Elder Watson Diggs was a principal founder of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. He was the fraternity’s first Polemarch, and received the Laurel Wreath, the highest recognition of achievement bestowed by Kappa Alpha Psi.
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 along with his younger brother and sister. He attended Indiana State Normal School (now Indiana State University), graduating in spring 1908. In 1909, he enrolled in Howard University. While at Howard University, he met Bryon Kenneth Armstrong. The two became good friends and left the University to attend Indiana University. Indiana University at the time was predominantly populated with white students.
Diggs was one of 10 African-American students enrolled at the university. 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.
Displeased with the plight of black students 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. 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.
Diggs wrote the lyrics to the Kappa Alpha Psi Hymn and was Polemarch for the first six years of the fraternity’s existence. He also served as a Grand Board Member and as Grand Historian. He established the first nine chapters in addition to the Indianapolis 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.
Diggs graduated from the Indiana University School of Education in 1916, becoming the first African-American to do so. He married Elizabeth Byrd in the summer of that same year. In 1917, Diggs resigned as principal in order to enter the United States’ first Officer’s Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. He become one of the first members of Kappa Alpha Psi to join the armed forces. Elder Watson Diggs died November 8, 1947.