African American Fraternal Groups

Digital Collections Highlight: African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism

A2018_006_001 PH GLNY 1962 Masonic certThe Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This February, we’re highlighting the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection.

This collection brings together a number of documents related to historically Black fraternal organizations, including many related to Prince Hall Freemasonry.

A leading citizen in Boston’s eighteenth-century Black community, Prince Hall (1738-1807) was an abolitionist who petitioned the Massachusetts’ legislature to end slavery, and a Methodist who campaigned for schools to educate the African-American children of Boston. Hall was a leather dresser by trade who, in 1777, supplied drum heads to the Boston Regiment of Artillery. Drawn to Freemasonry’s values and opportunities, Hall, a former slave, tried to join Boston’s Masonic lodges in the early 1770s, but was denied membership.

African American men’s participation in Freemasonry is generally traced back to the March 6, 1775 initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other Black men in Lodge No. 441, a British military lodge attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot. A year later, as the Siege of Boston was ending, the military lodge that had initiated Hall was evacuating Boston, but before they left, the lodge granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, bury their dead, and march in processions for St. John’s Day. However, they were not given authority to confer degrees or perform any other “work.” With this authority granted to them, Prince Hall and his brethren organized as African Lodge No. 1 on July 3, 1775, with Hall as Master.

In order to become a fully functioning lodge that could confer degrees, African Lodge No. 1 needed to be chartered. Unable to obtain a charter from a Grand Lodge in the United States, they appealed to the Grand Lodge of England and were granted a charter on September 29, 1784 as African Lodge No. 459. Hall then founded lodges in Philadelphia and Providence. These three lodges eventually joined to form African Grand Lodge. It wasn’t until 1847, forty years after Prince Hall's death, that members of African Grand Lodge changed their name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge, in honor of their founder. Nearly 250 years after Prince Hall was initiated, Prince Hall Freemasonry continues to thrive today.

Be sure to check out previous blog posts which highlight documents from this collection.

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

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

Pictured above:

Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued to Russell L. Randolph, 1962. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. MA 007. Museum Purchase.


Celebrating Prince Hall Freemasonry

In the spotlight this month at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library are two souvenirs from a 1950 Boston gathering that commemorated a 175th anniversary in Prince Hall Freemasonry. The mementos shown here—a colorful felt pennant and a miniature brass trowel, both currently on view in our exhibition, The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History—are but small reminders of an important development in American Masonic history.

GL2004_3395DP1FGPennant for Prince Hall Pilgrimage to Boston, 1950. United States, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.3395. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

In 1775, Prince Hall, a leader in Boston’s African American community, sought to join one of the city’s Masonic lodges but was denied membership on account of his race. Seeking an alternative path to becoming Freemasons, Hall and 14 other African American men joined a Masonic lodge, Lodge No. 441, attached to a British regiment stationed in Boston. Hall and his brethren petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a charter for a new lodge of their own; in 1784, the Grand Lodge granted the requested charter for African Lodge No. 459 in Boston. Using this charter, Prince Hall later established lodges in Philadelphia and Providence, building the foundation for African American Freemasonry in the United States.

GL2004_4204DI1croppedSouvenir Trowel, 1950. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4204.

Nearly two centuries later, on August 13, 1950, African American Masonic groups from across the U.S. came together in Boston for a week of festivities to celebrate the anniversary of Prince Hall and his brethren’s initiation. According to a notice in the Boston Globe, the program was slated to include a parade of a stunning “15,000 Master Masons representing 41 Grand Lodges, 95,000 Master Masons, Grand Chapters of O.E.S. [Order of the Eastern Star], Holy Royal Arch Masons, Knights Templars, Shriners, Daughters of Isis and Consistories.” Participants made a pilgrimage to the grave of Prince Hall at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and attended memorial services at Tremont Temple. Also among the convention’s highlights was the presentation of $15,000 to the American Cancer Society and $20,000 to Howard University-affiliated Freedman Hospital from the Shrine Tuberculosis and Cancer Research Foundations.

Today, Prince Hall Masons continue to support their communities at thousands of lodges across the nation and world. We invite you to learn more about the history of American Freemasonry at our online exhibitions and collections pages, as well as the museum’s Flickr page.

 


Pollie and James Henry Thomas and the Household of Ruth

Pollie Thomas postcard
Pollie Thomas, 1908-1914, Benjamin Ami Blakemore (1846-1932), Staunton, Virginia. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, A2018/053/005.

Pencil inscriptions on the back of these two photographs in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives identify that they portray Pollie Thomas (1888-1976) (at left) and her husband, James Henry Thomas (1869-1929) (at left, below). The Thomases lived in Staunton, Virginia. A copy of the "By-laws and Rules of Order Rose of Sharon Household of Ruth," published in 1915, signed "Sister Pollie Thomas," shows that Pollie Thomas belonged to this organization. A further inscription on the back of her portrait notes that she held the office of “Worthy Recorder,” or secretary, of the group.

Membership in the Household of Ruth was open to wives, daughters, and other relations of men who belonged to the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. Based in England, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows granted a charter to a group of Black men who wished to form a lodge in New York in 1843. In the United States, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was an African American organization.

Established in the United States in 1858, the Household of Ruth was a women’s auxiliary associated with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. The organization granted degrees to both men and women. The group that Pollie Thomas belonged to, Rose of Sharon, No. 79, received its warrant in 1876. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in Staunton, King Hiram No. 1463, where Pollie’s husband was likely a member, received its charter a few years before, in 1871. When he died in 1929, James Henry Thomas’s obituary noted that the Odd Fellows, the Household of Ruth, and the Lilly of the Valley Lodge of Elks, No. 171 conducted portions of his funeral service.

More examples of archival material related to African American fraternal groups in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives can be viewed here, on our digital collections site.

References:

"Thomas Funeral," The News Leader (Staunton, VA), 7/13/1929, 2.

Charles H. Brooks, The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America (Philadelphia, PA: Odd Fellows Print Journal, 1902), 115, 141.

 

Henry Thomas postcard
James Henry Thomas, 1907-1929, J.A. Haack, Washington, D.C. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, A2018/053/007.

 


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.

 

 

 


Caesar Robert Blake, Imperial Potentate

17630842778_5eb9623469_c
Caesar Robert Blake, Imperial Potentate, 1919-1931. Carolina Studio, Charlotte, North Carolina. Museum Purchase, 99.044.1.

Social activism and fraternalism have long been connected in African American communities across the United States. Many members of African American fraternal groups, including the Prince Hall Shrine, Prince Hall Freemasonry, the Knights of Pythias, and the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, were also civic leaders in their communities, advocating for social justice reforms and civil liberties.

As Americans celebrate the 155th Juneteenth holiday this week, we take a closer look at one of these civic and fraternal leaders from North Carolina, Caesar Robert Blake (c.1886-1931). Born in Winnsboro, South Carolina, Blake worked as a clerk with Norfolk and Southern Railway and real estate broker in Charlotte, North Carolina. Active in fraternal societies,  Blake became the Imperial Potentate of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Prince Hall affiliated (A.E.A.O.N.M.S.), also known as the Prince Hall Shriners, in 1919, at the age of 33. He served in that role until his death in 1931.  During his tenure, he advocated for local Prince Hall Shrine lodges embroiled, along with other African American fraternal orders, in a racially charged and complex legislative dispute argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1912 and 1929.  

In 1904 leaders from the predominately white Knights of Pythias, the Benevolent Order of Elks, and the Shriners launched a legal campaign against parallel African American orders in Georgia, Mississippi, and New York, accusing the groups of fraud and copyright violations. The legal battle manifested itself in dozens of legal suits against African American orders in over twenty-nine states over a thirty year period. While litigious happenings were common among fraternal orders attempting to prevent “non-sanctioned” groups from forming, this particular campaign was thought to be partially motivated by racism. This belief was supported by official publications that included derogatory language about African Americans and the hostile actions of lodge members affiliated with the three orders filing the suit.

Blake, with many other fraternal leaders and lawyers, helped to organize a legal campaign for the Prince Hall Shrine. He also assisted in securing funding for legal costs. In author Joseph A. Walkes' 1993 history of the Prince Hall Shrine, he notes Blake described the legal trials at the 1920 national convention as part of a "life and death struggle" motivated by "intense hatred of our race." Blake went on to say that Prince Hall Shrine's defense of their "rights in the courts ... to exist as a Body of the Mystic Shrine" was their "duty ... as members of a victimized race." In 1929, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Prince Hall Shrine.  Blake issued a proclamation after the complicated legal victory stating “This is not only a distinct victory for our order but for our race…”

Blake died two years later after a brief and sudden illness, at the age of 45. His portrait, pictured here, is included in the upcoming exhibition What’s in a Portrait?  Visit the online version of the exhibition to learn more.

 

REFERENCES

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), 135-167.

Susan Nance. How the Arabian Nights Inspired the American Dream, 1790-1935 (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 169.

Joseph A. Walkes. Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Inc. (Prince Hall Affiliated): A Pillar of Black society, 1893-1993 (Detroit: Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of North and South American and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. (P.H.A.), 1993), 106.

 

 

 


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

 

 

 


The Importance of Research in Creating Connections to the Past

1

Colored Odd Fellows Handbill

2

 Envelope (front)

3

Envelope (back)

At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, research helps the museum’s staff of professionals not only to establish the history or provenance of the objects we collect, but also helps us to better understand the past lives of the people connected to these objects.

This week, we feature a new acquisition, a handbill that publicized an “Amateur Minstrels” show for the “Benefit of the Colored Odd Fellows.” The handbill was acquired with an envelope, postmarked February, 27, 1907, and is addressed to William Russ of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Research into this document has narrowed its sender to one of three people: Wilbur Miles, the headlining performer mentioned in the enclosed handbill, Agnes C. Stuart, or her daughter Katherine Stuart Godfrey. As this report from the society page of the Clarksburg Telegram (December 13, 1906) explains, it was customary for the Stuart family to spend their winters in Florida, and during the winter of 1906-1907, Agnes C. Stuart brought two members of her family with her.  

“Mrs. Agnes C. Stuart and daughter, Miss Kathyrine [sic], left today for St. Lucie, Fla., to spend the winter. Wilbur Miles, colored, joined them from Birmingham, Ala. Mrs. Stuart raised him and on that account, as he requested to be taken along she granted the request.”

The Stuart family were prominent citizens of Clarksburg, and as burial records for the town’s Odd Fellows cemetery reveals, at least three generations of Stuarts were buried there and were members of the Odd Fellows. It is likely that Wilbur Miles was introduced to Odd Fellowship through his relationship with the Stuarts and may have been a member of its African American counterpart, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America.

In addition to caring for the young Wilbur Miles, the Federal Census reports for the years 1870 and 1880 indicate that Agnes’ parents, William and Catherine, may have cared for another member of Wilbur’s family, Rosa D. Miles, who eventually 

 

became the family’s domestic servant and was identified as “mulatto” or mixed race in the records. Research has yet to establish her connection to Wilbur; however, it is possible that Rosa was either Wilbur’s mother or older sister.

As for the recipient of the handbill, William Russ, how was he connected to the Stuart family and to Wilbur Miles?  Federal Census records for the years 1900 and 1920 reveal that Russ, who was of mixed raced ancestry as well, worked as a construction worker for himself and later for Katherine Stuart Godfrey, Agnes’ daughter. In fact, for the 1942 draft, Russ listed Katherine as both his employer and as a “person who will always know your address” on his draft registration card.
 
Do you have any information regarding the history of this document or the people behind its creation? Or would you like to learn more about African American Minstrel performers? Feel free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Colored Odd Fellows Handbill and Envelope Addressed to William Russ, February 1907. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 160.001.


International Order of Twelve

2017_005DI3
International Order of Twelve of Knights Temple Jewel, 1872-1920. Scotford Co., Kansas City, Missouri. Museum Purchase, 2017.005.

The Museum & Library recently acquired a jewel associated with the International Order of Twelve fraternal group. The Rev. Moses Dickson (1824-1901) founded the order, also known as the International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor, as an African American fraternal group in Independence, Missouri, in 1872. Histories of the order connect it with the Order of Twelve, a group formed in 1846 as an anti-slavery group in the American South. Founded as a benevolence and financial aid group, the International Order of Twelve provided death and sickness benefits to members. The organization accepted men and women, who met collectively to govern the order together.  Locally, men and women held separate meetings—the men in “temples” and the women in "tabernacles." The name Tabor refers to Mount Tabor in Israel—a significant site in the Biblical Book of Judges. The group's ritual drew significantly from the Book of Judges.

The jewel features the numbers 777 and 333 stamped onto a metal twelve-pointed star. These numbers formed part of the chief emblem of the fraternal order and  were derived from significant days and numbers in the Bible. An 1879 Order of Twelve manual features an illustration of temple jewels with officer titles. The manual also includes illustrations of ritual objects, temple furniture, and guidelines for ceremonies and drills. 

The Mississippi jurisdiction of the Order funded and operated the Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, from 1942 to the mid-1960s. The hospital was one of two in the state owned and operated by African Americans in the mid-1900s. The Taborian hospital provided access to medical treatment for African Americans in the town of Mound Bayou and surrounding areas. The Taborian merged with the Sarah Brown Hospital in 1966 to become the Mound Bayou Community Hospital. It closed in 1983.

Illustrations from A manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle, 1897.
Illustrations from A manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle, 1879. RARE HS 2259 .T3 D5 1879

Today the Knights and Daughters of Tabor operates as a 501c3 non-profit focused on revitalization and renovation projects in the Mound Bayou, Mississippi, community.

This temple jewel is featured in a display of Recent Acquisitions, on view at the Museum & Library through July, 2018.

Do you have information about the Order of Twelve? Do you have any relatives who were once members or are you a current member? Let us know in the comments section below.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save