Remembering George Biddle Kelley, Founding Member Of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

George Biddle Kelley Founding Member Of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity


George Biddle Kelley is a founding member (Jewel) of the oldest African American fraternal organization, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Kelley was born in Troy, New York, on August 24, 1884. His father, Richard, was a runaway slave who came north and volunteered to serve with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first unit of Black troops authorized by the United States government to fight in the Civil War. His mother, Mathilda, was the daughter of the Rev. W.H. Decker, a prominent African Methodist Episcopal clergyman from Newburgh, New York.

He was named after his godfather and uncle, Rev. E. George Biddle, a prominent member of the Massachusetts African American community. Kelley attributed his goals and objectives to all of his forefathers.


Kelley attended Troy Military Academy as a youngster, and after graduation, he enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He enrolled in Cornell University’s College of Civil Engineering in 1905. He joined a social studies club at Cornell made up of African American students. Kelley was appointed treasurer due of his abilities and leadership. The club also started working in the community, particularly with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Kelley presided over the gathering that converted the club into a fraternity on December 4, 1906. Kelley was the first president of the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The following year, the company was incorporated, and Kelley was instrumental in its growth. He was a pioneer in fraternity naming, early logo design, and initiation rituals.

Kelley registered with the State of New York Engineering Board after graduating from Cornell, becoming the state’s first officially credentialed African American engineer. He spent half of his career with New York’s Engineering Department, where he worked on numerous projects, including the New York State Barge Canal. He spent the latter half of his career in taxation, first with the state of New York and then as a tax consultant in the private sector.

Kelley, 50, married Harriet (Gross) Kelley, 39, of Jersey City, New Jersey, in September 1934. Her education included Dickinson High School, Traphagen School, New York University, and Oswego Normal College.

Kelley lived in Troy, New York, his entire life and served the community in a variety of positions. Despite growing up in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, he was ordained as an elder in the Liberty Presbyterian Church. He was also a director of Troy’s Central YMCA and vice chairman of the New York State Anti-Discrimination Commission’s Troy Council. He was also a 32nd degree Mason in the Prince Hall Masonic Organization and a long-time member of Troy’s NAACP chapter.

Kelley’s extensive community involvement did not preclude him from continuing to work with the fraternity he helped form. His actions helped to ensure that the values established by its founders remained a cornerstone of the organization’s ongoing development. Even as alumni chapters grew in strength, he was a strong advocate for ensuring that college members were heard, and he valued character and potential over affiliation and heritage when selecting new members. His popularity with the Brotherhood was unwavering, and he remained an active member of the organization until the end of his life. He died on May 5, 1962, at the age of 77, in Troy.


Written by How Africa News

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