A Weekend with the United Order of Tents

[The United Order of Tents] is an organization made up of dozens of chapters all over the South and Northeast, with hundreds of members currently. It was founded on the ideals of freedom, independence, and self-autonomy, but it is also firmly rooted in the practical. The Tents is a massively successful, wonderfully efficient community self-help organization that has operated without outside help for over 150 years. But because it is run by and for black women — black churchwomen — it is largely unknown and in fact was deliberately kept secret for much of its existence.

[...]

The organization was a Christian benevolent association. During slavery and Reconstruction, black people founded organizations like this — some explicitly religious, some professional, some unaffiliated — to act as both social organizations and powerful places of safety under a hostile, predominantly white government. These organizations served as banks when most white-run institutions refused to trade or secure mortgages for black individuals or institutions. They served as insurance when insurance companies did the same. And almost just as important, they served as affirmation of black personhood, dignity, and independence at a time when the wider world insisted on black inferiority.

These organizations fell out of favor right after the civil-rights movement, when the world of unhindered possibility they worked so hard for seemed within reach. But with recent events, it seems, we need them now more than ever.
 

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