From the 1800s through the middle of the 2Oth century, federated fraternal orders based in regularly meeting local lodges and supralocal headquarters and conventions allowed Americans of all backgrounds to combine for mutual aid and civic assertion. African Americans were super-organizers and joiners within this fraternal world. Forming federations that spanned states, regions, and often the nation as a whole, Blacks created some orders paralleling major white orders but also large numbers of their own distinctively named orders. Through these orders, they built economic security, worked for social advancement, and pushed back against the social exclusions, cultural insults, and political restrictions of Jim Crow segregation. Women played a much stronger role in African American “fraternalism” than in white variants, and Black orders had an unusually strong focus on community service, while also serving as an organizational sphere where individual male and female leaders could develop and display business and civic talent.
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