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Our History

First Known African American Second Degree

First known African-Americans Become Second Degree Members by Taking the Brotherhood Degree- Emerson James- Horatio Isbell- Dr. W. H. Benson

In November of 1932, the Third Biennial Conference for Region 7 was held at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois. 155 Arrowmen attended from five different lodges plus Grand Chieftain Robroy Price in attendance.

On the night of November 12, 1932 fifteen Arrowmen, selected by their lodge or chapter for initiation into the Second Degree, were introduced to the assembly of Arrowmen that included the Grand Chieftain. Among those fifteen were three members of Owasippe Lodge’s Takodah Chapter, the segregated chapter of Chicago. Those three men were Dr. William H. Benson, Emerson James and Horatio W. Isbell. These three men are the oldest known African American members of the Order to become Brotherhood Honor members. That night they received their initiation and sealed their membership in the Order.

The Arrowmen of Takodah Chapter were the Scouts of Camp Belnap, Chicago’s segregated camp. The Scouts of Belnap had been denied entry into the Order as a lodge in 1923 because the Order would not allow more than one lodge per camp and Owasippe Scout Reservation had a lodge. While Goodman was Scout Executive of Chicago the Scouts at Belnap formed Takodah Chapter.

On that November night in 1932, Benson, James and Isbell took what was then known as the Blood-rite Degree. The concept was that two people could be “brothers” by exchange of blood. Today we know that for health reasons the exchange of blood is extremely hazardous and strictly prohibited. However, in 1932 the impediment was a social issue regarding the exchange of blood between races, and not the very real health issue. There is no record, which Arrowmen stood next to the Takodah Arrowmen as their hands were cut open with a knife and they clasped the hand of their new brother by their side. What is known is that they sealed their membership, potentially the first to integrate the Order in this unprecedented manner.