Skip to main content
We've detected that you're using an unsupported browser. You may experience issues using the OA website. Please visit our supported browsers page for more information.

Our History

Emerson James

Profile - Emerson James - First African American Vigil Honor Recipient

Emerson James was presumptively the first African American Vigil Honor member. He was from Woodlawn, located on the South Side of the City of Chicago.

James served as Camp Director for Chicago Council, Douglas Division at Camp Belnap in the 1930s and 40s. In Chicago white Scouts were broken into geographic districts. Black Scouts were all placed in the Douglas Division, the segregated division for all of Chicago. The Scouts of Douglas Division attended Camp Belnap. Belnap was the segregated Scout camp located within Owasippe Scout Reservation, which was located around Whitehall, Michigan.

The Arrowmen from Belnap / Douglas Division were the members of the Takodah Chapter of Owasippe Lodge. James was an early leader of the chapter. Emerson James, along with Horatio W. Isbell and Dr. W. H. Benson are the first known African American Brotherhood members. He took what then was called a blood-rite on November 12, 1932. In 1933 James, along with at least two other Takodah Chapter members attended the 1933 Grand Lodge Meeting hosted by his lodge, Owasippe. This made the 1933 Grand Lodge Meeting the first integrated national OA event.

On October 25,1936 James made another first. Ten weeks after Jesse Owens made his breakthrough with four Olympic gold medals Emerson James became the First African American to keep the Vigil. His Vigil name was Netami, The First.