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In celebrating its 100th anniversary, Panhandle Lodge #74, will be joined by its Clarksburg counterpart I.B.P.O.E. 117 in reaching the century mark later this year.
 
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Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Black Elks, a home away from home!

June 10 *On this date in 1899, the Black Elks were formed. This is a historically Black non- profit charitable fraternal organization still operating.

Formally called the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, they were founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. African Americans during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century were denied entry into any of the white fraternal organizations. There was a distinct need and desire for these organizations in Black communities for the same reasons that they were wanted everywhere. They provided financial, spiritual and emotional support and served their communities in many other ways.

For Blacks, these organizations also provided a boost in self-esteem. The first of these African American societies were formed prior to the Civil War and they provided one of the few routes for the African American to economic and personal advancement. The Black Elks became the largest African American fraternal organization in the world. The IBPOEW was modeled after the BPOE. It's stated purpose is, "that the welfare and happiness of it's members be promoted and enhanced, that nobleness of soul and good ness of heart be cultivated, that the principles or charity, justice, brotherly & sisterly love and fidelity be inculcated, that its members and their families be assisted and protected, and that the spirit of patriotism be enlivened and exalted."

B.F. Howard and Pullman porter Arthur J. Riggs, who had both been denied membership in the all-white BPOE, created the organization. They were determined to form an organization that granted membership to all qualified individuals without regard to race, creed, or ethnicity. Riggs was able to obtain a copy of the BPOE ritual and applied for and was granted a copyright of the ritual and on November 17, 1898 the first meeting of the Black Elks was held. When the BPOE could not challenge them on legal grounds, they tried intimidation. White Elks in Birmingham, Alabama pulled Riggs from where he worked and threatened to lynch him unless he relinquished the charter on his next trip to Birmingham.

Riggs agreed, but never returned to Birmingham. The white Elks forced Riggs out of his job and he could not find work anywhere in Cincinnati, so in 1899 under an assumed name he and his family moved to Springfield, Ohio. B.F. Howard took over the running of the organization after Riggs went into hiding. With the help of another Black fraternity, the Knights of Pythias, the first chapter of the Black Elks was instituted in Cincinnati in 1899, with the full title of Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOEW).

The resentment among members of the White Elks continued. In 1906, sensing an opportunity to improve relations with the BPOE, the IBPOEW Grand Exalted Ruler Armand W. Scott ordered Black Elks to wear an IBPOEW pin and not the BPOE pin. This small difference, apparently, was enough and in 1918, the BPOE officially ended its opposition to the IBPOEW. The period of inter-fraternal strife was rendered closed.

Since then, the IBPOEW and its women's organization, the Daughters of the IBPOEW, have continued to work for the African-American community. With subdivision in education, health, veteran's affairs, and civil liberties, the IBPOEW works for the concerns of African Americans and Black Elks worldwide. The lodge shouldered additional duties as the Highland-Ridge neighborhood slid into decline. Times have been hard in recent years the Black Elks. Paul Brice, an exalted ruler, says his lodge hopes to revitalize itself, now down to about 50 members. Some lodges have a difficult time paying monthly bills.

Years ago the IBPOEW lodge held a central role in a closed tightly knit community. As times changed, the lodge's importance waned. Sadly, some Elks and auxiliary members say some young people aren't fit for their groups and other members say drug use is not acceptable.

Reference:
Black First:
2,000 years of extraordinary achievement
by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1994 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI
ISBN 0-8103-9490-1
 
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 20 November 2007 )
 
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