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For Our Own Good

“Not for ourselves but for others” – Goodwill Club slogan

African American civic and social groups are as old as the United States. Since the 18th century, like-minded people have come together to look out for themselves and each other. They have formed groups to shape their own identities and to protect those like themselves from isolation and want. African American civic and social groups began in Northern cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York and moved to urban areas in the South such as Richmond and Norfolk before spreading to less populated areas.

As Central Virginia’s African American civic and social groups formed, they followed patterns established elsewhere. Men’s groups preceded women’s groups. Local chapters of national groups, such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, True Reformers, and Eastern Star, preceded independent and unaffiliated clubs, such as the Ansonians, Cabelleros, and Pearls. The first unaffiliated clubs were formed by college-educated professionals with higher incomes. Clubs associated with occupations and hobbies, such as the Beauticians and Negro Garden Clubs, were organized before groups formed to preserve culture.

African American civic and social organizations supported black businesses, and black businesses supported them. Almost without exception, Central Virginia’s lodges and clubs closely aligned themselves with the area’s churches. They kept and encouraged good moral conduct based on American and Christian ideals.

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