New Orleans Welcomes Fraternal Leader – Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks – 1933

J Finley Wilson

James Finley Wilson – Grand Exalted Ruler, Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World

The colored population of New Orleans rolled out its red carpet on June 12th and 13th, 1933, when J. Finley Wilson, Grand Exalted Ruler of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World came to the city on a whirlwind tour. The international leader’s day and a half in the city was filled with activities and displays of good will from his antlered brothers and sisters and the general population. The chairmen of the committee which arranged the visit were William T. Meade Grant, Jr., State Deputy of Louisiana and Morris A. Lewis, Past Exalted Ruler of the Winter Capitol Lodge No. 595 and Third Vice-President of the Louisiana State Association, I.B.P.O.E.W. Both Grant and Lewis were educators in the public schools of New Orleans.

William T. Meade Grant, Jr.

William T. Meade Grant, Jr. – State Deputy of Louisiana, IBPOEW

Leader of Planning Committee for the Visit of the Grand Exalted Ruler

The Grand Exalted Ruler arrived in the city early on Monday morning, June 12, by way of the Crescent Limited train. He was met at the Louisville and Nashville Depot by a throng of Elks and the band of the Thomy Lafon School. He was motored down Canal Street with a police escort where hundreds lined the sidewalks leading to the Astoria Hotel on Rampart Street where he was to be tendered a breakfast. The breakfast was attended by many of the city’s colored leaders and held in the Red Room of the Astoria Hotel. He was later the guest of honor at a luncheon given by the local Elks at the Magnolia Restaurant on Magnolia Street, which was owned by “Elk” Charles Armstead.

In the afternoon on Monday, June 12, the Grand Exalted Ruler organized a large group of young men, including the embers of the Lafon school band, into a unit of Junior Elks. His presence was an inspiration to the young members of the antlered herd. Following the junior initiation, he organized the first Civil Liberties Unit in New Orleans. That unit was the division of the IBPOEW dedicated to fighting for civil rights and social justice. Wilson gave passionate remarks stressing the need for that sort of work among within the colored community.

In his remarks, he decried the Negro people as being too contented with their circumstances and too reliant upon Providence. He said that he did not believe in “giving the white man all of this world and contenting himself with Jesus.” He too wants some of this world, the speaker continued. He paid tribute during his remarks to John Brown whom he noted was not afraid to act upon his convictions that liberty should be assured to the Negro.

Morris A. Lewis - Claver

Morris A. Lewis – Past Exalted Ruler & Treasurer, Winter Capitol Lodge; Third Vice-President, Louisiana State Association, IBPOEW

Leader of Planning Committee for the Visit of the Grand Exalted Ruler

That evening, an overflow crowd filled the auditorium of Xavier University where Wilson was the featured speaker. He spoke about the state of the Negro people, noting that the black man would be able to better withstand the economic depression. As he observed, “The white man has always had a pay day, whereas the black man has always been put on short rations.”

On Tuesday morning before his departure, Wilson was treated to a breakfast at the office of the Universal Life Insurance Company, the manager of which was his friend, C. C. Valle.

The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks of the World (IBPOEW) currently boasts nearly 500,000 members in nearly 1,500 lodges worldwide. The IBPOEW is the largest black fraternal organization in the world. Its 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 “colored” Elks or “Black” Elks as they have been called were founded upon the same principles and symbolism as the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (white) which was founded in New York in 1868. The Elks emerged out of a fraternal benevolent society, comprised mostly of actors who felt their society should be expanded and should adopt the name of a strong native North American animal. Thirty years after its founding, in 1898, a colored railroad porter named Arthur Riggs and a colored attorney named Benjamin Franklin Howard worked together to found a separate yet similar order for colored men. The IBPOEW have maintained and in many cases maintain to this day many distinct customs such as the prominent representations of the elk, the Elks’ Rest section in cemeteries, the traditional greeting “Hello Bill,” and one of the most beautiful, the eleven o’clock toast to deceased and absent members.

The antlered herd of New Orleans gave a fine toast to their Grand Exalted Ruler in preparing a wonderful series of events during his visit to the Crescent City.

Source: The Louisiana Weekly, 10 June 1933, page 1; 17 June 1933, pages 1, 3, 7.


4 thoughts on “New Orleans Welcomes Fraternal Leader – Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks – 1933

    • Olivia, thank you so much for your comment. Elkdom has a proud history and is today the largest black fraternal order – a testament to the work of Riggs and Howard its founders. To them and all Elks we send a hearty 11 o’clock toast! Please visit again.

  1. I am or was a member of the lodge. Please send me information on the next meeting.
    At the time I became a member, I was the only white member.
    Nathan King was my friend and he put me up. I have not been active since he passed.

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