Colors: Crimson and Cream
Flower: Red Carnation
Mascot: Red Cardinal
National Philanthropy: Guide Right, Kappa League, American Cancer Society,
Big Brothers, Big Sisters, NAACP, United Negro College Fund
Fraternity type: Social
2322 Broad Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Canes started off as a device used to assist people with walking difficulties, and later turned into social status symbols for society. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, canes were a fashion embellishment. One “wore” a cane. These old canes were decorative, objects to be admired and be proud of. They became collectors items and represented the true sign of a Gentleman. Members of Kappa Alpha Psi have always worn or carried canes since the beginning of the Fraternity in 1911. Although unintentional in its inception, this occurrence soon became an unofficial tradition of Kappa Men, as Kappas have always strived to be noble and productive members of the community. The cane, being the symbol of a Gentleman who exhibits such characteristics, was then proudly adorned by members of the Fraternity.
This type of display became commonplace up until the 1950’s when Black Greek Letter Organizations, on an undergraduate level, began to practice what is known today as “step shows.” Undergraduate members of Kappa Alpha Psi took part in the trade and soon incorporated the use of their favorite item, the cane, into their routines. This was something that spread to many undergraduate chapters during the 50’s and 60’s. Stepping was catching on at an accelerated rate among the African American fraternities and sororities during this time period.
It was not until the mid to later 1960’s that the undergrads of Kappa Alpha Psi began to decorate the step canes with the colors of the organization. The usual design was to pattern the cane with a crimson and a cream stripe from tip to tip. Members ofKappa Alpha Psi would perform routines know as “Taps” where the canes would be beaten on the ground in time with the rhythmic beat of the step show.
The turn of the decade would reveal an evolution in cane stepping known today as “twirling.” Undergraduate members of Kappa Alpha Psi in the 70’s, not content with Taps alone, would then create a new form of cane mastery which involved much more skill and talent than merely banging the cane on the ground in a certain beat.
One problem that Kappas faced during this time is that they were still practicing the step show routines using the standard sized, 3 foot canes which can be seen above in both photographs. Kappas widely found that while standard length canes worked fine for tapping, they became a hindrance when it came time to twirl. Thus, cane stepping evolved once again with the birth of the short cane, which is still used to this day.
“Although cane stepping had become one of the most popular and well-attended activities on college campuses throughout the country, Kappa Alpha Psi was slow to accept this form of entertainment as a national activity. Earlier, Senior Grand Vice Polemarch Ulysses McBride had complained in the Journal about the vulgar language and obscene gestures sometimes engaged in by cane-stepping participants. Many complained of the profanity woven into the chants of the steppers and condemned what they considered ‘lewd and sexually suggestive gestures that accompany some routines.’ Critics further contended that the hours spent in step practices by chapters each week would be better devoted to academic or civic achievement.
The Fraternity succumbed to the pressure and during the 66th Grand Chapter meeting in Washington D.C. (in 1986 – 75 years after the founding of the Fraternity), cane stepping became an official part of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.