Elizabeth Stubbs-Munnings has been a trailblazer, lifelong educator and community advocate. The West Palm group she co-founded just celebrated its 70th anniversary.
WEST PALM BEACH — One summer day in 1949, five women started the West Palm Beach-based Delta Epsilon Zeta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. Seventy years later, Elizabeth Stubbs-Munnings is the sole survivor — and the 93-year-old West Palm Beach resident isn’t ready to rest yet.
“She’s the seed,” said Cue T. Bridwell, a Zeta Phi Beta member since 1985, about Stubbs-Munnings and her contribution to the sorority, the county and to history itself. “We usually commemorate people after they die and don’t talk about their achievements while they’re still here.”
The Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. was formed on Jan. 16, 1920, by five students on the campus of the Howard University in Washington, D.C., during the height of the Harlem Renaissance and a surge in the Ku Klux Klan. Nearly a century later, Zeta Phi Beta — a historically black sorority with chapters in Africa — has grown to more than 100,000 members. It’s also the only prominently black sorority affiliated with a fraternity — Phi Beta Sigma, which organized the Zetas. And today, the organization defines its mission, in part, as working to aid communities through charities, scholarships and youth and adult classes. Zeta Phi Beta was founded on the principle that the sorority would be a “community conscious, action-oriented organization.”
Stubbs-Munnings along with Gertrude Walker Eutsay, Anne H. Brewer, Janie Coleman Miles and Panchetta Harrison founded the Delta Epsilon Zeta Chapter at Brewer’s house in West Palm Beach. Eutsay passed away last year at 103.
“I’m very proud of it,” said Stubbs-Munnings. “We have done quite a few important things in the community.”
The chapter awards annual Eutsay-Munnings Education Scholarships to high school seniors going into the field of education. This year’s recipient, Destinee Darville who graduated from Lake Worth High School, now attends Florida Atlantic University.
Since 2017, the Delta Epsilon Zeta Chapter is helping Roosevelt Middle School in West Palm through the Adopt-A-School program run by Zeta Phi Beta.They donate supplies, help with educational programs and have presenters talk to the students.
Stubbs-Munnings became a Zeta in her senior year at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. She wasn’t involved in clubs on campus and her friends influenced her to join a sorority.
“I was friendly with those that were there,” she said. “I started liking having deep close friends. It grew on me.”
Stubbs-Munnings studied home economics and minored in science, as was required of home economics majors at that time. She earned a master’s degree in administration in supervision where she started at Tuskegee University and graduated from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. After graduation, she became a teacher in Palm Beach County.
She was an elementary, middle and high school teacher throughout the county. She taught subjects including home economics, chemistry and physics. She was an after-school administrator at seven schools in the county.
“That was all we had to do at that time,” said Stubbs-Munnings. “As black people we had to grow in all areas. Teaching was one of the best professions.”
Stubbs-Munnings worked for five years at now-defunct Range Line Elementary School, previously located on State Road 7 and West Boynton Boulevard, rising through ranks to become principal. She was also a dean of students at Westward Junior High School in West Palm Beach, which is now an elementary school.
“She’s very calm, very even-tempered,” said Jeweldine Driver, the president of the chapter and has been a Zeta for 15 years. “She optimizes the finer woman, which means a person who carries themselves with respect, dignity, and is kind and giving. I’ve never even heard her raise her voice or get angry, but when she speaks everyone listens.”
The Delta Epsilon Zeta Chapter also provides toiletries to military service members and aids charitable organizations through fundraising, including U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Urban League to help fund their free 20 youth and adult programs.
“We try to help people in need of help,” said Stubbs-Munnings. “We are trying to help young people grow to be the kind of people we would want to live in our community and to help strengthen themselves and make the best of themselves.”
Even in her nineties, Stubbs-Munnings isn’t any more ready to leave West Palm Beach than she is her sorority. She’s lived in two houses in the city throughout her life.
“I never thought of moving to any other place,” she said. “I like to travel, but I always come back home.”
Stubbs-Munnings and her two brothers were born in their family’s home on 10th Street. She met a man named Charles at Bethune-Cookman, and the two married in 1957. They built a home on 6th Street in 1965, where they raised their two sons, and where she still resides. Charles, who was the first principal of West Palm Beach’s Roosevelt Elementary School, died in 1997.
The Delta Epsilon Zeta chapter turned 70 on June 1 and was celebrated at the Pleasant City Community Center in West Palm Beach. It led to the spread of the other chapters in Palm Beach County.
These days Stubbs-Munnings is a grandmother of four, who enjoys Delta Epsilon, math and crossword puzzles and being involved in the Bethune-Cookman alumni association. She also hopes to renovate her childhood home in West Palm.
“I try my best in whatever I do,” she said. “I do things the Lord may be pleased with me doing. I try to be honest, friendly, live fruitfully and help myself and others.”
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.