Changing Times,
Changing People, 1890-1920:
Black Institutions

The early twenth century was fertile ground for the rise of Black institutions because of the development of Black neighborhoods in the context of an increasingly racist and segregated society, because of the influx of immigrants from the South who felt themselves to be in an alien environment (that included Hartford's older Black population), because the mass press and education that acted as a stimulus by articulating a sense of social participation, and because of the prevailing political culture of social improvement and activism.

[Hartford's pioneer Elks Lodge] These organizations provided needed social contact and solidarity that was almost impossible in society at large, which was increasingly racist and dominated by whites. These clubs and institutions also provided a sense of moral purpose that contributed to one's sense of personal dignity despite poverty or lower status. Churches, of course, offered the same thing, but in the case of Hartford's quasi-secular institutions, one notes in particular the Excelsior Lodge No. 3, Prince Hall, of the Masons, the Sumner League, The Odd-Fellows Lodge, Knights of Pythias, and the Elk's Lodge.

The first Elks Lodge in Hartford was located on Chapel Street, near Trumbull (where Route 84 crosses Trumbull now, and so not far from both the Windsor Street and the Front Street neighborhoods). This digitalized copy of the circa 1900 photo cuts out about half a dozen members, but included Thomas Vaughn, Richard Caples, Louis Johnson, Mr. Muncie, Solow Taylor, James Morris, and Overton Olds, Sr. Further research is needed to verify this, but off hand these gentlemen do not seem to be part of the new wave of immigration, but rather representatives of the old families. Note the conspicuous presence of the American flag, which aims to elevate the activities of an essentially private organization to the political level so that they gain the sanction of American civic religion.

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