Sunday, January 24, 2010

Giving and Getting – Philanthropic Activity among BGLO

According to C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, "The tradition of mutual aid lay deep in the African heritage, which stressed a greater communalism and social solidarity than either European or American customs allowed. These incipient traditions of mutual aid and self-help in the slave quarters were formalized and legitimated with the Christianizing of the slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."[2] The growth of separate black churches gave African Americans the opportunity to establish the "first black-owned and operated institutions."[3] Since its inception, the black church has been the single most important institution involved in black philanthropy.[4] It has also been the chief beneficiary of the black community s giving efforts. According to Ann Abbe, "Clergy are often the most influential members of their communities, and church members are expected to support the church with frequent and/or large gifts."[5]

The majority of African Americans are taught from a young age that they have an obligation to give to the church. Through personal engagement and the establishment of a trusting bond, black preachers convey the needs of the church and consistently encourage their parishioners to support the work of the church—the will of God.[6] This obligation to give has provided the backbone for many black social movements in the United States, including the civil rights movement.[7] Black ministers were cognizant of the effect of racism on economic mobility in the United States and sought to create a sound financial base from which political and social change could take place.[8] Since their beginnings, black churches have acted as collection points for money, services, and goods that are pooled and redistributed.[9] According to Bradford Smith and colleagues, "the creation and evolution of the black church has been the most significant factor in the political, social, cultural, spiritual, educational and philanthropic development of African Americans in this country."[10] Thus, the black church is a key example of African American agency. Although forced on blacks by white slave owners, in the hands of black leaders, Christianity became an instrument for black emancipation.[11]

Often started as an arm of the church, mutual aid societies were also among the earliest organizations created by African Americans.[12] These societies began in the North and were typically founded by freedmen. In addition to meeting the spiritual needs of blacks, they addressed their physical and social needs.[13] The first recorded mutual aid society was the Free African Society, which was established in 1787 in Philadelphia by the African Methodist Episcopal and African Protestant Episcopal churches. Other organizations included the New York Society, the Union Society of Brooklyn, the African Union Society, the Wilberforce Benevolent Society, the Woolman Society, and the Clarkson Society.[14] Eventually, the mutual aid societies developed into cultural, eco­nomic, and political forces that helped advance blacks. Under the aegis of these organizations, African Americans joined together—trusting and relying on one another in dire circumstances. According to Lincoln and Mamiya, these loosely organized societies were the forerunners of national organizations such as the Urban League and the NAACP.[15] Further, Smith and colleagues note that influential black businesses such as the "National Benefit Life Insurance and the Central Life Insurance companies also owe their origins to mutual aid organizations."[16]

Beginning in 1775 with the establishment of the Prince Hall Masons, fraternal organizations began to work closely with the black church. These organizations were, first and foremost, communal and social, but they were also committed to healing social ills and contributing to the community. They often secured funds and gifts in kind from their members for poor and indi­gent women and children. Black fraternal organizations consisted of two types: those that were black chapters of already existing white organizations, and those that were established specifically for African Americans. Blacks created their own versions of the Masons (as mentioned), Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Eastern Star, Household of Ruth, Foresters, Shriners, and Elks. Those organiza­tions created by blacks for blacks included the Grand United Order of Galilean Fisherman, Colored Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Honor, Friends of Negro Freedom, International Order of Twelve, African Blood Brotherhood, Colored Consolidated Brotherhood, African Legion, and Knights of the Invisible Colored Kingdom. Many of the fraternal organizations established an auxiliary group of women, such as the Daughters of the Eastern Star for Masons.[17] Fraternal organizations were most prevalent in northeastern cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. These organizations contributed to a culture of "giving back" and "uplifting the race."

During the antebellum period, black women devised a variety of means of supporting causes that were important to the community. For example, they participated in "fairs" with white abolitionist women to support antislavery legislation. These black women also sponsored their own fairs to support the African Methodist Episcopal Church, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the Union Anti-Slavery Society. Other African American women's organizations held fairs to support the black press or orphaned black children.[18] These efforts by black women are yet another example of the importance of uplifting the race as a motivation for giving. African American elites (those in business and professional circles) have also created many social and service organizations for themselves. Because of the insular nature of these organizations and the fact that their membership is exclusively black, their philanthropic efforts go unnoticed by nonblacks and are often overlooked in discussions of African American philanthropy Among the women's groups in this category are the Links, Girl Friends, National Smart Set, Drifters, and Northeasterners. For men, the organizations include the Boule (Sigma Pi Phi), Comus Club, Reveille Club, Ramblers, Bachelor-Benedicts, and Guardsmen. African American children also belong to elite organizations—the most prominent being Jack and Jill.

According to a member of the Links, "Once you are a part of one of these groups, you end up knowing many more people in all the other groups too."[19] Because most of the elite organizations were founded on the premise of volunteerism and charitable giving, the potential for black philanthropy in these groups is obvious. For example, the Links proudly claim, "[Our] tradition is based on volunteerism. For over fifty years, the organization has gathered mo­mentum, continuously redefined its purposes, sharpened its focus, and expanded its program dimensions in order to make the name 'Links' synonymous with not only a chain of friendship, but also a chain of purposeful service."[20] Within these elite organizations, giving is an expectation—a requirement, in fact, of membership. The success of these black elite organizations in supporting a wide variety of philanthropic endeavors is made possible by the strong bonds of trust within the organization.[21] The historical origins of African American giving have shaped the current practices of the BGLOs.

Giving and Getting – Philanthropic Activity among Black Greek-Letter Organizations” by Marybeth Gasman, Patricia Louison, and Mark Barnes
Gregory S. Parks, Editor, Black Greek-Letter Organizations in the Twenty-first Century, University of Kentucky Press, 2008, pp187-191

[1] To more fully understand the actions of these organizations, we drew on their published histories and secondary sources. To augment this knowledge, we conducted interviews with members of BGLOs—capturing the voices of those closest to the phil­anthropic action.
[2] C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990), 242. This idea is reiterated in James A. Joseph, Remaking America: How the Benevolent Traditions of Many Cultures Are Transforming Our National Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995).
[3] Bradford Smith, Sylvia Shue, Jennifer Lisa Vest, and Joseph Villarreal, Philan­thropy in Communities of Color (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 10.
[4] Ibid.; Alicia Byrd, ed., Philanthropy and the Black Church (Washington, D.C.: Council on Foundations, 1990); E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Church in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1963); C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Church since Frazier (New York: Schocken Books, 1974); E. Franklin Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997).
[5] M. Ann Abbe, "The Roots of Minority Giving: Understand the Philanthropic Traditions of Different Cultures to Solicit Them More Effectively," Case Currents (July 2002): 4.
[6] Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church.
[7] David Garrow, Philanthropy and the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Center for the Study of Philanthropy, 1987).
[8] Eric Anderson and Alfred A. Moss Jr., Dangerous Donations: Northern Philan­thropy and Southern Black Education, 1902-1930 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).
[9] Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Womens Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
[10] Smith et al., Philanthropy in Communities of Color, 9.
[11] Anderson and Moss, Dangerous Donations.
[12] Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church.
[13] For more information, see Emmett D. Carson, A Charitable Appeals Fact Book: How Black and White Americans Respond to Different Types of Fund-Raising Efforts(Washington, D.C.: Joint Center for Political Studies, 1989); Emmett D. Carson, A Hand Up: Black Philanthropy and Self-Help in America (Washington, D.C.: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Press, 1993); Emmett D. Carson, "Black Philanthropy. Shaping Tomorrow's Nonprofit Sector," NSFRE Journal (summer 1989): 23-31; Emmett D. Carson, "Despite Long History, Black Philanthropy Gets Little Credit as 'Self-Help' Tool," Focus 15, no. 6 (June 1987); 3, 4, 76.
[14] Smith et al., Philanthropy in Communities of Color.
[15] Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church. More information on mutual aid societies can be found in V. P. Franklin, Black Self-Determination: A History of African American Resistance (New York; Lawrence Hill Books, 1992).
[16] Smith et al., Philanthropy in Communities of Color, 11.
[17] Lawrence Otis Graham, Our Kind of People: Inside Americas Black Upper Class (New York; Harper Perennial, 2000).
[18] Beverly Gordon, Bazaars and Fair Ladies: The History of the American Fundraising Fair (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998).
[19] Graham, Our Kind of People, 113.
[20] Links Inc. publicity materials, 2001.
[21] Graham, Our Kind of People.

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