Black Fraternal Organizations: Systems, Secrecy, and Solace
J Afr Am St (2012) 16:595–603
Posted: 27 Jul 2017
Date Written: 2012
Fraternal organizations hold a storied place in the Western world. Sometimes romanticized and occasionally framed as malevolent and controlling forces, fraternal organizations are often thought to influence, if not rule, the social order from the shadows. Membership in these organizations is often simultaneously revered and misunderstood. The reverence toward these organizations is both a product and a cause of recent popular cultural fascination with the secret world of fraternal orders. For example, the 2006 film The Good Shepherd portrayed Matt Damon's character's coming of age via the Yale University secret society “Skull and Bones,” all against the backdrop of the burgeoning Cold War and McCarthyism. Dan Brown's recent books qua films (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol) follow Tom Hanks' character “Harvard Professor Robert Langdon” and his attempts to disentangle the web of deceit and manipulation that supposedly characterize secret fraternal organizations from the Freemasons and Illuminati to the Knights Templar and Rosicrucian Order. With such varied, sensationalist, and mystified discourse surrounding fraternal organizations — all coupled with the hot button topic of race in the Age of Obama — what is one to make of the curious case of Black Fraternal Organizations (BFOs)?
BFOs are slowly gaining entrée into the mainstream and are recovering an image of themselves as a heterogeneous and varied collection of organizations across the political spectrum: from African Methodist Episcopal and ethnic-based Black churches' (e.g., West Indian, West African, etc.) recent public offers of sanctuary to undocumented residents, to the 2010 National Heritage Museum's exhibitions of Prince Hall Freemason history. With uneven, yet important, steps forward, BFOs are now staking their claim as important social and civic institutions. How they have been portrayed in scholarship is another matter.
Keywords: Black Fraternal Organizations, Fraternal Organizations
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