Organization despite adversity: The origins and development of African American fraternal associations

Theda Skocpol, Jennifer Lynn Oser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


A prominent form of voluntary organization in the United States from the nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, fraternal associations are self-selecting brotherhoods and sisterhoods that provide mutual aid to members, enact group rituals, and engage in community service. Synthesizing primary and secondary evidence, this article documents that African Americans historically organized large numbers of translocal fraternal voluntary federations. Some black fraternal associations paralleled white groups, while others were distinctive to African Americans. In regions where blacks lived in significant numbers, African Americans often created more fraternal lodges per capita than whites; and women played a much more prominent role in African American fraternalism than they did in white fraternalism. Rivaling churches as community institutions, many black fraternal federations became active in struggles for equal civil rights.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-437
Number of pages71
JournalSocial Science History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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