Elder Watson Diggs
Elder Watson Diggs
Founder Elder Watson Diggs was a quiet, polished, scholarly, and prolific writer. Initially referred to as ‘the Father of Kappa,’ he became affectionately known as ‘the Dreamer’ due to his profound vision to create the fraternity. He was born in Christian County, Kentucky, on December 23, 1883, and was the eldest son of three children.
He received a one-room school education in Louisville, Kentucky, where he helped teach the younger children. Following graduation from Indiana State Normal School in the spring of 1908, Diggs enrolled at Howard University in 1909. While a student there, he developed a friendship with Byron K. Armstrong.
During the summer of that year, Byron Armstrong visited his cousin, Irven Armstrong, at Indiana University. Bryon was so impressed that he persuaded Diggs to enroll with him in the fall. Diggs enrolled at Indiana University in the fall of 1910 and was the first African American to graduate with an A.B. degree from Indiana University’s School of Education in 1916. He subsequently earned his Master of Education from Indiana University in 1944.
Diggs was an educator who held teaching positions and served as principal at public schools throughout Indiana. Diggs was married on three occasions (to Clara Bell Smith, Elizabeth Byrd, and Lylia P. Roberts). Clara Bell and Lyla were teachers, and Diggs assumed Clara Bell’s teaching responsibilities once they became married since female teachers were not permitted to teach in the state of Indiana at that time. Clara Bell and Elizabeth preceded Diggs in death, and Lylia died less than 30 days after Diggs passed.
When the U.S. made its declaration in World War I against Germany, Diggs resigned as principal and entered the nation’s first Negroes Officers Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and was commissioned a First Lieutenant. After serving in Europe with the 368th Infantry, he rose to the rank of Captain in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps. Diggs also was a past commander of the American Legion. After the war, Diggs was instrumental in having the Indiana Constitution amended to permit Negro enlistment in the Indiana National Guard.
Diggs was an active member of the First Baptist Church of North Indianapolis, a past commander of the Edward S. Gaillard Post No. 107 of the American Legion, a member of the History Committee of the Indianapolis Public Schools, a member of the Leadership Training Committee, Boy Scouts of America; a worker in the YMCA; and served on the Executive Committee of the USO during World War II. Diggs was also a Masonic member of Central Lodge No. 1, Indianapolis, Indiana, under the auspices of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana.
Based on the hostile attitude and circumstances facing Black people at Indiana University, Diggs established a fraternity on campus to give African Americans support and sanctuary based on high Christian ideals and the purpose of achievement. Diggs assisted Byron & Irven Armstrong in designing the fraternity’s Coat of Arms, assumed responsibility for preparing the initiation ceremonial forms, completed the fraternity’s Constitution, and took a course in Greek heraldry and mythology to ensure the fraternity was rooted in authenticity. He was one of two Founders who pawned his watch to pay for the Fraternity’s incorporation fee.
Diggs wrote the lyrics to the Kappa Hymn. Additionally, he established The Kappa Alpha Nu Journal, the second periodical of any national Black college fraternity. He is the fraternity’s longest-serving Grand Polemarch; his tenure was during the first six years of the fraternity’s existence. He also served as a Grand Board Member and as Grand Historian. He also established nine of the initial undergraduate chapters in addition to the Indianapolis (IN) Alumni Chapter. Diggs was awarded the first Past Grand Polemarch’s medal and the first Laurel Wreath. He also assisted in writing The 1928 Handbook of Kappa Alpha Psi®®.
The Elder Watson Diggs Award, the second-highest award available to celebrate a member’s achievements or service to the fraternity, is dedicated in his name. The Elder W. Diggs Memorial at Indiana University was constructed in his honor in 1962. Diggs died on November 8, 1947. Following his death, School #42 was named in his honor, where he served as principal for 26 years. Diggs is laid to rest at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.