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SORORITY'S CENTURY OF CLASS

Alpha Kappa Alpha shares its stories of black sisterhood.

The green jacket hangs in a case on the second floor of downtown's public library, emblazoned with the pink and gold crest of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

It belonged to Sarah Clark, a schoolteacher aboard the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now the jacket is part of a traveling exhibit that tells a century of stories and contributions by women in the country's oldest black sorority.

The public got its first look Sunday at the exhibit, which will remain at the John F. Germany Library through Oct. 2.

"I think it does it justice, but there's so much more that we've done that can't be put into a small space," said Josette Sykes, a sorority member from Tallahassee who visited the display.

Tampa will be the only Florida stop for the exhibit, said project manager Sonja Garcia. A former South Atlantic Region president for the sorority, Garcia worked on the exhibit planning committee.

"We want this country to know there is a group of African-American women who have enriched lives, and we continue to do so," Garcia said.

Sixteen women founded Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard University in 1908. Since then, the organization has grown to 200,000 members worldwide. Gamma Theta Omega, the Tampa chapter, has 180 members.

Nationally, the membership includes women like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Star Jones Reynolds. Honorary members include Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Alicia Keys.

A replica of founding member Ethel Hedgeman's Howard University dorm room sits at the exhibit's entrance. The interactive display has re-created audio from a meeting where Hedgeman pitched the idea to a group of friends to form the organization.

Also on display is a replica of a space suit worn by Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut and a sorority member.

Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to the sorority on Aug. 28, 1972, thanking the members for a $20,000 donation that secured the purchase of the home where her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., was born.

"The check ... presented to me was the largest one that we have received from any black, or predominately black, organization," wrote King, who was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Flossie Lomax of Tampa joined the sorority in 1990. Her aunt was a member, and Lomax remembers admiring her growing up.

"She exemplified the epitome of a good woman," said Lomax, an Army major at U.S. Central Command in Tampa. "I looked up to her and all the women she spent time with."

Two years ago, Lomax's daughter Ricquitta became a member, too.

"That made me proud," Lomax said. "I have a legacy."

Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.

IF YOU GO

About the exhibit

"100 Years of Service: The Alpha Kappa Alpha Story" exhibit will remain on display through Oct. 2 at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa, 900 N Ashley Drive. Guided tours will be offered from noon to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from noon to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit is otherwise a self-guided tour and open during regular library hours.

For group tours, contact Barbara Jackson at bjsxn1@verizon.net or (813) 629-1918.

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