BOOK FACT: African American fraternal orders waged legal fights to defend their right to exist—fights that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where African Americans ultimately prevailed. Involving some of the lawyers who later went on to work with the NAACP, this struggle won some of the major victories in the quest for equal civil rights in America.

What a Mighty Power We Can Be:
African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality

By Theda Skocpol, Ariane Liazos, & Marshall Ganz

The authors demonstrate how African American fraternal groups played key roles in the struggle for civil rights and racial integration.

From the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, millions of American men and women participated in fraternal associations–self-selecting brotherhoods and sisterhoods that provided aid to members, enacted group rituals, and engaged in community service. Even more than whites did, African Americans embraced this type of association; indeed, fraternal lodges rivaled churches as centers of black community life in cities, towns, and rural areas alike. Using an unprecedented variety of secondary and primary sources–including old documents, pictures, and ribbon-badges found in eBay auctions–this book tells the story of the most visible African American fraternal associations.

We invite you to read chapter one online: