African Americans

Digital Collections Highlight: Check Signed by President Garfield and Albert Hawkins

Hawkins check frontThe G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection contains around one hundred documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), a professional printer and Scottish Rite Mason. In 1898, the 12-year-old Elwell wrote a letter to Admiral George Dewey (1837–1917), a hero of the Spanish-American War. Dewey’s reply became the first signed document in Elwell's collection. The items in the collection span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American and European history.

One of the items that has always caught my eye is this check, dated June 30, 1881. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881) signed this check, which was issued to Albert Hawkins, the White House's coachman, two days before the President was shot. The sixty-dollar check was Hawkins' monthly salary. After the death of President Garfield, his widow, Lucretia Garfield, gave the check to the historian Edward Everett Hale, who notes the history of the check on the reverse.

Hawkins check backThere is little doubt that Elwell collected this item because of its association with President Garfield, but today, we can see that it helps tell a more complete story, that of Albert Hawkins, a Black man who served as the White House's coachman under six U.S. presidents. The White House Historical Association, in writing about Hawkins, states that “Albert Hawkins was a coachman who began his service under Ulysses S. Grant. By the 1880s, he was among the most celebrated of Washington’s African American community…”

You can see a high-res image of this check at our Digital Collections website.

Caption:
Check issued to Albert Hawkins, 1881 June 30. Gift of Caldwell Consistory, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, A74/002/043.


Digital Collections Highlight: Theodore Gleghorn's 1921 Master Mason certificate

A2019_124_001DS1_web                                                                                                                                                             Theodore Gleghorn's Master Mason certificate is just one of many documents available in the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection at the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Hermon Lodge No. 21 issued this Master Mason certificate (above) to Gleghorn (1890-1978). The certificate is dated October 10, 1921, and signed by Hermon Lodge’s Worshipful Master Charles Murdock and Secretary P. B. French. Located in Sparta, Illinois, Hermon Lodge No. 21 was chartered in 1875 by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient & Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois.

Detail_of_A2019_124_001DS1_webWhat makes Gleghorn's Masonic certificate so different from the many hundreds of Masonic certificates in our collection is that it includes a photograph of the certificate's owner (at right), embossed with Hermon Lodge's seal. This, in addition to the lodge officers' signatures, and Gleghorn's own signature, helped prove the document's authenticity if Gleghorn presented it to a lodge where he was not known.

Seeing Theodore Gleghorn's portrait on the certificate makes one wonder - who was he? What do we know about him? According to the WWI registration card that Gleghorn filled out in 1917, he was born in Cutler, Illinois in 1890. In 1917, the Wilson Bros. Coal Co., in Sparta, Illinois, employed him as a miner. The 1920 and 1930 U.S. Federal Censuses also show that Gleghorn continued to work in the coal mining industry. Around 1947, Gleghorn moved north to Springfield, Illinois, where he was employed by the State Division of Local Health Services. He worked there for at least twenty-five years. A 1971 newsletter published by the Illinois Department of Health includes an article and photograph showing that Gleghorn and other long-serving employees had been honored as members of the Illinois Department of Public Health's "Quarter Century Club."

Gleghorn was married to Emma L. (Britton) Gleghorn (1907-1980) and they had a son, Emmett D. Gleghorn (1933-1987). If you know more about Theodore Gleghorn's Masonic involvement or any other details about his life, we would love to hear from you. Just post a comment below or contact us through our website.

Caption:
Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued by Hermon Lodge, No. 21, to Theodore Gleghorn, 1921. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2019/124/001.


The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World

2019_013_8DP2JFfront
Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World Jacket, 1952-2011. Mr. Leggs and Fraternal Supplies, Inc., New London, Ohio. Museum Purchase, 2019.013.8. Photograph by Julia Featheringill

Founded in 1897, the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOE of W), is an African American fraternal order that offered leadership training, professional networking opportunities, and social fellowship to members. Modeled on the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), the IBPOE of W operated in the same principles of charity, justice, brotherly love, and fidelity. In addition, founders Arthur James Riggs (1855-1936) and Benjamin Franklin Howard (1860-1918), both members of other fraternal organizations, established the IBPOE of W to advocate for “the expression of ideals, services and leadership in the black struggle for freedom and opportunity.”

In support of that mission, the group formed a number of "departments," including a Civil Liberties Department in 1926, to actively coordinate campaigns against segregation and for equal civil and political rights. In its first thirty years, the IBPOE of W experienced problems with factionalism, copyright, and incorporation issues in various states, as well as a number of legal conflicts with the all white Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Despite this turbulent beginning, the still-active IBPOE of W became one of the largest African American fraternal organizations in North America, with lodges in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

2019_013_8DP1JFback
Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World Jacket, 1952-2011. Mr. Leggs and Fraternal Supplies, Inc., New London, Ohio. Museum Purchase, 2019.013.8. Photograph by Julia Featheringill

To show the pride in their association with the IBPOE of W, some members wore street clothes decorated with symbols of their fraternity. Fraternal Supplies, Inc. in New London, Ohio, which operated until 2011, embroidered the jacket pictured here with images and names related to the IBPOE of W, sometime between 1952 and 2011.

The Order’s emblem, the head of an elk within a circle and the words Cervus Alces, the Latin name of the American elk, are on the front of the jacket, along with an elk in a forest. On the back is an embroidered image of an Elks member and the words “Sons of the Forest.”  The Museum acquired the jacket, with original tags, from the former Fraternal Supplies, Inc. factory in Ohio in 2019.  The jacket may have been a sample or an order for an individual that was never delivered or fulfilled. 

Have you or a family member owned a jacket like this one? Have you seen a similar kind of jacket? Let us know in the comments section below.   

References:

Tamara L. Brown, Gregory S. Parks, and Clarenda M. Phillips, eds. African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision (Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 2005), 86-87.

Marshall Ganz, Ariane Liazos, Theda Skocpol. What a Mighty Power We Can be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006), 16-17.

Alvin Schmidt. Fraternal Organizations (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1980), 107-108.


Freemasonry and the First Black-Owned TV Station in the United States

A2018_153_001DS001_webWhat does Freemasonry have to do with the first Black-owned television station in the United States? A recently digitized membership application for the International Free & Accepted Modern Masons (IFAMM), pictured here, helps explain.

William Venoid Banks (1903-1985) founded the IFAMM in 1950. Although Banks' organization has been around for seventy years, it is not recognized by either mainstream predominantly white Grand Lodges or by historically Black Grand Lodges. Indeed, the International Free & Accepted Modern Masons is among the groups highlighted by the Phylaxis Society's Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices and is included in their list of "Bogus Grand Lodges." The Phylaxis Society's website includes a number of pages related to the organization, which it considers clandestine. Another article, titled "The Amway of Freemasonry? - The Clandestine Order of International Masons," lays out an argument about why mainstream historically Black and predominantly white Grand Lodges do not view IFAMM as a legitimate Masonic organization. Yet IFAMM, and in particular its founder, William V. Banks, played an important role in the history of Black-owned media, both in Detroit and in the United States as a whole.

The membership application shown here highlights Banks' involvement with the group. He is the only officer identified on the form and his title--Supreme Grand Master--makes it clear that he heads the organization. He also self-identifies as both a minister and a lawyer. Two phrases near the top of the form--"Get Involved in the Progress of Our People" and "The Owner of the First Black Owned TV in the U.S." highlight the organization's focus on Black empowerment and the importance of Black-owned businesses.

IFAMM's website gives an account of the organization's 1964 purchase of the Detroit radio station WGPR. It also notes that in 1975, IFAMM established WGPR-TV62, the first Black-owned television station in the United States. Fifty-six years later, IFAMM continues to own and operate the radio station. IFAMM owned and operated the TV station for twenty years, from 1975 until 1995, when it was purchased by CBS.

In 2017, the WGPR TV Historical Society founded the William V. Banks Broadcast Museum & Media Center, which is housed in the television station's original studios in Detroit. If you want to learn more about Banks and the importance of the founding of WGPR-TV62, we recommend this 2018 article [PDF] which appeared in the Historical Society of Michigan's magazine, Michigan History.

The IFAMM membership application featured here is among the many items that can be found in the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection at the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website.

Caption:

Unissued International F. & A.M. Masons application, about 1975. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2018/153/001.

 

 

 


Rare Prince Hall Acquisitions Offers Insights into African-American Philanthropy

In a blog post published in September for the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we highlighted the Scottish Rite’s vision to be a fraternity that fulfils its Masonic obligation to care for its members. In this week’s blog post, we expand upon this theme by featuring three documents taken from the records of a Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in New London, Connecticut, Jepthah Lodge, No. 11. Taken together, these documents highlight the benevolent hearts of African American Freemasons as they respond to a request for aid from Reverend Octavius Singleton, the superintendent of the National Home Finding Society for Colored Children.

In the first document (see below), a letter from Reverend Singleton to Edward M. Stevens, the Junior Warden of Jepthah Lodge, Singleton recounts the difficult times faced by his organization and asks Stevens to petition his Lodge and church for donations.


A2017_054_016DS
Letter from Reverend O. Singleton of the National Home Finding Society to Edward M. Stevens, June 28, 1922.

 

6-28-1922
Mr. Edward M. Stevens, J.W.
My Dear Friend:

     For 11 years we have been toiling almost single handed and alone to perform the duty every man and woman owes to the homeless child of our race. Our own people have not played the part of the good Samaritan toward these poor unfortunates, and had it not been for white friends, these poor little children would still be hungry and naked, out of doors, abused and mistreated. But through their aid, we have cared for 250 children, and have on hand now 50. We have the home in the city a picture of which I send herewith enclosed, and a farm of 240 acres, near Irvington, Ky., and 22 children down there practically out of doors from January 11th, to September 11th.
     We accidently got burnt out on the farm last January, then we erected another building, but before it was completed, a cloud burst and tornado struck us Sunday, May 30th., and leveled it to the ground.
     Through the kind assistance of Colored Lodges and Churches and the help of white friends –and one of these, Mr. Theo. Ahrens gave $200.00, and raised nearly $200.00 besides among his friends – we have about completed another new building. But we have run behind, we owe for coal, for bread, and groceries, for lumber etc. then too we have got to furnish the building and we’ve got to build a school house.

     My Dear Brother, I know you are a man of influence in your Lodge and church; and I don’t believe there is a Church or Lodge in the whole country, that would refuse to take up a collection to help a work like this, that has just gone through so much distress and suffering.
     Please send names of all giving 25¢ or more that we might publish same in the Colored papers. And know always, that any Lodge, any Church, any Community, in or outside of the State of Kentucky, has the right and privilege of placing children in our institution whether they help or not.
     Please do not pass this by, please don’t put it off but give every member a chance to show his fraternal and christian [sic] sympathy and pity and love for the poorest of the poor and the most needy of all creatures of the earth.

Yours for God’s little lambs,  

Rev. O. Singleton, Gen’l Supt.,
National Home Finding Society
1716 West Chestnut Street
Louisville, Kentucky



A2017_054_009DS1 - Copy (2)

A Picture of the National Home Finding Society's "Busy Bee Farm" taken on July 15, 1922. after the great fire and tornado of 1920

 

Singleton’s letter was read before the members of Jepthah Lodge on July 12, 1922, and a collection was held that raised $4.35 for Superintendent Singleton’s home for orphaned children. The Lodge’s donation was sent by money order to Singleton along with the letter depicted below. In addition to this act of kindness, the minutes of Jepthah Lodge show that at this meeting the Lodge also gave $15.00 to Mrs. Clara A. Burr, the widow of a deceased member. 

A2017_054_017DS

Letter from Jepthah Lodge, No. 11, to Reverend O. Singleton, July 18, 1922.

  July 18th, 1922
The National Home Finding Society
Rev. O. Singleton

Dear Sir:-

      Your letter of June 28th. addressed to Mr. Edward M. Stevens has been referred to Jeptha Lodge No. 11, F. & A. M. for our consideration.
       We wish to assure you that we are greatly in sympathy with any and all enterprises which tend towards the advancement of our colored people as a  whole and any difficulties which any one community has in as deeply felt by us as though we were subject to the same misfortune.
      We greatly commend the “National Home Finding Society” for the work they are doing to assist these little children who you state are practically homeless, and wish that were financially able to assist you more than we are doing just now; however, we have urged each member present to contribute as liberably [sic] as his means will afford and he can obtain the address of the Society from our Sec. should any of them wish to make a personal contribution.
      Enclosed you will find a money order to the amount of $4.35 which was contributed by the few brethren who were present at our last regular communication and trust that it will assist you in your struggle to pay off current expenses.

We trust that you will be successful in all attempts you may make for the proper care of these lettle [sic] children.

Very Sincerely Yours,

Jeptha Lodge, No. 11, F. & A. M.
John Ware W. M.
John R. Leeks, Sec.


Donations from people and organizations, such as Jepthah Lodge, No. 11, kept Octavius Singleton’s ambitious dream of providing a home for Kentucky’s homeless African American children alive for over 30 years in spite of tremendous obstacles.  As Jennie Cole of the Filson Historical Society writes, “World War II brought times of increasing hardship to the Home,” and when “combined with the ill health of” Singleton’s wife Harriet, his great partner and the matron of the home, Singleton was forced “to release the children in his care or find placement for them in other homes.” Yet, in spite of each setback, Singleton persevered; he continued to seek support for his work at Irvington, Kentucky, and for “blacks living in his hometown of Edwards, Mississippi and the surrounding region” until his death in 1950.

A2017_054_009DS1 - Copy (3)










National Home Finding Society for Colored Children pamphlet, about 1922.


Captions

Letter from Reverend O. Singleton of the National Home Finding Society to Edward M. Stevens, June 28, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 130.002.

National Home Finding Society for Colored Children pamphlet, about 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 130.002.

Letter from Jephtha Lodge, No. 11, to Reverend O. Singleton, July 18, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 130.002.

References

Cole, Jennie. “Singleton family Papers, 1907-1983.” Filson Historical Society, last modified August 12, 2015. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://filsonhistorical.org/research-doc/singleton-family-papers-1907-1983/

Kleber, John E., ed. “Civic, Fraternal, and Philanthropic Orphanages.” In The Encyclopedia of Louisville, 682. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=pXbYITw4ZesC&dq

Powell, Jacob W. Bird’s Eye View of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church with Observations on the Progress of the Colored People of Louisville, Kentucky, and a History of the Movement Looking Toward the Elevation of Rev. Benjamin W. Swain, D.D. to the Bishopric in 1920. Boston: Lavalle Press, 1918. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=Vf8-AAAAYAAJ&dq

Slingerland, W. H. Child Welfare Work in Louisville: A Study of Conditions, Agencies and Institutions. Louisville, Kentucky: Welfare League, 1919. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=FFQHAAAAMAAJ