The Masonic Templars of America


I am constantly learning something new about history when I look at the past. This past week a couple of new friends and budding genealogists and cemetery researchers found an old forgotten cemetery in the woods in Stanton, Haywood County, Tennessee.

We’re referring to the cemetery as Quarter Rd. Cemetery, well, because that’s where it’s located and we don’t know yet what it’s original name is. They’ve located the graves of five individuals in this long-forgotten final resting place. One child and four adults. One of the stones is the oldest stone I’ve come across in this area of West Tennessee…

John Bishop died Jan 1807 age 70

John Bishop died in January 1807 at the age of  70, putting the year of  his birth about 1737! Also located is Mahala Bishop, who was 54 years old when she died in 1921, Roland Hamer who passed at the tender age of 13 in 1925, Henry Clay Watkins who died on April 1, 1914 at the age of 62 and young Herman Sales who was just 25 years old when he died on August 1, 1920. More to come on them….

The most unusual aspect that was discovered in this cemetery was the markings on a couple of the headstones. It was a symbol that we had never run across before and it had the initials TMA 3vs engraved in the stone. But after a few hours of research I had discovered the answer.

The initials were really MTA which stood for the Masonic Templars of America which was a famous black fraternal organization founded by two former slaves, John Edward Bush and Chester W. Keatts, in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1883. The organization originally provided illness, death, and burial insurance during an era of segregation when few basic services were available to black people. By 1900 Mosaic Templars’ industries grew to include an insurance company, a building and loan association, a publishing company, a business college, a nursing school, and a hospital. The  goal of the organization was to provide its members with various services but also to meet the needs of the black population in general by encouraging self-help measures.

By 1905 it had a number of lodges across the state with thousands of members. When the new headquarters were built in 1913, Booker T. Washington delivered the dedication speech. In the 1920s they claimed chapters in twenty-six states and six foreign countries, making it one of the largest black organizations in the world. However, in the 1930s the MTA began to feel the effects of the Great Depression and eventually ceased operations.

But today there is an organization struggling to keep that rich history alive.  The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is located in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is dedicated to the preservation of Arkansas’ African American history. Within the cultural center is a museum with hundreds of artifacts, a research facility which collects various types of artifacts related to Arkansas’s rich African American history from 1870 to the present. You can visit their website at http://www.mosaictemplarscenter.com/default.aspx.

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