Kappa Alpha Psi®, a college fraternity, was born in an environment saturated with racism. The state of Indiana became the 19th state of the Union in 1816, and it founded Indiana University in Bloomington four years later. This city was largely populated by settlers from below the Mason-Dixon line and, therefore, found many sympathizers of the Southern cause. Consequently, the few Blacks who took up residence in Bloomington in those early years were socially ostracized and encountered extreme acts of prejudice and discrimination. The state of Indiana became a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan. Their intolerance toward Blacks fueled the negative mindset of other Whites residing there. Vigilante lynchings of Blacks were commonplace. This environment made day-to-day life for Blacks an arduous task and attempts to achieve in school nearly impossible. Despite the growing hostility of Whites toward Blacks in Indiana, some Black students sought a college education at Indiana University, as it was a tuition-free university of the highest quality. However, few Blacks could remain longer than a year or so without having to withdraw in search of employment.
The campus of Indiana University at that time did not encourage the assimilation of Blacks. The administration maintained an attitude of indifference as Blacks slowly matriculated and were likewise swiftly forgotten. The percentage of Blacks on campus was less than 1%. Blacks could go weeks without seeing one another on campus. Blacks were not allowed to reside in on-campus dormitories, were not afforded off-campus accommodations, were denied the use of all other university facilities, and were barred from participating in contact sports. Track and Field was the only sport in which Black students could demonstrate their athleticism.
In the school years of 1910-11, a small group of Black students attended Indiana University. Most of them were working their way through school. The number of places where they might assemble was limited. Realizing that they had no part in the university’s social life and were drawn together by common interests, they decided that a Greek letter fraternity would do much to fill the missing link in their college existence.
Two of these men, Elder Watson Diggs and Byron Kenneth Armstrong, had previously attended Howard University and had come into contact with men belonging to the only national Black Greek letter fraternity currently in existence. Their experiences at Howard gave rise to the chief motivating spirits that sowed the seed for a fraternity at Indiana University and crystallized the idea of establishing an independent Greek letter organization.
Consequently, eight other men met with Diggs and Armstrong for the purpose of organizing such a fraternity. The charter members were Elder Watson Diggs, Byron K. Armstrong, John M. Lee, Henry T. Asher, Marcus P. Blakemore, Guy L. Grant, Paul W. Caine, George W. Edmonds, Ezra D. Alexander, and Edward G. Irvin. The Founders sought one another’s company between classes and dropped by one another’s places of lodging to further discuss the means of formulating the fledgling fraternity in an effort to relieve the depressing isolation. They found that through these close interactions, they had common interests, and a close bond began to emerge. The organization was given the temporary name of Alpha Omega while they further developed the formation of the organization. Diggs presided as president, while Irvin was assigned as interim secretary of Alpha Omega. Alpha and Omega, the Greek alphabet’s first and last letters, correlate to Christ and the Founder’s relationship and connection to the church.
The Founders were God-fearing and serious–minded young men with the imagination, ambition, courage, and determination to defy custom in pursuit of a college education and career. The ideals of the church were an important foundation of the fraternity. One of the 5 Objectives of the fraternity is: “To promote the spiritual, social, intellectual and moral welfare of members.” Many aspects of the fraternity’s rites are engrained in Christian ideals and contain excerpts from the Bible.
It was clear at the outset that the new fraternity would not warm over the principles or practices of other organizations. Nor would the new fraternity seek its members in the manner of other Greek organizations – from among the sons of wealthy families or families of social prestige. These men of vision decided the fraternity would be more than another social organization. Reliance would be placed upon high Christian ideals and the purpose of ACHIEVEMENT.
The fraternity would seek to raise the sights of Black youths and stimulate them to accomplishments higher than might otherwise be realized or even imagined.
On January 5, 1911, the fraternity was originally known as Kappa Alpha Nu, possibly as a tribute to the Black students of 1903 (the Alpha Kappa Nu Fraternity) who preceded them at Indiana University. These men of vision decided Kappa Alpha Nu would be more than another social organization. It would be the only Greek letter organization founded with the concept of achievement. Kappa Alpha Nu began uniting college men of culture, patriotism, and honor in a Bond of fraternity. The fraternity was primarily founded under the efforts and leadership of the calm, methodical, and philosophical Elder W. Diggs and the critical and scholarly Byron K. Armstrong. Through their combined labors, the fraternity’s ritual and ceremonial forms, constitution, hymn, and motto were created, and insignia and emblems were fashioned. Taking careful attention to detail and ensuring the fraternity was rooted in authenticity, these Founder Diggs took courses in Greek heraldry and mythology and applied their combined knowledge to develop these articles. The idealist John Milton Lee also contributed significantly to the fledgling organization. For their work to establish the fraternity, Diggs was named permanent chairman; Lee was designated as secretary, and Armstrong as sergeant-at-arms. These three Founders are credited with guiding the infant fraternity through the most perilous years of its life. Each of the remaining Founders provided capable assistance by furnishing necessary sustenance to the embryonic group. Kappa Alpha Nu became the first incorporated Black fraternity in the United States once granted a charter by the Indiana Secretary of State on May 15, 1911.
Born out of the vestiges of racism, Kappa Alpha Nu encountered another metamorphosis, partially related to the action of bigotry. One day as one of the fraternity members, Frank Summers, was running the hurdles, Founder Diggs overheard a White student state, “He is a member of Kappa Alpha Nig”. An additional misunderstanding was attributed to the acronym of the fraternity’s Greek letters, “KAN.” Some confused the abbreviation of the letters to refer to the state of Kansas. The name of the fraternity and the image it portrayed were of paramount importance. These incidents caused the Founders to change the name of the fraternity. The Greek letter “Ψ” was chosen instead of “N,” and the fraternity acquired a distinctive Greek letter symbol, and Kappa Alpha Psi® became an indistinguishable Greek letter fraternity. The name was officially changed to Kappa Alpha Psi® on a resolution adopted at the Grand Chapter Meeting in December 1914. This change became effective on April 15, 1915.
Kappa Alpha Psi® was a frontrunner among Black Greek lettered collegiate organizations to issue a monthly publication. The inaugural edition of The Kappa Alpha Nu Journal debuted in April 1914, and it has been printed uninterrupted, except for 1918 and 1919, due to WWI.
Since the beginning, every endeavor was directed toward establishing the fraternity upon a strong foundation before embarking on expansion plans. Careful consideration was given to ensure the organization formed a firm foundation the first year before efforts to expand were attempted. Five chapters were chartered from 1913-1915, centered in the Midwest; the first chapter was established in the East in 1915. Except for the years during World War I and II, when some Grand Chapter Meetings were suspended, Kappa Alpha Psi® has grown and prevailed with unabating impetus.
Kappa Alpha Psi®, now comprised of functioning Undergraduate and Alumni Chapters on major campuses and in cities throughout the country, is the crystallization of a dream. It is the beautiful realization of a vision shared commonly by the late Revered Founders that enabled them to sow the seed of a fraternal tree whose fruit is available to, and now enjoyed by college men everywhere, regardless of their color, religion, or national origin.
It is a fact that Kappa Alpha Psi® is proud that its Constitution has never contained any clause that either excluded or suggested the exclusion of a man from membership merely because of his color, creed, or national origin.
Kappa Alpha Psi® is the 2nd oldest existing collegiate historically Black Greek letter fraternity and the 1st intercollegiate fraternity incorporated as a national body. It is the first Greek letter organization to establish its Alpha Chapter on Indiana University’s campus. The fraternity has over 250,000 members with 700 undergraduate and alumni chapters in nearly every state of the United States, and thirteen international chapters in Nigeria, South Africa, Bermuda, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Panama, United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Abu Dhabi, Canada, and Japan.
Through its worldwide prominence, Kappa Alpha Psi® has had a global impact on events that affect our local communities and places around the globe. Local chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi® participate in community outreach activities to feed the homeless, provide scholarships to young people matriculating to college, serve as mentors to young men, participate in blood drives, and serve as hosts of seminars for public health awareness, to name a few. Nationally, Kappa Alpha Psi® has provided summer enrichment camps and funds for St. Jude Medical Research Center to assist in the fight against childhood catastrophic diseases by raising more than $1 Million. Internationally, Kappa Alpha Psi® members have answered the call to service by proudly serving our military in wars since WWI and raising funds to assist those in need following natural disasters worldwide, including hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, and earthquakes.
Kappa Alpha Psi® proudly boasts of members who epitomize the essence of “Achievement in Every Field of Human Endeavor.” Some of these members include Ralph Abernathy, Wilt Chamberlin, Montell Jordan, Benjamin Jealous, Oscar Robertson, Cedric the Entertainer, Arthur Ashe, Mike Tomlin, Gayle Sayers, Adrian Fenty, Robert S. Abbott, Bennie Thompson, Donald Byrd, Johnnie Cochran, Ed Gardner, Smokie Norful, John Singleton, Tom Bradley, Bob Johnson, John Conyers, Alcee Hastings, Lerone Bennett, Jr., Kwame Jackson, Bill Russell, Tavis Smiley, Marvin Sapp, and Colin Kaepernick to name a few.