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Elder Watson Diggs

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Elder Watson Diggs
125px Elder Watson Diggs.gif
Born(1883-12-23)December 23, 1883
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, U.S.
November 8, 1947(1947-11-08) (aged 63)November 8, 1947(1947-11-08) (aged 63)
🏳️ Nationality
💼 Occupation
Founder of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated; Public School Teacher/Principal
👩 Spouse(s)Clara Bell Smith; Elizabeth Byrd; Lydia Diggs

Elder Watson Diggs (December 23, 1883 – November 8, 1947) was a principal founder of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. He was the fraternity's first Polemarch (chairman), and received the Laurel Wreath, the highest recognition of achievement bestowed by Kappa Alpha Psi.


Early life[edit]

Diggs was born on December 23, 1883 in Christian County, Kentucky (in the city of Hopkinsville), and raised in Madisonville by his mother Cornelia Diggs[1][2] along with his younger siblings Ellis and Essie, his brother and sister respectively.[1] He attended Indiana State Normal School (now Indiana State University), graduating in spring 1908.[3] In 1909, he enrolled in Howard University. It was here that, in 1910, he met Byron Kenneth Armstrong.[3] In the fall of that year, Diggs and Armstrong left Howard University to attend Indiana University.[3]

Founding of Kappa Alpha Psi[edit]

While Diggs attended Indiana University, the campus was predominantly populated with white students.[3] Diggs was one of 10 African-American students enrolled at the university.[3] University life was not particularly kind to African-American students, as they were barred from engaging in activities permitted to white students, such as using entertainment and recreational facilities and engaging in contact sports.[3]

Unhappy with the plight of African-Americans on Indiana University's campus, Diggs met with eight other men with the purpose of discussing issues of common interest and agreed to pursue the creation of a fraternity.[3] On January 5, 1911, Diggs and the other founders of Kappa Alpha Psi officially formed this new fraternity, with Diggs being made the chairman, a position later termed Polemarch.[3] Diggs served as the Grand Polemarch, chairman of the entire fraternity, for the first six years of Kappa Alpha Psi.[2]

In June 1912, after the end of the school year, Diggs, Byron K. Armstrong, and Irven Armstrong (Byron K. Armstrong's cousin), the current Grand Keeper of Records, continued to develop the various aspects of the fraternity while working as waiters in Fort Wayne, Indiana.[3] Diggs completed the fraternity's constitution and initiation ceremony, and with the help of the others, completed the fraternity's coat of arms.[3]

Later life[edit]

In summer 1912, Diggs married his childhood sweetheart, Clara Bell Smith, in Lexington, Kentucky.[3] Smith was a public school teacher in Rising Sun, Indiana.[3] Because married women were not allowed to teach in Indiana at that time, their marriage was kept a secret.[3]

Diggs returned to the Indiana University shortly thereafter. His wife became seriously ill, and Diggs withdrew from the university to take care of her.[3] In March 1913, Diggs' wife died.[3] Diggs served as a high school principal at Vincennes, Indiana, in 1913 and 1914, and continued to work toward expanding the fraternity to other universities.[3] Diggs also worked to improve the academic and cultural opportunities for blacks, engaging in projects such as establishing a permanent debate club which participated in competitions, the profits of which were donated to charity.[3]

Diggs graduated from the Indiana University School of Education in 1916, becoming the first African-American to do so.[1] He married Elizabeth Byrd in the summer of that same year.[3] In 1917, Diggs resigned as principal in order to enter the United States' first Officer's Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa,[2] thereby becoming one of the first members of Kappa Alpha Psi to join the armed forces.[3] He served with the 368th Infantry in Europe, after which he became a captain in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. In 1924, Diggs, for his incessant efforts to improve and expand the fraternity and commitment to the fraternity's ideals, received the Laurel Wreath, the highest recognition of achievement in Kappa Alpha Psi.[3]

Diggs died at 7:00 a.m.[1] on November 8, 1947 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.[3] His widow, Lydia Diggs, died from an illness less than thirty days later.[3]

After Diggs' death, the Indianapolis Public School #42 (the school where he served as a teacher and principal for 26 years) was changed in his honor to the "Elder W. Diggs IPS School #42".[1][3]

See also[edit]

  • Kappa Alpha Psi


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Elder W. Diggs - IPS". Archived from the original on 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Founder: Elder Watson Diggs". Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Official Website. Archived from the original on 2008-06-09. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 Bryson, Ralph J. (2003). The Story of Kappa Alpha Psi: A History of the Beginning and Development of A College Greek Letter Organization 1911-1999. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png

External links[edit]

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