Kappa Journal (Senior Kappas Edition)

COVER STORY: THE IOTA CHAPTER CENTENNIAL

“In 1921, I found the U. of Chicago far from lib- eral. For example, Negro students were advised not to congregate in groups of more than three in order ‘to avoid the appearance that a large num- ber of Negroes were enrolled in the school.’ One economics professor was alleged to have said that any Negro in his class automatically got only a “C” because he did not feel a Negro had the ability to earn more. Negro fraternities were excluded by policy from the prestigious Washington Prom held on cam- pus.” The Iota Chapter was the only chapter in the fraternity established in 1918 and the first chapter chartered dur- ing the administration of the Second Grand Polemarch Irven Armstrong. This was a noteworthy achievement due to a significant number of the fraternity leadership, at the time, enlisted in the U.S. Army supporting the country’s war effort in World War I. Iota was the frater- nity’s first undergraduate chapter chartered within the city limits of a major U.S. city soon to be followed in the succeeding years with the establishment of chapters on urban campuses in Philadelphia, PA, Indianapolis, IN, Washington DC, New York City, NY, Atlanta, GA, Los Angeles, CA, Buffalo, NY, Boston, MA, Minneapolis, MN and Detroit, MI. Kappa Alpha Psi ® was the first of the Divine Nine fraternities to establish a chapter on the UChicago campus. Alpha Phi Alpha ® and Omega Psi Phi ® fraternities respectively had members on campus but neither fraternity maintained a sustained presence on the campus and held chapter charters at other area schools. The Kappas, Alphas and Omegas each estab- lished early single letter chapters at University of Chi- cago which indicates the school was a target school for expansion for all three fraternities. The six charter members of the Iota Chapter were: George Cecil Lewis, Edgar G. Brown, Albert C. John- ston Jr., Nelson M. Willis, William J. Beatty, and Wen- dell E. Green. Some publications list a “A.O. Jeffries” as a charter member as well but no information exists of A.O. Jeffries as a member of the fraternity nor a UChica- go student. The eighth Grand Polemarch Dr. J. Jerome Peters alluded to the young chapter when writing his A Page from the Diary of Dr. Preys column in the Decem- ber 1959 issue of the Kappa Alpha Psi Journal about his recollections of Founder Diggs and Grand Polemarch J. Ernest Wilkins Sr.:

to have a house near the University soon after ini- tiation.”

Honoring the Centennial of the University of Chicago Chapter, The Iota of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

The Chicago (IL) Alumni Chapter bulletin dated March 1953 provides further context concerning the establish- ment of the chapter: “Soon after the men (Iota Chapter charter mem- bers) obtained permission of the University to organize, representatives of well-known rival or- ganization heard and straightaway sought similar permission. They (were) met with denial. Soon thereafter a committee of that fraternity, including the national president and a founder, attempted to influence the mentioned (men) into their or- ganization. Failing in this, they persuaded a local newspaper to publish articles derogatory to Kappa Alpha Psi ® . This served only to excite more inter- est on our part...” Founded in the 1870s, the University of Chicago, locat- ed ten miles south of downtown Chicago in the neigh- borhood of Hyde Park, in its earliest years was known for its admittance of African Americans as students to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. Accord- ing to the school, “Between 1870 and 1940, 45 African American students (from UChicago) were granted PhDs, more than at any other institution in the nation.” How- ever, for its small number of African American students, the campus atmosphere presented daily challenges for inclusion, respect, dignity, equal opportunity and of iso- lation. Famed Morehouse College president Dr. Ben- jamin Elijah Mays (a member of Omega Psi Phi®) de- scribed in a 1979 University of Chicago Magazine article described the campus environment in the early 1920s while he was a student pursuing his master’s degree: “…I found more prejudice at the University of Chicago and the city of Chicago than I found at Bates College and in Lewiston, ME…At the uni- versity, Negro women could not occupy dormito- ries. Negro men could live in Goodspeed Hall be- cause Goodspeed was the dormitory reserved for graduate students in the Divinity School. Most Southern students and, some Northern students, would not eat at the same table with Negros. I knew one or two professors at the University of Chicago in 1921 who never recognized a Negro student off campus or on.” In his autobiography, Boy: Up from the Bayou, Brother Clobert Broussard (Iota 1923) recalled about his colle- giate experience:

By Aaron Williams

C hartered on the campus of one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world, the University of Chicago Chapter, the Iota of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. is one of the fraternity’s most historic chapters. Referred in the Story of Kappa Alpha Psi ® as “a chapter of scholars,” the men of the Iota Chapter represented achievement, excellence and a term continually repeated “first.” The brothers initiated into the fraternity via the chapter and brothers that affiliated with Iota changed the city of Chicago, impacted the Civil Rights Movement, blazed trails in judgeships, argued cases in front of the United States Supreme Court, integrated branches of the U.S. military, served the fraternity as Province and Grand Officers, led school systems and universities, and fought for this country as part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The men of Iota were attorneys, educators, judges, physicians, civil rights activists, Grand Chapter Officers, authors, advisors to U.S. presidents, scholars of African and African American history and culture, university presidents, boxing promoters, one-time film actors, artists and mentors to tennis legends. Regrettably, this historic chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi ® has not been an active undergraduate chapter for decades. Founder Elder Watson Diggs, the Second Grand Po- lemarch Irven Armstrong along with brothers from the Alpha and Beta Chapters established the Iota Chapter on February 9, 1918 at the Emerson Street YMCA in Evanston, IL. The announcement of the fraternity’s im- pending arrival to the University of Chicago (UChicago) campus made front page news in the January 25, 1918 The Ninth Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi ®

edition of the school newspaper, the Daily Maroon . Iota Chapter charter line member G. Cecil Lewis comment- ed in the article: “…The need of such a fraternity for the colored men of this campus has been felt for years. With the assistance and encouragement of the national officers of Kappa Alpha Psi ® , plans for the chapter were made this fall. The aims of fraternity are to encourage the activities of its members in school affairs, athletics, and among themselves. We plan

“… Diggs returned from Chicago either after setting up or visiting Iota Chapter. He was en-

40 |  WINTER ISSUE  THE JOURNAL

Publishing achievement for more than 100 years

Publishing achievement for more than 100 years

THE JOURNAL  WINTER ISSUE  | 41

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