Kappa Alpha Psi® was founded on the campus of Indiana University, in an environment saturated with racism. Indiana became the nineteenth state of the Union in 1816 and founded Indiana University in Bloomington four years later. This city was largely populated by European-descended settlers who migrated from states below the Mason-Dixon line. Not surprisingly, many of them were subscribers to the Southern social order and sympathizers of its cause.
Consequently, the few African-descended citizens who took up residence in Bloomington in those early years were socially ostracized and encountered extreme, violent acts of prejudice and discrimination. They experienced domestic terrorism. The state of Indiana became a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan. Its virulent intolerance toward Black people fueled the negative mindset of other Whites residing there. Vigilante lynchings of Black residents were commonplace. This environment made day-to-day life for these beleaguered souls an arduous existence, attempts to successfully achieve in school extraordinarily difficult, and realization of those academic aspirations nearly impossible. Despite the growing hostility of white citizens toward Black citizens in the state, some Black students still endeavored to continue their education at Indiana University, as it was a tuition-free institution of the highest quality. However, few Black students could remain longer than a year or so without having to withdraw, as the demands of survival necessitated income and sent them in search of employment.
At that time, the campus of Indiana University did not encourage the assimilation of its Black students. The administration maintained an attitude of indifference, as Black students slowly matriculated and were likewise swiftly forgotten. Given that Black students comprised less than 1% of the total student population, they could go weeks without seeing one another on campus. They 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 were able to demonstrate their athleticism.
In the school years of 1910-11, a small group of Black students attended the university, most of whom were working their way through school. The number of places where they could assemble was limited. Realizing they had no part in the social life of the university, and drawn together by common interests, they decided that a Greek-letter fraternity would do much to fill the void in their college experience.
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 then in existence. Their experiences at Howard gave rise to the chief motivating spirits which sowed the seed for the creation of 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. These ten Founders sought one another’s company between classes and visited 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 be forged. The organization was given the temporary name of Alpha Omega, while they further developed its formation. Diggs presided as president, while Irvin was assigned as temporary secretary. Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet correlate to Christ and the Founders’ relationship with and connection to the church.
The Founders were God-fearing and serious-minded young men who possessed the imagination, ambition, courage, and determination to defy conventions of the day in pursuit of a college education and their chosen careers. The ideals of the church were an important foundation of the Fraternity. One of the Five 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 principles or practices of other organizations, nor would it 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 just another social organization. They would place their reliance upon high Christian ideals and declared that the Fraternity’s purpose would be achievement. Indeed, “Achievement in Every Field of Human Endeavor” would become the Fraternity’s motto. They would seek to raise the sights of Black youths, and would encourage and stimulate them to earn accomplishments higher than might otherwise have been realized or even imagined.
On January 5, 1911, the Fraternity then became known as Kappa Alpha Nu, possibly as a tribute to the Black students of 1903 (the Alpha Kappa Nu Greek Society), who preceded them at Indiana University. The ten Founders decided Kappa Alpha Nu would be more than another social organization. It would be the only Greek-letter organization founded with high achievement as its objective. Kappa Alpha Nu began uniting college men of culture, patriotism, and honor in a Bond of fraternity. Kappa Alpha Nu Fraternity was founded primarily through the efforts and leadership of the calm, methodical, and philosophical Elder Watson Diggs and the critical, 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. With unwavering diligence to ensure the Fraternity was rooted in authenticity, Founder Diggs took courses in Greek heraldry and mythology, and applied their combined knowledge to the development of these articles. The idealist, John Milton Lee, also contributed significantly to the fledgling organization. For their invaluable efforts 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 nascent Fraternity through the most perilous years of its life. Able assistance provided by each of the remaining Founders furnished necessary sustenance for 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 conflagration of racism, Kappa Alpha Nu then experienced another metamorphosis, partially catalyzed by an act 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.” Additionally, there was a misattribution to the Fraternity’s Greek letters, KAN. Some misconstrued the letters as an abbreviation for the state of Kansas. As 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 in place of N. Thus, the Fraternity acquired a distinctive Greek letter and Kappa Alpha Psi thereby became a distinguishable 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.
The Fraternity is the crystallization of a dream, the beautiful realization of a vision commonly cherished by the late Revered Founders, one that enabled them to sow the seed of a fraternal tree, whose fruit is available to and now enjoyed by college men everywhere, irrespective of color, creed, or national origin. Kappa Alpha Psi® is proud that its Constitution has never contained any clause which either excluded a man from membership or suggested his exclusion merely because of his ethnicity, religion, or familial origin.
Since the inception, careful consideration was given to and every endeavor was directed toward the establishment of the Fraternity upon a firm and durable foundation before embarking on plans of expansion. Five chapters were chartered from 1913-1915, centered in the Midwest, and the first chapter in the East was also established in 1915. Except for the years spanning World Wars I and II, when some Grand Chapter Meetings were suspended, Kappa Alpha Psi ® has grown and prevailed with unabating impetus.
Kappa Alpha Psi® was the first Black Greek-Lettered Organization (BGLO) to issue a monthly publication. The inaugural edition of the Kappa Alpha Nu Journal debuted in April 1914 and has been printed without interruption ever since, with the exception of 1918 and 1919, due to World War I.
Kappa Alpha Psi® is the second-oldest existing collegiate, historically Black Greek-lettered fraternity and the first intercollegiate fraternity incorporated as a national body. It remains the only Greek-letter organization with its Alpha Chapter on Indiana University’s campus.
The Fraternity is comprised of more than 160,000 members and more than seven hundred undergraduate and alumni chapters across the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Through its global footprint and attendant prominence, Kappa Alpha Psi® has made a substantive impact on events which affect both local and global communities. Local chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi® participate in community-outreach and public-service activities to feed the homeless, to provide scholarships to young people matriculating to college, to serve as mentors to young men, to participate in blood drives, and to serve as hosts of seminars for public-health awareness, to name a few. Nationally, Kappa Alpha Psi ® has provided summer enrichment camps and provided funds for St. Jude Medical Research Center to assist in the fight against catastrophic childhood diseases by raising more than $1 million. Internationally, members of Kappa Alpha Psi® have answered the nation’s call by proudly serving in our military, including war theatres spanning World War I to the present. Members have also raised funds to assist those in need following natural disasters around the world, including hurricanes/typhoons, tornadoes, and earthquakes.
Kappa Alpha Psi® proudly boasts of members who epitomize the very essence of “Achievement in Every Field of Human Endeavor”. A very small portion of these many prominent members includes the following:
Academia, Civil Rights, Government, Journalism, the Law, Politics, and Public Service
Ralph D. Abernathy, Sr.; Arthur R. Ashe, Jr.; Lerone Bennett, Jr.; Thomas Bradley; Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.; John J. Conyers, Jr.; Gonzalo P. Curiel; Adrian M. Fenty; Marc Lamont Hill; General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr.; Benjamin Jealous; Hakeem S. Jeffries; Tavis Smiley; Bennie S. Thompson
Medicine and the Sciences
Granville C. Coggs; Julian M. Earls; Henry Foster, Jr.; Bernard A. Harris, Jr.; Samuel P. Massie; Roderic I. Pettigrew; J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr.
Kwame Jackson, Robert L. Johnson, Reginald F. Lewis
Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II; Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles; Montell Jordan; W.R. “Smokie” Norful, Jr.; John D. Singleton
Arthur Ashe, Wilt Chamberlin, Colin Kaepernick, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Gayle Sayers, Mike Tomlin