For over 115 years, the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World has provided a space for fraternity and community service for men in Baltimore. Once numbering in the thousands, the Elks today are smaller in number but their commitment to serving their community remains intact.
Baltimore’s oldest Elks chapter is located in West Baltimore and was established in January 1900. According to Mike MacKey, the lodge’s resident historian and a member since he returned from service in Vietnam in 1968, the lodge, known as Monumental Lodge No. 3, has been at its current location of McMechen Street and Madison Avenue since 1929.
“In the early days, these places really were the only places where Blacks could come and be together and do things, and be involved,” said MacKey.
The lodge has counted luminaries such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, all the men in Baltimore’s influential Mitchell family (including Clarence Mitchell, who helped secure important federal civil rights protections for African Americans through his work with the NAACP and Leadership Council on Civil Rights in the 50s and 60s), and Baltimore’s first Black city solicitor, George Russell.
“Anybody in this town that was somebody . . . were members here at some point in time,” said MacKey.
This storied past has helped secure the lodge’s designation as a historical landmark, granted by the city of Baltimore last June, according to Baltimore City public records.
The lodge played an important role in the social life of Black Baltimoreans for generations, and prides itself on serving the city through its benevolent works, including teaming up with American Legion Post No. 19 to adopt nearby Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School. The two organizations host an annual block party and distribute educational necessities for neighborhood children. “We give them school supplies and those kinds of things when return to school,” said MacKey.
The lodge also runs a shoe bank, where members donate brand new children’s shoes, as well as an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the entire community, with as many as 300 people being fed at a time.
According to James Burton, a member of the Elks order for the past 15 years, the lodge also hosts dinners for Christmas, and at other points in the year. “That’s all part of who we are and what we are, to do for the community,” said Burton. “That’s one of our mottoes, to do for the community, and to give back to the community, and to help the community all we can.”
For Burton, the greatest work the lodge can do is to assist the area youth in any way they can.
“They (youth) need us more than anything else, they need guidance,” said Burton. “They need people to be a mentor to them, to guide them in the right direction.”
For Vincent Blackwell, a member of the lodge for seven years and a member of American Legion Post No. 19 for29 years, the service combined with the fraternity offered is what compelled him to join the Elks. “The camaraderie, the fellowship, the friendship, this is what made me join basically, plus we do a lot, as brother Burton said, for the community,” said Blackwell. “It’s just a great place to be.”