The national organization of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣAE, also abbreviated SAE) fraternity closed its University of Oklahoma (OU) chapter after a video showing OU SAE members singing a song to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands” that included flagrantly racist lyrics was posted to YouTube.
As it turns out, there’s far more to SAE’s bigotry than just a video posted online by a member of the group’s University of Oklahoma chapter.
First, the national SAE organization touts its ties to the pre-Civil War South and the Confederacy on its own website:
Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded on March 9, 1856, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Its founders were Noble Leslie DeVotie, Nathan Elams Cockrell, John Barratt Rudulph, John Webb Kerr, Samuel Marion Dennis, Wade Hampton Foster, Abner Edwin Patton, and Thomas Chappell Cook. Their leader was DeVotie, who wrote the ritual, created the grip, and chose the name. Rudulph designed the badge. Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South.
Founded in a time of intense sectional feeling, Sigma Alpha Epsilon confined its growth to the southern states. By the end of 1857, the fraternity numbered seven chapters. Its first national convention met in the summer of 1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with four of its eight chapters in attendance. By the time of the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, fifteen chapters had been established.
None of the founders of SAE were members of any other fraternity, although Noble Leslie DeVotie had been invited to join all of the other fraternities at the University of Alabama before founding Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
The fraternity had fewer than 400 members when the Civil War began. Of those, 369 went to war for the Confederate States and seven for the Union Army. Seventy-four members of the fraternity lost their lives in the war.
SAE was founded in an era when slavery was legal in many states, and was founded as a fraternity of, for, and by white racists and slavery supporters, most of whom fought for slavery and the right of states to secede from the Union. Sadly, it’s not surprising that SAE is full of racists.
Second, the SAE chapter at Oklahoma State University (OSU), a public university in Stillwater, Oklahoma, had at least one member hang a Confederate flag in the window of his room, and the flag was clearly visible from outside the OSU SAE fraternity house.
Racism in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is absolutely rampant.