The History of the Kane
Why Kappa’s Have Canes
The use of walking sticks and canes may very well date back to centuries B.C. to the times when shepherds would tend to their flocks. This ties into the early roots of Christianity and leads to the candy canes of today being striped the way they are (3 thin stripes and 1 solid stripe) to remind us of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and the blood of Christ. The shape was believed to be chosen because the cane, if pointed upward, resembles the letter "J" for Jesus. The history of the cane also ties in with the African Rights of Passage, and was a symbol of manhood that had to be carried by initiates wishing to become adult members of their respective tribe.
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 Fraternity took part in the trade and soon incorporated the use of their favorite item, the cane, into the routine. 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 Fraternity 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 which can be made out below in the photo.
All throughout the 50's and 60's, canes used in the art of stepping were standard canes of approximately 36 inches in length, give or take half a foot. Eventually, as stated before, the canes would be adorned with the Fraternity colors of crimson and cream, but they were still standard length. Members of Kappa 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.
Now that "twirling" had become the new style of cane stepping among Kappa undergrads, members were constantly searching for better and faster styles. One problem that Kappa’s 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. Kappa’s 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 can be seen below.
This new evolution of the short cane during the later 1970's has remained constant to this day, as can be seen in this recent photo of Kappa’s stepping.
Thus, the full-length cane, as well as standing straight up in order to perform a "Tap", has been sacrificed, making way for twirling ability and speed.
"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. 'I think it's more important to honor scholastic achievement. I think the attention given to stepping should be placed into developing an honor roll or to recognize a group of Kappa scholars,' was the opinion of Arthur Grist, a member of the East St. Louis Alumni Chapter and adviser to the Zeta Pi Chapter at Southern Illinois University.
Now that the National Organization of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated openly embraced cane stepping, publicity of the old tradition was gaining and many television shows, T.V. commercials, and music video artists sought out to display Kappa’s stepping in their respective forums. One of the first national airings came about on February 2nd, 1989 when NBC chose members of Kappa Alpha Psi to perform a step routine on the Black college sitcom "A Different World". Later, members of Kappa Alpha Psi could be found stepping in Brother Montell Jordan's remix of "This is How We Do It" in the summer of 1996. Also airing in the summer of 1996 was another display of Kappa’s stepping in an episode of Fox’s "New York Undercover".
Kappas were again called upon to perform in song stress in OJ's music video "Love You Down" which ran in the spring of 1997. WB's sitcom "Sister Sister" ran an episode that focused on college fraternities in the spring of 1999, and members of Kappa Alpha Psi were chosen to perform the stepping segment. Other music videos that feature members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity are "Woof!" by rapper Snoop Doggy Dog which ran in the spring of 1999, "Imma Shine" by Mia X which ran in the summer of 1999 and "Whoa Now" by B. Rich.
In konclusion, the tradition of the Kappa Kane has a longstanding history that reaches back as far the the history of the cane itself, and sweeps forward with the introduction of Black Greek Letter Organization step shows, cane stepping, cane tapping, kane twirling, and finally the acceptance of this tradition as an official and integrated part of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. which truly sets it apart from any other organization of its type.