By Barney Blakeney
Last week the sisters of Swing Phi Swing Social Fellowship, Inc. celebrated their 50th anniversary. Two of my sisters are Swings – Donna Singleton Pinder and Deborah McPherson Crawford. They bleed black and white. My fling with the Swings goes back to my time as a freshman at Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C.
In 1971 I was a brash young guy who thought he knew everything, but actually knew nothing. Coming from a family of teachers, going to college was more an expectation than preparation for a career. I knew I wanted to write, but had no real plan beyond that desire. And I wanted to be a Black militant! I was reading stuff by Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Frantz Fanon and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown).
In high school I had a wide circle of friends and ran with the popular kids. At Scotia I found myself alone. But I’m a friendly guy; it didn’t take long to make new friends. Like most freshmen,= the campus was my life. And campus life was about social cliques. I did some stuff at Scotia!
That reminds me, today our society is all wrapped up around what people did in their past – sexual exploitations, racist activities, etc. I recently was given some information about a friend who is accused of wearing blackface in a fraternity picture taken 30 years ago. The provider hoped I would write about the guy. I didn’t bite, though I asked my friend about the picture. He denies being the individual in the picture. I’ve stayed out of the blackface controversy. While symbolic gestures are important, substantive action makes things happen. I’ve often said I care less about what flag flies over the S.C. Statehouse than what decisions are made inside it.
Among the decisions and actions I faced in college was whether to join a fraternity. My surrogate father, Joseph A. ‘Pop’ Moore, was an Omega man. Cornell Hicks, I believe, was Kappa. Both those guys were extremely influential in my life. During my freshman year at Scotia one of my suitemates pledged Omega. It was brutal. I couldn’t imagine going through such trials to belong to a social group. The only time I had to fight to belong was when my family moved to Six Mile, North Charleston. A group of neighborhood boys came into our yard as me and my sisters played and picked a fight. I had to fight Thomas Warner who was my age. We became good friends.
That freshman year was a struggle – lots of conflicts. My boys weren’t there, my girlfriend wouldn’t write although I sent her the stamps my mom sent me so I’d write home instead of calling and I had to go through battles to join a group. The Greek fraternities were an option, but a lot of guys from Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship, Inc. were the ballplayers – and I loved playing ball! Swing Phi Swing was their sisters. Big Brenda was a Swing – 6’2” with the biggest hips on campus. I loved me some Brenda though she didn’t know it.
Swing Phi Swing national Vice President Krissy Coles sent me this information about the Swings:
“Swing Phi Swing Social Fellowship, Inc. was founded at Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the conclusion of the Civil Rights Movement and the burgeoning of the Black Power Movement. Twelve African-American women with the help of their brother organization Groove Phi Groove founded Swing Phi Swing on Friday, April 4, 1969, which was the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These twelve dynamic women displayed their commitment to the cause. At a time of social unrest, these twelve young women created an organization that would honor the trailblazers of the Civil Rights Movement and their legacy.
“These bold sisters dared to be different by challenging the traditional membership in Black Greek-Lettered organizations and chose to create a fellowship of women committed to meaningful community service, promoting and achieving academic excellence, and strengthening community involvement and engagement through culturally conscious events and activities. Swing Phi Swing ignited a flame that influenced thousands of women to follow in their footsteps. Their pioneering spirit continues to burn in the hearts of many sisters, transcending the boundaries of geography, social class, complexion, and religious affiliation.
“As sisters with interest never gone, we are never short on solutions for improving and engaging the lives of our members and the communities and campuses we serve and support. This support facilitates the attainment of goals that are necessary for our members’ personal and professional growth. Our Sisters shine in leadership in various industries like education, public policy, government/law, medicine, the arts, and public relations. We are determined to make an impact on the lives of the next generation of strong, daring women by means of transformative power. We must instill in others what makes us productive and positive leaders. Our members bring a wealth of knowledge and passion for social change that truly makes Swing Phi Swing a unique sisterhood where everyone can shine.”
I never did pledge a fraternity. Couldn’t decide which way to go. Instead I became an honored member of Wine Phi Psi. I’ve got brothers who are Greeks and Grooves. I miss Robert “Trip” Fields sorely – a Benedict College Groove who was my childhood friend and college roommate in Columbia. So, happy anniversary Debbie, Donna and the ladies of Swing. You all have been a very special part of my life.