African American Fraternal Groups

Civil War Lecture Explores Black Activists in Boston: March 23 at 2 p.m.

Our 2013 Civil War Lecture Series begins this weekend! Join us for the first lecture in the series. The series explores the history of this divisive war and its meaning for our nation today.

Stephen Kantrowitz KANTROWITZ
A Citizenship of the Heart: Black Activists and Universal Brotherhood in Civil War-Era Boston
Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m., free

Stephen Kantrowitz, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will explore how the fight to abolish slavery was part of a broader campaign by Boston’s African American community to claim full citizenship. The talk will trace the activities of Prince Hall Freemason Lewis Hayden, a fugitive slave and Boston anti-slavery activist. Hayden’s Masonic engagement reflects the development of ideas and practices of black citizenship as tool to remake the republic into a place where all men could belong. Kantrowitz will be available after the talk to sign his book, More than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889.

The lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

For more information on the Civil War Lecture Series, please refer to the Museum's programs page. For information on visiting the Museum please click here, or call 781 861-6559.

Photo credit: Courtesy Stephen Kantrowitz

 


A New Discovery About an Old Photo

89_34DS2One of the most exciting parts of my curatorial work is discovering new information about objects in the National Heritage Museum’s collection. Recently, I took a closer look at this photo, which the Museum purchased back in 1989. When it was acquired, the image was cataloged as one depicting a group of African American members of the Order of the Eastern Star, the Masonic auxiliary group for female relatives of Freemasons. It has been identified this way in our database ever since.

But, as part of our current photo digitization project (see our post about it), we were able to take a closer look at the photo.  The initials on one subject’s collar – “I.U.O.M.” – along with the memory of another James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) photograph that was recently up for auction, made me realize that this group is not Masonic at all. They are undoubtedly members of another fraternal organization, the Independent United Order of Mechanics.

This group is not as well-known as the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the Moose or the Knights of Pythias. In fact, before we purchased an apron (at right) and collar associated with the group in 2007, I had never heard of it and it isn’t listed in my standard reference books. But, now that I am aware of IUOM, it helped me correctly identify this image.2007_029_2DI1

As I explained in a previous post, the Independent United Order of Mechanics formed in England in 1757 as a Friendly Society, a type of mutual benefit society that also served ceremonial and friendship purposes. The IUOM became established in the United States in 1910 and membership is open to men and women, boys and girls, of “high moral and ethical standards, who believe in “A Supreme Being” who rules and governs the Universe.” In this photograph, several of the group’s values are painted on the wall in back: Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Secrecy, Fidelity, and Benevolence.

Both this photograph and the one sold at auction were taken by well-known New York photographer James Van Der Zee. Sought out by the famous and not-so-famous alike, Van Der Zee maintained a studio in Harlem starting in the 1920s. In addition to individual portraits, he worked to record middle-class black life in Harlem, including photos like this one of fraternal groups and activities.

Do you recognize the location where this photo was taken? Do you have other photos or regalia associated with the IUOM? If so, leave us a comment below!

Independent United Order of Mechanics Group, 1928, James Van Der Zee (1886-1983), New York City. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.34.

Independent United Order of Mechanics Apron, ca. 1920, probably American. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Purchase, 2007.029.2.


The Independent United Order of Mechanics

2007_029_2DI1 Here at the National Heritage Museum, we get pretty excited about lesser-known fraternal groups.  The apron seen here is a recent acquisition, which was originally used by a member of a little-known group - at least it wasn't listed in our standard reference books and it wasn't represented in our collection.

The apron was worn by Torrance Ashby (1897-1966), as a member of the Independent United Order of Mechanics, a group that is still active.  Ashby joined Star of Cambridge Lodge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1920, when he was about 23 years old.  When he died in 1966, the apron, along with a collar and his membership certificate passed to his son, Deighton Ashby (1935-2006).  We are pleased to have all three items in our collection.

The Independent United Order of Mechanics formed in England in 1757 as a Friendly Society, a type of mutual benefit society that also served ceremonial and friendship purposes.  Reportedly, a schism between two local English Masonic lodges spurred organizers to found the group.  In the 1800s, the Order spread to the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, the Netherlands, and Canada.  The IUOM became established in the United States in its present form on January 3, 1910.  Membership is open to men and women, boys and girls, of "high moral and ethical standards, who believe in "A Supreme Being" who rules and governs the Universe."  Membership embraces all races, creeds and religions; indeed, the group has a tradition of a strong African American membership, which included the original owner of the apron, Torrance Ashby.

The group's motto is "Friendship, Truth and Love," suggesting some additional inspiration from the Odd Fellows.  Members aim to practice and promote justice, philanthropy, charity and benevolence.  They look after the welfare of their members and are active in their communities, particularly in healthcare and in education.

The apron is silk with a design printed on the front in black.  Bright pink and green silk, along with gold trimming are added as borders.  A close look at the apron suggests that Ashby's wife or another female relative made it at home.  One of the brown elasticized "ties" stitched at the corners has a clasp reading "Gem Golf Garter," suggesting that the maker repurposed the garter for the apron ties.

Independent United Order of Mechanics Apron, ca. 1920, probably American, National Heritage Museum purchase, 2007.029.2.


From Boston to Washington, D.C.: Prince Hall Freemasonry

Init Eye PH The National Heritage Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.," includes the painting seen here, The Good of Masonry Entirely at Heart.  The painting depicts the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, which oversees African American lodges in the district.  Located at 1000 U Street, N.W., the building was designed by Albert Cassell (1895-1969), noted African American architect, in 1922.  But Prince Hall Freemasonry actually got its start in Boston.

A leading citizen in Boston’s African American community, Prince Hall (1738-1807) was an active Methodist who campaigned for schools for black children and created a benevolent society.  Drawn to Freemasonry’s values and opportunities, the former slave tried to join Boston’s lodges in the early 1770s, but was denied membership.

Hall and fourteen other African Americans who had been rejected by the established Boston lodges turned to a Masonic lodge attached to a British regiment stationed in the city.  Initiated in 1775, Hall and his Brothers met as members of the British lodge until the Revolutionary War ended.  In 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to form a new lodge on American soil.  The governing body granted his request, creating African Lodge No. 459.  When Prince Hall died in 1807, African American Masons chose to give their fraternity his name to distinguish it from the white lodges that excluded blacks.

Prince Hall Freemasonry has been practiced in Washington, D.C., since Social Lodge No. 1 was chartered in 1825.  Social Lodge No. 1 joined with two other lodges in 1848 to form the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.  94_052S1 PH Cornerstone

"The Initiated Eye" exhibition presents 21 oil paintings by Peter Waddell based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens – many of whom were Freemasons – played in establishing the layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection.  In the show, the painting of the D.C. Prince Hall Grand Lodge building is juxtaposed with the photograph seen here.  Taken by noted photographer James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) in 1930, it shows a cornerstone laying for a Masonic temple in New York City.

"The Initiated Eye" will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Left: The Good of Masonry Entirely at Heart, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: Cornerstone Laying of Masonic Temple, 1930, James Van Der Zee (1886-1983), New York, New York, National Heritage Museum, 94.052. 


Calling All Masonic and Fraternal Scholars!

91_033T1 The National Heritage Museum announces its first symposium, to be held at the Museum on Friday, April 9, 2010 - New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism

We are now seeking proposals for papers to be presented at the symposium.  As one of the largest repositories of American Masonic and fraternal objects, books and manuscripts in the United States, the Museum aims to foster new research on American fraternalism and to encourage the use of its scholarly resources.

The symposium seeks to present the newest research on American Masonic and fraternal groups from the past through the present day.  By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members.  The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture.  Diverse perspectives on this topic are sought; perspectives on and interpretations of all time periods are welcome.

Possible topics include:

• Comparative studies of American fraternalism and European or other international forms of  fraternalism
• Prince Hall Freemasonry and other African-American fraternal groups
• Ethnically- and religiously-based fraternal groups
• Fraternal groups for women or teens
• Role of fraternal groups in social movements
• The material culture of Freemasonry and fraternalism
• Anti-Masonry and anti-fraternal movements, issues and groups
• Fraternal symbolism and ritual
• The expression of Freemasonry and fraternalism through art, music, and literature
• Approaches to Freemasonry – from disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transnational perspectives;  the historiography and methodology of the study of American fraternalism

Proposals should be for 30 minute research papers; the day’s schedule will allow for audience questions and feedback.

To submit a proposal: Send an abstract of 400 words or less with a resume or c.v. that is no more than two pages.  Be sure to include full contact information (name, address, email, phone, affiliation).

Send proposals to: Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections, National Heritage Museum, by email at anewell[at]monh.org or by mail to 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA  02421. 

Deadline for proposals to be received is August 15, 2009.  For questions, contact Aimee E. Newell as above, or call 781-457-4144.

Masonic checkerboard, ca. 1890, Collection of National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisition Fund, 91.033.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Moses Dickson and the Order of Twelve

Moses_dickson_web Pictured here is Moses Dickson, from the frontispiece illustration of the 1879 book A Manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle. In 1872, the Rev. Moses Dickson founded the International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor, an African-American fraternal order focused on benevolence and financial programs. Dickson was born a free man in Cincinnati in 1824, was a Union soldier during the Civil War, and afterwards became a prominent clergyman in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dickson showed an interest in progressive fraternal organizations early on - in 1846 Dickson, with others, founded a society known as the Knights of Liberty, whose objective was to overthrow slavery; the group did not get beyond the organizing stages. Dickson was also involved in Freemasonry - he was the second Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri.

Dickson's International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor - or Order of Twelve, as it's more commonly know - accepted men and women on equal terms. Men and women met together in higher level groups and in the governance of the organization, although at the local level they met separately - the men in "temples" and the women in "tabernacles" (akin to "lodges" in Freemasonry). The Order of Twelve was most prominent in the South and the lower Midwest. The major benefits to members - similar to many fraternal orders of the time - was a burial policy and weekly cash payments for the sick.

What many people today remember about the Order of Twelve is an institution founded in Mound Bayou, Misssissippi in 1942 - the Taborian Hospital. Michael Premo, a Story Corps facilitator, posted his appreciation for the impact that the Taborian Hospital had on the lives of African-Americans living in the Mississippi Delta from the 1940s-1960s. The Taborian Hospital was on the Mississippi Heritage Trust's 10 Most Endangered List of 2000, and an update to that list indicates that the hospital still stands vacant and seeks funding for renovation. Here are some photos of the Taborian Hospital today.

Want to learn more about the Order of Twelve? Here are a few primary and secondary sources that we have here in our collection (with primary sources listed first):

Dickson, Moses. A Manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle, including the Ceremonies of the Order, Constitutions, Installations, Dedications, and Funerals, with Forms, and the Taborian Drill and Tactics. St. Louis, Mo. : G. I. Jones [printer], 1879.
Call number: RARE HS 2259 .T3 D5 1879

----. Ritual of Taborian Knighthood, including : the Uniform Rank. St. Louis, Mo. : A. R. Fleming & Co., printers, 1889.
Call number: RARE HS 2230 .T3 D5 1889

Beito, David. From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social services, 1890-1967. Chapel Hill, N.C. : University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Call number: 44 .B423 2000

Skocpol, Theda, Ariane Liazos, Marshall Ganz. What a Mighty Power We Can Be : African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2006.
Call number: 90 .S616 2006