top of page


Fraternal organizations proved popular among African Americans for the same reasons that they proved popular among other Americans: providing financial, spiritual, and emotional aid, they were invaluable to the communities they served. African American fraternities, however, had the added purpose of improving self- esteem.  First instituted during slavery, the membership, rituals, uniforms, and offices of these societies generated a respect not available outside of the lodges. Fully committed to economic, personal, and academic advancement, fraternal organizations have played a vital role in every phase of the African American experience.

One such organization is the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World (IBPOEW). Currently boasting 500,000 members in over 1,500 lodges worldwide, the IBPOEW is the largest Black fraternal organization in the world. The IBPOEW's stated purpose is "that the welfare and happiness of its members be  promoted and enhanced, that nobleness of soul and goodness of heart be cultivated, that the principles or Charity, Justice, Brotherly/Sisterly Love and Fidelity be inculcated, that its members and their families be assisted and protected, [and] that the spirit of patriotism be enlivened and  exalted." 

The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World  was granted a  copyright as an organization on September 28, 1898, in  Cincinnati, Ohio.   A Pullman porter, Arthur James Riggs, and Benjamin  Franklin Howard, who  were both members of another fraternal organization, met  in that city, and they  discovered that they both had dreams of forming an  Elks organization for people  of color. Their dreams and plans were realized  when the first Lodge, Alpha  Lodge No. 1, was organized in Cincinnati, as a  result of the efforts of these  two men.  As the Elks prevailed, the organization struggled against many  racist attitudes and legal efforts to  deny the existence of the Improved  Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the  World.

  On June 13, 1902, Emma Virginia Kelly organized the Daughters of Elks in Norfolk,  Virginia.   This group was later adopted by the Grand Lodge and became an auxiliary body to the Brothers  of Elks.  The first Temple was Norfolk Temple No. 1, Norfolk, Virginia.

A few of the major departments of the Elks are the Grand Lodge  Education  Department, History Department, Medical Department, Veterans  Affairs  Department, National Youth Department, Civil Liberties Department,   Antlered Guard Department, and the Hobson  R. Reynolds National Shrine  Department.  Through the efforts of its members and various departments,  the Elks sponsor extensive educational  scholarship programs, youth summer  computer literacy camps, and children with  special needs, parades and unequaled  community service activities throughout  the world.

bottom of page