, Chicago, administrative board, past president; Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, member, 1960-.
Addresses: Home —Chicago, IL. Office —Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, lnc., 5656 South Stony Island Ave., Chicago, IL 60637.
University, AKA is most visible to the public through its members’ pink-and-green outfits, on display en masse during the group’s biannual meetings, or boules. Its primary function, however, is to work on educational and social issues, and its membership includes a who’s who of African America, from Rosa Parks and Ella Fitzgerald to novelist Toni Morrison and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun. White named technological initiatives, including Internet literacy, among the educational goals of her administration when she took office.
An example of the scope of AKA’s efforts was the $2.7 million reading program White announced at the close of the Orlando meeting at which she took office. AKA partnered with New York’s minority-owned Metropolitan Teaching and Learning Company to implement book donations and reading programs at the third-grade level, and White also brought U.S. Department of Education funds to the cause. “Reading is the key to academic achievement, and AKA will insure that our children master the basics so that they can compete. We will have them reading at or above grade level by the third grade,” White was quoted as saying in the Chicago Independent Bulletin.
White’s plans for her presidency involved a three-pronged program centered on education, health, and the black family. One health initiative involved participation in a year-long campaign aimed at reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in black communities. AKA worked with two other black women’s organizations (Women in the NAACP and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women) on the campaign, partnering with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to sponsor a national SIDS summit meeting in May of 2003. “We are coming together to change a historical pattern of the SIDS rate among African-American infants, which is twice that of white infants,” White told the Tennessee Tribune.
In the midst of these initiatives, however, White had to contend with a blowup of a problem that extended beyond the black Greek system to plague a whole range of American fraternities and sororities: the issue of hazing during initiation rituals. After the 2002 drowning deaths of two seniors at California State University at Los Angeles during an initiation incident in which the students were allegedly blindfolded and forced to walk into Pacific Ocean surf, the family of one of the girls filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against AKA. White reaffirmed the sorority’s anti-hazing policy and pledged full cooperation, although the students involved were not AKA members. Police eventually concluded that hazing was not to blame for the students’ deaths, but bad publicity over the incident persisted.
Active in Chicago’s St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and a member of the Board of Directors and the Brown 50th Anniversary Education Equity Commission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), White and AKA looked forward in 2004 to that year’s presidential election cycle. The group, together with eight other black Greek organizations, planned a sustained campaign to register voters, educated them on issues, and mobilize them to vote in November. “With the commitment and support of each and every soror [sorority member] and the AKA spirit, we can make a significant difference,” White wrote on the AKA website. “We must come together and impact the communities we serve to the fullest.” The campaign’s goal was to register 1.5 million new voters, and no one familiar with White’s past efforts could afford to dismiss its effectiveness.
Afro-American Red Star, October 5, 2002, p. A1. Charlotte Observer, March 26, 2004, p. A13.
Chicago Defender, September 28, 2002, p. 4.
Ebony, May 2003.
Jet, September 2, 2002, p. 36.
Precinct Reporter (San Bernardino, CA), July 25, 2002, p. 10.
Seattle Times, October 12, 2003, p. L4.
Tennessee Tribune (Nashville), June 11, 2003, p. B9.
Alpha Kappa Alpha, www.akacentral.org (June 7, 2004).
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., www.akal908.com/aka/index.htm (June 7, 2004).
“Linda White: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority,” NAACP, www.naacp.org/BvBE/linda-white.shtml (May 12, 2004).
“Linda White: Biography,” The History Makers, www.thehistorymakers.com (May 12, 2004).
—James M. Manheim
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