The role of African American fraternal organizations in black civic engagement has been largely overlooked by scholars of African American history. While scholars have traditionally emphasized the role of the black church, social clubs, and civil rights organizations, this special issue of Social Science History explores the significance of fraternal organizations of men and women in the African American community from Reconstruction to the mid-twentieth century. It illustrates how these organizations helped foster solidarity, build identity, and encourage collective action. The contributors construct a historical portrait of black fraternal orders during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They argue that African Americans were more likely than whites to form fraternal orders and to sustain them, using them to guard members against unemployment and other misfortunes. They examine the ritual life of fraternal organizations, paying particular attention to rites of initiation and to the values they reflected about collective identity, gender relations, equality, and collective action.
Finally, they show how social networks that black fraternal organizations fostered led to successful legal battles for the right to assemble and to the later civil rights movement of the twentieth century. Contributors. Bayliss J. Camp, Marshall Ganz, Orit Kent, Ariane Liazos, Jennifer Lynn Oser, Theda Skocpol, Joe W. Trotter