The Origin of Achievement Week

Omega's first social action initiative

Precursor to a Conclave

1920 marked a new beginning, a renaissance for African Americans. A newfound sense of racial and cultural pride began to galvanize, in part by the racism they faced and significant achievements being made. World War I provided over 370,000 African American men to fight for the U.S. against Germany and its allies. Spurred by the war, better job opportunities, and racial conditions, the Great Migration began among African Americans, seeing over 10% of blacks relocate from the South to the North and West between 1916 and 1930. Jack Johnson was the boxing champion for half the preceding decade, a feat never accomplished by a black man. Marcus Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association advocating for black unity, pride, and complete autonomy from whites and achieving over one million members by 1921. At the same time, the growing and influential NAACP was established in 1909 “to promote equal rights and eradicate caste or racial prejudice” in the U.S. This propelled a New Negro Movement, which captured a new sense of racial pride, cultural self-expression, and economic independence.


The genesis behind what is now Achievement Week is found at a significant event that occurred in Omega’s history at the 9th Grand Conclave held at Meharry Medical College in Nashville from December 27-29, 1920. It was at this Conclave that Dr. Carter G. Woodson gave a stirring speech during the opening session on Monday evening, December 27, 1920, on “Democracy and the Man far Down.” According to a fraternal publication, in his speech, Dr. Woodson states:

“mentioned the Negro’s neglect of his history, in fact, his ignorance of it, and urged the college man to give less attention to social affairs and devote more of his time to the study and dissemination of the facts of Negro life and history. Such knowledge, he maintained, would produce an increase in the number of competent Negro leaders and would inspire race pride in the masses as a whole.”


So moved were the delegates of the 9th Grand Conclave by Woodson's speech that a decision was made by the body to designate a week for a public campaign on the study of Negro Literature and History. This was entitled The Campaign for the Study of Negro Literature and History.  The responsibility of executing this national campaign was given to William Stuart Nelson, who was elected to the newly created national position of Director of Publicity for the Fraternity at the Nashville Conclave (Nelson was also responsible for publishing The Oracle, the Fraternity's magazine).   The campaign was held from April 24-30, 1921.  Mass public meetings were held by Chapters featuring prominent speakers, and pamphlets were printed and distributed to attendees, students, and the community discussing the accomplishments and history of African Americans.  Folders were sent to the Black press containing facts on Negro history.  Reporting from Atlanta, Grand Basileus Harold H. Thomas noted:

"The campaign has been a howling success all over the country and more than a success in Atlanta. Eta’s big mass meeting was attended by over two thousand people, and Omicron held their open meeting in a large church Friday night. Omega men during the week have spoken in every institution of learning in the city, including colleges, grammar schools, and private schools.”


In 1926, so as not to compete with Woodson’s newly launch Negro History Week, under the direction of John Prescott Murchison, the national and local celebration changed to the first or second week of November with the focus on the achievements of African-Americans not only in the past but currently across a vast diaspora of fields.  The goal was to “inject racial pride and to stimulate, enrich, and direct the innate powers of Negro youth.”  The new name of this initiative became the Negro Achievement Week, Omega’s first national program.

The first Negro Achievement Week was held from November 15-21, 1926.  Murchison developed a day-by-day construct to help guide the implementation by Chapters and tools that they could use to supplement their week of activities.  Targeting African American youth, Chapters were encouraged to canvass the local schools daily to present a different phase of the Negros’ achievement by distributing literature, donating books and pictures to libraries, engaging the Black church, and conducting literary contests and essays dealing with African Americans in history and art.

Murchison's committee constructed a booklet on the achievement of African Americans for distribution to African American youth through the Chapters.  Entitled “The Achievement Project,” Herman Dreer, author of The History of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, described the booklet as “an attractive 28-page booklet, 7 ½” x 5 ¼”, covered in purple and gold.” Sections of the booklet include achievements in Economics, Science, Education, the Arts, Politics, and Inventors and a 5-page section on the history of Omega Psi Phi, including the purpose of the Achievement Week project. According to the 1926 Grand Conclave Report, over 5,000 booklets were printed, with 3,000 distributed to the public through Chapters.

Murchison outlined a recommended template of activities as a guide to the Chapters for the inaugural Week in the October 1926 Omega Bulletin:

Monday, November 15, 1926:                   Achievement of African Americans in Education

Tuesday, November 16, 1926:                   Achievement of African Americans in Literature and Art

Wednesday, November 17, 1926:             Achievement of African Americans in Business (morning); Celebration of Omega’s 15th anniversary (evening)

Thursday, November 18, 1926:                 Achievements of African Americans in Science and Medicine

Friday, November 19, 1926:                       Achievements of African Americans in Law and Government

Saturday, November 20, 1926:                   National Exam in Negro Life and History (morning); Public meeting featuring prominent speaker (evening)

The capstone of the Week's activities was the inaugural National Examination in Negro Life and History.  This highly challenging 10-question exam was administered nationally on Saturday, November 20, 1926.  Examiners of the exam included Dr. Robert Thomas Kerlin, noted lecturer and author of The Voice of the Negro, and famed intellectual Dr. Alain Leroy Locke, Rhodes Scholar, Howard University Professor, and originator of the New Negro movement of the 1920s.  Three students from the University of Cincinnati swept the top three prizes with scores ranging from 90 to 94. The University of Cincinnati offered a course on Negro Life and History, which was rare for any academic institution, black or white.  The three top prize winners all were students in this course.  The first-place prize was $20 ($345 in 2023), with second and third place receiving $10 each.

The Result

The results from this relaunch were outstanding. Murchison reported in the December 1926 Oracle that:

“In precis vernacular, we are shouting from the temple top that the Negro Achievement Project was a screaming success, despite the fact that there were several Chapters so located that it was impossible for them to participate. From everywhere and from non-Omega men, too, comes the report that the project has done much, even in our beginning, to inspire Negro youth to greater achievement and to create a feeling of self-respect in the Negro.”

This re-established effort and success laid the foundation for what Achievement Week is today.   Now over 750 Chapters celebrate the achievements of local leaders in their community annually during November each year to encourage African American pride and success.