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The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was created in Europe in the mid 1700’s and is a fraternal brotherhood group that includes mutual benefits. Lodges modeled after their European counterparts spread among white communities in the United States during the early 19th century, but they were not officially incorporated in the Grand United Odd Fellows. Blacks who were interested in starting their own branch had discussions with whites in these unincorporated lodges. While these efforts were unsuccessful, they were able to secure incorporation with the Order through a lodge in England. They officially started activities in 1843, and the early membership drew from two established black groups who lacked mutual benefit components: the Philomethean Literary Society and the Philadelphia Company and Debating Society.
In 1845, the first general meeting of the Annual Move able Committee (A.M.C.) included six lodges that had been created in the United States. By the time Ogden passed away in 1852, the total membership was 1470 people in 25 lodges spread throughout the Eastern seaboard with location as far as Bermuda. The practical benefits of membership assisted in defraying expenses of burial, sickness, disability, and widowhood. While no exact amounts were ensured to members, the success of the Order suggests its ability to provide a reasonable level of support to those in need.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows utilized Biblical content in their rituals for lodge establishment. Many historians note the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows as one of the most significant black mutual aid societies even at its beginning stages in the 1840’s. By the 1880’s, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows underwent a remarkable expansion period and went far beyond the local pockets of membership of its early days. The development occurred in a time of increased racial consciousness and institutionalized self-help for blacks. From 1868-1886, total number of lodges and membership were increased almost ten-fold. Over the next ten years, the 1,000 lodges doubled, while membership was increased to 155,537 from the 36,853 total in 1886. The growth continued during the early years of the 20th century.
Current Presiding Officer: Most Honorable Grand Master John W. Green
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