Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Research 2.0- African Americans and Freemasonry

Over the last decade author Dan Brown has brought historical subjects of intrigue into the realm of popular culture with novels such as The Da Vinci Code. Through his written works and film adaptations the general public has become familiar with the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion, the Illuminati, and most recently, the Freemasons. While Brown’s latest work, The Lost Symbol, gave readers a lesson in the history of freemasonry, it left out a vital chapter of the fraternal society’s history—African Americans. As with many institutions in the United States, freemason lodges were segregated. As a result, African American freemasons organized their own branch under Prince Hall Freemasonry.

Prince Hall Freemasonry is named after Prince Hall, one of the first African American freemasons. In 1775 Hall, along with fourteen other African American men, were initiated by a British military lodge stationed in Boston, MA. Under Hall’s leadership and over time, the first African American lodge, whose original title is argued to be African Lodge No.1 or No.459, gained recognition by the Grand Lodge of England and was given the full rights of a Masonic grand lodge. After the American Revolution, the lodge remained loyal to English counterparts because U.S. Freemasons refused to accept it. However, the Grand Lodge of England provided little support, which led what was then the African Lodge No.1 to declare independence in 1827.

Prince Hall lodges remained in Northern states until after the Civil War, since up to that point only free African Americans had the independence to establish lodges. Even after Emancipation, Prince Hall Freemasonry strove to be acknowledged by white Masonic lodges in the North and South. This effort continued into the twentieth century, and today the majority of grand lodges recognize Prince Hall Freemasonry. Like their white counterparts, Prince Hall Masons saw the development of related organizations, such as the Order of the Eastern Star, which inducted both men and women. While not a Masonic organization, members are admitted based on their relation to a brother of the Freemasons. The African American Order of the Eastern Star was founded in 1874 by Thornton Andrew Jackson, a Prince Hall Mason in Washington, D.C.

For researchers interested in the history and culture of African American freemasonry and that of similar organizations, AARL’s archives contains collections related to Prince Hall Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star. By and large, these records document Atlanta and Georgia chapters during the twentieth century. The Selena Sloan Butler family papers contain materials related to Dr. Henry Rutherford Butler Sr, who was the grand master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia from 1901 to 1931. Other collections that document such groups include the Henry J. and Florine D. Furlow papers and the Douglas Evans/Prince Hall Masons collection. The Vertical Files, which inspire the “Treasures from the Vertical Files” series, also contain a handful of items, though they represent lodges in other states.

ADDENDUM:  Please see archives staff regarding use/access restrictions.


Butler, Henry Rutherford. The History of Masonry Among Colored Men in Georgia. Atlanta, GA, 1911. (AARL owns a copy)

Davis, Harry E. A History of Freemasonry Among Negroes In America. The United Supreme Council, Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, North Jurisdiction, USA (Prince Hall Affliation), 1946. (AARL owns a copy)

Mjagkij, Nina. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001.

Walkes, Joseph A. Black Square and Compass: 200 Hundred Years of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., 1981.

Williams, Loretta. Black Freemasonry and Middle Class Realities. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1980.

Posted by Nicole Carmolingo, AARL Archives intern

Friday, November 19, 2010

Treasures from the Vertical Files: Gettysburg Address

To commemorate the 147th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the Archives Division presents its copy of the speech, which was handwritten and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. Just kidding! This reproduction of the address, a souvenir copy, represents a common issue archivists have to deal with—authenticity. It’s not unusual for archives to be presented with documents that deal with important events or issues in U.S. history and are supposedly genuine. However, these materials are sometimes mass produced replicas or attempted forgeries. In the case of this imitation, the Archives staff easily identified it as a reproduction due to paper and ink qualities. Reproductions and counterfeits that aren't this transparent require a more thorough study. Regardless, the Archives Division thought it would be fun to share it with our blog readers as a reminder of this day’s importance in history.

Posted by Nicole Carmolingo, AARL Archives Intern

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Digitizing Historic African American Education Collections: An Introduction

In a collaborative project, AARL and the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) were awarded funds in 2010 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to digitize and make web-accessible late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century manuscript collections that document the historical development of education for African Americans, primarily in the South. Ranging in date from the early 1860s to the early 1950s, these materials, owned and housed at AARL, are of great national significance as they were created during the near-century long struggle to improve educational opportunities for African Americans in the United States.

The project, named “Digitizing Historic African American Education Collections,” runs from April 01, 2010, to March 31, 2012. Recently, Wesley Chenault, project director for the grant, submitted the first interim narrative report, which highlighted activities, accomplishments, objectives and more for April 01, 2010, to September 30, 2010. Future posts will feature different components of the grant, discuss the project’s methodology, and share updates. For now, here is a glimpse at some of the activities and accomplishments to date.

AARL purchased equipment and hired two part-time library assistants, Colleen Carrington and Grace Lynis Dubinson. Their essential contribution – scanning tens of thousands of historical records – comprises the bulk of the work. DLG’s Sheila McAlister, Andy Carter and Mary Willoughby provided training on scanning techniques and file labeling conventions for AARL project staff. Among grant-related publicity and outreach efforts, AARL's Kerrie Cotten Williams and DLG's Toby Graham discussed the project as part of a panel, “Southern Civil Rights Collections: Bridging the Digital Divide” at the National Conference of African American Librarians in August 2010.

When completed, 74,000 pages of digital content will be made available through AARL and DLG. A couple of these files – a photograph and ledger page from the Atlanta University Collection – are included above. Stay tuned, for there is more to report about this exciting and important digitization project.

Posted by Wesley Chenault, Library Research Associate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Archives and Publics: Aretina Hamilton

Very soon, the AARL Archives blog will feature a post by Aretina Hamilton, pictured above left.  Hamilton, a doctoral candidate in Geography at the University of Kentucky, will talk about her research and relationship to AARL, but the Archives Division thought it might be fun to introduce her early – and in action no less.  Here, Hamilton conducts an oral history with Henri McTerry of Atlanta.  Please check back for more.    

Posted by Wesley Chenault, Library Research Associate   

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Archives and Publics: McCaskill + Jones

In this Archives and Publics post, AARL's Archives Division brings you an update on Dr. Barbara McCaskill's ongoing research into the life of J. (Joseph) Richardson Jones, a cinematographer, photographer, and reporter for the Atlanta Daily World.   It's a reminder not only of the detective-like nature of research, but also its collaborative quality.

In the screen shot below, McCaskill e-mails Toby Graham and Sheila McAlister of the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) about a discovery in the Charles Douglass Business Records at the Middle Georgia Archives and how it relates to DLG's holdings. Through much sleuthing, McCaskill was able to accurately identify a Joseph Jones from a handbill in DLG's repository as J. Richardson Jones. 

The trace led McCaskill, along with Christina Davis and JoyEllen Freeman, to look for holdings in Florida that document Jones's early childhood in Jacksonville, as well as associations in black vaudeville and the LaVilla community, once known as the "Harlem of the South." A research visit is forthcoming. Then it was back to archives in Georgia, where the team visited Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) and uncovered important genealogical information about Jones through the Hanley's Bell Funeral Home Records. 

In February next year, McCaskill and team will present their research at the Southern American Studies Association conference in Atlanta.  

J. Richardson Jones's story continues to unfold, and AARL is happy to be a part in the recovery of a little-known past. Stay tuned for more.

Here is news to celebrate.  After reading the post, Dr. McCaskill responded by e-mail with the following:

"This weekend UGA's Civil Rights Digital Library received the Helen and Milton Schwartz Prize for outstanding projects in the Humanities at the national conference of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. Our research on Jones is an outgrowth of research projects for the CRDL. Also, Christina was a paid R.A. for the CRDL for one year. The timing of this prize is especially meaningful to those of us at UGA, since in January we will commemorate the 50-year anniversary of UGA's desegregation by Charlayne Hunter, Hamilton Holmes, and Mary Frances Early." 

AARL sends heartfelt congratulations!

Posted by Wesley Chenault, Library Research Associate

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Treasures from the Vertical Files: Atlanta Black Crackers Ad

Today’s treasure from the vertical files is an advertisement for the Atlanta Black Crackers from the June 14, 1939 edition of the Atlanta Daily World. It is a fitting theme for this week as it coincides with the end of the 2010 World Series. The ad was placed by Coca-Cola to market their product at games and to wish the team luck. The ad also includes three signatures, which are assumed to be those of team players, whose identities are unknown at this time. In addition to the ad, page five includes various articles detailing the season opening of the Black Crackers, or “Black Crax,” as the Atlanta Daily World called the team.

The League of Colored Baseball Clubs was formed in 1887 as a response to the National Association of Baseball Players banning of black players from its white league in 1867. During this period, black baseball teams in Atlanta found their beginnings at historically African American universities, including what was then Atlanta University and Clark University. The first black professional team in Atlanta, the Deppens, also formed before the start of the twentieth century. The Atlanta Cubs, a semiprofessional team of black college students, succeeded the Deppens and changed their name to the Atlanta Black Crackers in 1919. The team joined the Negro Southern League in 1919 and continued to represent Atlanta in that league until 1937.

Teams in African American leagues, including the Black Crackers, were often plagued by financial difficulty and continually found themselves under new ownership. One reason behind financial problems was the inability to sell out games because of segregation, which did not allow mixed crowds. After Reverend John Harden and his wife purchased the Black Crackers in 1938, the team later became part of the Negro American League. A year later, when the team was sold to Indianapolis, it played under the nickname ABC’s. Soon after, in 1940, a new Atlanta Black Crackers team formed. The demise of the Negro baseball leagues and their teams, including the Black Crackers, began in the mid twentieth century once the all-white major league was integrated.


Darnell, Tim. “Atlanta Black Crackers.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2006. http://dev.ngerr.gsu.edu/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1966&hl=y

Heaphy, Leslie A. The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2003.

Lanctot, Neil. Negro Baseball League: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Posted by Nicole Carmolingo, AARL Archives Intern