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Alpha Rho Brother Charles Vert Willie (Spring 1946) Enters Omega Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha

by BMaynard Scarborough & APCAA Staff

Brother Charles Vert Willie -- educator, sociologist, and Charles William Eliot Professor of Education, Emeritus, at Harvard University -- entered Omega Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. He was 94 years old. News of his passing was shared by fellow Alpha Rho Chapter Alum Brother Richard Oliver Hope (Fall 1958), who was a student, colleague and close friend of Dr. Willie and his family.

Charles Vert Willie was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 8, 1927, the grandson of Louis Willie, a former slave. Willie attended Morehouse College and graduated in 1948. He served as class president in 1948 and also during his 1946 sophomore year. Following graduation, he received a master's degree from Atlanta University and in 1957, he obtained a Ph.D. in sociology at Syracuse University. At Syracuse University, Willie served as chair of the Department of Sociology and Vice President of the University, at a time when African-Americans were not holding such positions. He was then hired by Harvard University in 1974 where he served as the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education.

Pictured above: In 1974, Charles Vert Willie was one of four court-appointed masters who helped develop a plan to desegregate Boston’s public schools, a role he repeated in many other cities. “I still see myself as a sociologist,” he said, “but I steer close to current issues.” (The Harvard Gazette)

Willie was the first African-American professor at Syracuse University, teaching there from 1950 to 1974. He served United States President John F. Kennedy as the Research Director of Washington Action for Youth, a delinquency-prevention planning program in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime from 1962 – 1964. He returned to Syracuse University from 1964 – 1966.

In July 1965 he introduced his Morehouse College classmate and fraternity Brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Sigma/Summer 1952) at a speech at Syracuse University. In 1966 – 67, he took leave from Syracuse as a Visiting Lecturer in Sociology at the Harvard Medical School in its Department of Psychiatry as part of the Laboratory of Community Psychiatry. He was chairman of the Department of Sociology and was vice president of student affairs 1972 – 1974 at Syracuse at the time he left Syracuse to accept a tenured position as professor of education at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education in 1974.

Willie retired in 1999 from Harvard and was awarded emeritus status by the faculty.

Pictured above: Charles V. Willie (left) prepares to introduce Brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally at Syracuse University in the 1960s. The two men first met when both were teen-age students at Morehouse College. (

Willie was one of the nation's leading black sociologists and he dedicated his professional life to solving social problems. His research interests included desegregation, higher education, public health, race relations, urban community problems, and family life. His expertise in the area of school desegregation is widely known. He has served as a court-appointed master, expert witness, and consultant in many school desegregation cases. In 1975, Willie served as a court-appointed master in the Boston school desegregation case and later was retained to develop a controlled choice student assignment plan for Boston.

He also served as a consultant, expert witness, and court-appointed master in major school desegregation cases in other cities, including Hartford, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Little Rock, Milwaukee, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Louis; and in other smaller municipalities such as St. Lucie County and Lee County, Florida, and Somerville, Cambridge, and Brockton, Massachusetts.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Willie and nineteen others (from among more than 1,000 candidates) to the President's Commission on Mental Health. He was recognized in 1983 with the Society for the Study of Social Problems' Lee-Founders Award for effectively combining social research and social activism.

Pictured above: Brother Willie returned to the Morehouse College campus in 1949 to serve as keynote speaker at the Spring 1949 Initiatory Banquet for Alpha Rho Chapter. (Sphinx Magazine)

Willie was the author or editor of more than 25 books and articles covering topics such as: race relations, urban education, public health, community development, family life, and women's rights. His books include A New Look at Black Families (1976), The Education of African-Americans (1991), Theories of Human Social Action (1994), and Mental Health, Racism and Sexism (1995). Morehouse-Barlow published his book entitled Church Action in the World in 1969.

A number of colleges, universities, and seminaries conferred honorary doctoral degrees upon Willie including Syracuse University, 1992; Haverford College, 2000; Episcopal Divinity School, 2004; Emerson College, 2008, Morgan State University, 2013; and Beacon College, 2019. In June 2000 Syracuse University awarded Willie its George Arents Pioneer Medal, the highest alumni honor the University can bestow. In 2013 the Eastern Sociological Society established an annual award in Dr. Willie's name to be given to a minority graduate student who demonstrates exceptional scholarly promise, "in recognition of Willie's work on racial and ethnic minorities, his support of minority graduate students, and his invaluable contributions to ESS."

Willie served as Vice President of the American Sociological Association and as President of the Eastern Sociological Society. In addition, he has served on the board of directors of the Social Science Research Council; and the technical advisory board of the Maurice Falk Medical Fund.

Pictured above: Dr. Willie with colleagues at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Harvard Ed. Magazine)

Willie was a lay member of the Episcopal Church in the United States, a former member of its Executive Council and was a past vice president of the House of Deputies, one of two houses, with the House of Bishops, that makes up the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Willie was the first African-American elected as Vice-President of the House of Deputies (1970). Although a lay member of this religious association, he was invited to deliver the ordination sermon at an irregular service held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Church of the Advocate on July 29, 1974 in which the first eleven women were ordained as priests in this denomination. Some members of the Episcopal Church were reluctant to acknowledge the priesthood of women, and the ordination was disputed.

Meeting in emergency session in Chicago, the House of Bishops invalidated the ordination by a vote of 128 to 9 because the four officiating bishops had "not fulfilled constitutional and canonical requirements." Willie then resigned his elected office of vice-president on August 18, 1974 in protest at the Bishops' failure to uphold the ordination and accord women equal rights. Ms. magazine designated him a male hero in its tenth anniversary issue (August 1982). In that issue, he and forty other men were honored for taking courageous action in behalf of women.

Pictured above: Brother Willie pictured alongside his pledge line Brothers from Spring 1946 on page 5 of the Alpha Rho Chapter Timeline -- all 128 pledge periods from 1924 - 2021 can be viewed here: AP TIMELINE

According to a 2010 feature in The Harvard Gazette, "Willie took away two main lessons from his long view of America’s racial past: Be a person for others — a mentor — and always promote love and justice as the foundation of community life."

He last resided with his wife Mary Sue Willie in Brighton, Massachusetts. Their three children are: James Theodore Willie, Martin Charles Willie, and Sarah Susannah Willie-LeBreto who serves as Provost and Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Sociology at Swathmore College in Pennsylvania.



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