Connecting my Family Oddfellows and the Household of Ruth Past to the Present
By: Tina Carter Douglas
When I was a child, children did not participate in “grown folks’ business so when and adult pulled you aside for a face to face eye to eye conversation you knew it was serious. My Grandmother Pearl Arnethea Carter and my Grandfather John Oliver Carter in turn would say, “Now this is important. When I die these are the things, I must be buried in.” Most days I would nod and say yes and go back to whatever it was I was doing trying not to think of the day they would leave me. Never noticing the faraway expressions, they seemed to share remembering their days as part of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and the Household of Ruth.
Though Oddfellows and the Household of Ruth are not often listed in history books, the local lodges, households, as well as churches played a vital role in the African American Community. Rural black communities such as Rectortown (now known as Marshall, VA) historically have relied upon the generosity and sacrifices of their extended family and neighbors to rear their families worked together and supported one another.
My Grandfather John Oliver Carter was born in Rectortown, Virginia May 15, 1912 the oldest of 18 children and married Pearl Arnethea Carter on June 18th, 1934 my Grandmother. Perhaps it was the fact that rural Fauquier County Virginia had little to offer the young African American family from a social standpoint or social justice for that matter that led them to become members of the in Oddfellows and the Household of Ruth Respectively.
My Grandfather John worked all week as a farmer, while my Grandmother Pearl traveled three counties away leaving her children to clean houses. Making only a few dollars week, each of them often being disrespected and ignored by their white counter parts. They raised their seven children in a farmhouse of modest means, without indoor plumbing or phone service. They shared stories of having to stand on the bus when no colored only seats were available. Even more heart wrenching, bundling their children up for the 5-mile walk to school.
When they put on their lodge and household garments those things seemed to fade away. Fellow members acknowledged one another for their true skills and strengthens. Educated and uneducated men and a woman alike working together to achieve common goals like building a schoolhouse, assisting young families or celebrating their achievements by sponsoring and participating in community parades.
In addition, the members help raise money for the No 18 School (Rectortown Colored) and helped provide for the teachers’ salaries and other supplies such as wood during the 1930’s and 1940’s. In the late 1960’ the original lodge building would be used to house the Headstart program for children in the community.
In addition, there is a deed dated February 10, 1926 in the Fauquier County Deed Book 129/204 was recorded on September 11, 1926 for property that would later become the Oddfellows Hall for Mount Olive Lodge of Odd Fellows No 10966 which I have in my possession today. An additional entry was written on July 28th, 1933 and recorded on September 19th, 1933 the cost $120. 00 where a lodge building was erected. The trustees were James Thompson, Raymond Banister and Horace Stewart. In addition, a plot of land was purchased and used for a cemetery where lodge members and their families could now have a proper burial. Though many lodge members worked for only a few dollars a month on local farms this was an accomplishment to be proud of. The building was used for social events as well as meetings until the early 1970’s.
Today the members of the Mount Olive Lodge of Odd Fellows No 10966 and the Household of Ruth of Rectortown, Virginia are all deceased. While rumors and family stories over the years abound, it is unclear as to why the lodge disbanded. As with most rural communities, younger generations move away seeking adventure and opportunities not found in small hometowns. After the passing of the last lodge member the Odd Fellows Hall and cemetery became the property of the Mount Olive Baptist Church.
As the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows now rebuilds it’s self under the tradition started by Peter Ogden and the Households of Ruth who assist young women and continue to work with families, it is my hope that the sense of pride, cooperation and support found in the lodges and households will once more spread throughout our communities. Perhaps one day we too can pull our children aside and say, “These are very special garments.” Like Pearl John Carter, “ I must be buried in them.”
Finally, on a personal note I hope that my family would work with me on rebuilding our Grandfather John Oliver Carter lodge and Grandmother Pearl Arnethea Carter household, as well as the community of Marshall, Virginia and Mount Olive Baptist Church.