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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Black Elks Lodge building in Spa City faces membership challenges

Elks Lodge is in “survival mode” for black people in the city’s arts district.

Frederick Allen Lodge Number 609 – named after Spa City’s first Black Public Works employee – is located in a historic but aging building at 69 Beekman St., with an assortment of needs.

The Lodge is also battling a dwindling membership from just 25 paying members, its president Kendall Hicks said Friday. In recent years it had 50 members. The annual membership fee is $150.

The lodge is anticipating a significant boost from an annual fundraiser and community meeting prepared by guest chefs of the neighborhood business, Dizzy Chicken, on Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m. There will also be an after party with musical entertainment.

In addition, Skidmore College head Jacob Smith helped launch a GoFundMe page asking to “save Saratoga’s soul” to contribute to the lodge’s needs.

The organization’s heyday dates back to the 1960s and ’70s, and the building evokes local history, with a series of photos and news accounts of the city’s longtime African Americans, including the late native Hattie’s Chicken Shack owner Hattie Austin. Are included.

A 2009 newspaper hanging on a wall in the lodge quotes longtime Black City resident Roland Yarbrough’s enthusiasm about the election of President Barack Obama.
Yarbrough, an army veteran who died in 2015 during Obama’s second term in the Oval Office, told the newspaper he thought he would never live to see a black president.

The lodge “represents a lot of history for people of color in our community,” Hicks said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, funds raised in previous years to pay for taxes and other necessities were spent on administrative bills, Hicks said.

Hicks said that while the pandemic subsided, there was slow progress in reopening and resuming activities and fundraisers at the lodge, but that proved not enough to sustain it.

“We found ourselves in a difficult situation where we needed some kind of emergency assistance,” he said.

Hicks said it has already benefited from support in the community, and that some significant work has already been done, including rebuilding its kitchen floor, whose foundation had rotted, and a new furnace, according to the organization. After going without heat for a while.

But there is still about $90,000 of work that needs to be done, and code issues, including the need for a new second-story exit, which would allow the program to hold youth events in a large upstairs room. will allow. Because of the lack of exhaust, using the room is a fire hazard, Hicks said.

Hicks said the lodge also needed to completely overhaul its kitchen, which would go a long way toward helping the lodge sustain itself by serving weekly meals and providing food for youth programs.

Hicks leaned inside the dirt cellar as he showed pieces of its compromised foundation to a reporter and photographer celebrating the new furnace.

“I’ve been here for several nights, fixing plumbing leaks, and broken pipes and frozen pipes,” Hicks said, “and I’ve only been here for five years.” Imagine what the brothers before me were going through.”

He pointed to a donated air conditioning system he hopes to install.

“Imagine here in the summer when there is no air conditioning,” he said. “It’s smoldering.”

The lodge was chartered in August 1925 as a branch of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World.

The national organization was founded in Ohio decades ago.

Hicks said it is the only African-American run lodge in the area to be within 100 miles in either direction.

“This is the last thing standing for a community of color,” he insisted.

The lodge’s mission is to inculcate the principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and allegiance, recognizing belief in God, promoting the welfare and happiness of its members, inculcating the spirit of American patriotism, and cultivating good fellowship. and to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization.

The lodge is named after Frederick Joseph Allen, the first African-American to work in the Saratoga Springs Public Works Department, who was said to be “cautious in his dress and high-top shoes.”

It was found in private homes during its formative years, and first moved to 101 Congress St from 1942 until a fire in 1966 forced it to move to 69 Beekman St.

The lodge is supported by an active female assistant, Mary A. Carter Temple No. 362.

Temple has for many years given scholarships to senior citizens of color from Saratoga Springs and Spa Catholic High School. It has hosted local spelling bees, eloquence contests, and beauty and talent contests.

Its other annual events are a fashion show and dinner-dance.

Hicks said, “There are many things we do in the community, and once we are sustainable, our community benefits and benefits our youth as well as members and their families at large.” “

Smith, a Skidmore College student who helped lead the online fundraiser, wrote a detailed article about the lodge and its struggles for her school’s newspaper.

Smith, a black student from the Bronx, said he was interested in learning about a local African-American lodge and its deep roots in a predominantly white city. He said he found its proximity to closure “worrisome.”

“We have cultural clubs and parallels on campus,” he said. “But knowing about the Elks is important to me now and it makes me want to align with them, and organize different events and connect our students – students of color in particular, or students in general – to their with.”

On Contact Correspondent Brian Lee [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

More from The Daily Gazette:

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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