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First known African American Vigil Honor

Emerson James Becomes earliest known African American Vigil Honor Member; Netami - The First

On October 24th and 25th, 1936 the Owasippe Lodge held a Fellowship Conference. The conference is remarkable for two things. The first was that Owasippe invited other lodges to attend their fellowship. Ay-Ashe Lodge from Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Tomkita Chara Lodge from Wausau, Wisconsin attended. Later, after National Chief Joseph Brinton read of the Fellowship Conference he was eager to share the concept of multi-lodge events in the National Bulletin.

The second noteworthy event of the Fellowship weekend was Emerson James was elected and kept his Vigil the night of October 24 through the morning of October 25th. In so keeping, Emerson James became the earliest known and presumptively the first African American Vigil Honor member.

Emerson James had served as Camp Director at Camp Belnap and continued in that capacity for a number years following his Vigil Honor. He had been a leader in the formation of Takodah Chapter of Owasippe Lodge, the earliest known segregated chapter. James, along with Dr. Benson and H. Isbell had been the first known African American Arrowmen to take the Brotherhood Degree. In the year where African American Jesse Owens had broken barriers in Berlin, Germany winning four gold medals, Emerson James had broken a barrier in the Order by meriting the OA’s highest honor. The OA was ahead of the curve, Major League Baseball would not integrate for another 11 years and the Civil Rights and Voting rights Acts were still more than a quarter century off. The significance was not lost on those that elected James. They chose the Vigil Name Netami, ‘The First’.