The Voodoo Times: Episode IV:

Negro Secret Societies

by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


The Negro Race delights to dabble in the Mysterious.  Organizations are without number among the colored people—Negroes have figured prominently in secret societies in all ages. As early as 1852, whites were aware of these secret societies even among their free colored population.


In the April 8, 1888 edition of the Chicago Tribune, the venerable grand Patriarch of the Knights of Methuselah said to his interviewer: “The growth of our societies, is really amazing…and are they of ancient standing?”


The grand Patriarch replied to his own question: “Quite as ancient as the societies of white people. Why sir, there never was a secret society known to history but the Negroes had not a hand in it.”


The Methuselah rolled the name of several secret societies.  


“But I tell you, sir there were Negroes among the Illuminati, Negroes among the Rosicrucians.

The Illuminati were thought to be the real controllers of the world; the real power behind kings and presidents.  The Rosicrucians were said to have been born in ancient Egypt and carried throughout time, their mysteries traveling to the various Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern civilizations.”


“Their goal was not government control but mastery of all of the seven senses through spiritual exercises and techniques practiced in secret; to eventually rid their souls of the entanglements of the physical world.”

Methuselah then went on and said, “Negroes have a genius for secret societies.”


The venerable grand Patriarch had worked himself into great excitement. His historical information was surprising.


“You may be surprised to hear, sir,” he continued, “that a negro led to the suppression of the famous Illuminati of France. “


“Who was he?” the interviewer asked.


The venerable grand Patriarch answered, “He was a negro from Martinique. He had large plantations and was very rich. As was not unusual in Martinique he had married a white wife.


She was a Creole and was exquisitely beautiful.  She came to Paris with her husband and her husband’s brother; they were exceptionally ugly….well both she and her husband later confessed to the authorities of Paris that they were members of the secret order of the Illuminati and that the wife had poisoned a woman by the name of Mme. Delarus at its bidding.”


The Venerable Grand Patriarch completed a lengthy story by stating that “whereupon the government suppressed it and banished the fair Creole to her island.”


Then the Grand Patriarch talked of things African that I had little idea as to how they were related to secret societies.


“So you see,” said the Venerable Grand Patriarch. “That negroes have played an important part in the organizations of the past. And you must not forget that it is they who gave birth to the Purrah.”


“What is the Purrah?” the interviewer asked.


Southward from Sierra Leone,” said the Patriarch, “stretches the country occupied by the Bulloms and the Succoos.”


“Who are the Bulloms and the Succoos?”


“Though they are probably my own ancestors,” he replied, “I cannot tell you. But them belongs the credit of inventing the Purrah.”


“How is it composed?”


The old Negro snorted.


“It is a body comprising two departments, the grand Purrah and the sectional Purrah. To belong to the first you must be 50 years old, to the latter 30. The candidate is first confined in a sacred grove. He receives ordeal takes places resounds with howls and groans.  Flames are seen among the brushwood. But no one can pry into the secrets of the trail. Curiosity is punished with death”


“Does the candidate come out alive?” the interviewer questioned.


The Patriarch smiled.


“If he does, he takes an oath, binding himself to hide the mystery of the sacred forest. He lays aside his old name and assumes a new one.”


“What is the purpose of the Purrah?”


“Chiefly murder. The organization is like that of the Thugs of India.”


 The interviewer had heard of the Thugs or Thuggie cult as they were often called.  These people would rob, steal, murder, and engage in the horrors of human sacrifice.   


The Patriarch continued saying, “Travelers are waylaid and assassinated, and, curiously, the Purrah can sometimes act philanthropically and put an end to war and family feuds.”




“By investigating the quarrel and sentencing the aggressors. In a divorce suit, its method is summary. It puts the defendant to death.”


“Where does it sit?”


“In retired parts of the forest at the dead of night. Its members wear masks. When it comes to a town it enters with hideous shrieking. If anybody peeps from the window he is slain. The women are compelled to clap their hands while the Purrah is passing, just to show that they are at home. It is great power in Africa.”


“Is there anything like it in America?”


This question stirred up an old Negro, by the name of Uncle Gabe who had been nodding over the fire. “Why yes,” said he. “Down in the South.”


Uncle Gabe was referring to the southern United States where voodoo, magic, and root work were rampant among the Negros.


“Down in the South, there is a Secret Tribunal. …There is a President, and he chooses his assessors (judges). There are two kinds of Assizes (meetings). One is public, held thrice a year, and every colored person in the neighborhood can come to it. The other is private, and nobody can show his face there without suffering instant death,” said Uncle Gabe.


Uncle Gabe went on to explain how members are initiated.


“I cannot tell you about it because it is to always be kept secret except to those involved. Then I desired to know one important thing.”


“Is there any mystic sign?” the interviewer asked.


“It is said that, when they meet at the table, they turn the point of the knife to themselves and the handle away from them.”


“What are the advantages of membership?

Uncle Gabe said, that “the initiated of every degree can go on foot or on horseback through the country. Nobody dares to molest them.”


“And what are the penalties of treachery?”


Uncle Gabe’s black eyes balls seem to grow in size.


“Those who reveal the secrets of the society are seized; a cloth is bound over their eyes. Their hands are tied behind their back; a halter is put about their neck; they are thrown upon their stomach; their tongue is pulled out with red-hot pincers, and then they are hung seven feet higher than any other felons.”


“How are the accused summoned?”


“Sometimes a notice is served by a messenger; sometimes it is nailed on a signpost at the crossroads. Criminals rarely dare to disobey it. If they do they are doomed. One of the initiated is ordered to run them down. …They knew whence death may come,” responded the old man.


“Is the tribunal effective?”


Uncle Gabe’s voice grew ever more serious.


“In the regions over which its jurisdiction extends the negroes tremble at its name. Their blood runs cold at the sight of a halter, the glimmer of a sword.”


“In short, it is the counterpart of the Westphalian Vehm-Gericht.”


Confused with his answer, he asked again, “The What?”


“The Secret Tribunal of the Middle Ages.”

“What do you mean?”


He leaned over and said, “The Westphalian Vehm-Gericht was a criminal tribunal. It was a type of local law system during feudal times in Europe.  It operated in many places in Europe, but Germany was the seat of this organization. They worked in secret and operated by holy bands sworn to secrecy on pain of death.”


He glanced over at another Negro and said,” “Zeb over yonder, can tell you more about it.”


The man known as Zeb turned to me and said, “My father was a great hand at secret societies.


When he was dying he gave me a sealed package.  He said to me, ‘Open it Zeb, the day when you are 21.’ I did as he bade me.”


“What did the package contain?”


“A letter saying: “Learn Zeb, that I was the founder of the Avengers. From the day you read this, you are destined to lead the Avengers. The punishment for refusing is death.  An Avenger will call on you and administer the oath.’ Well, sir, the Avenger called.”


“Did he administer the oath?”


“He brought me a copy of the rules. There were thirty-three degrees and thirty-three rules, stating the purpose of the Avengers. As a member rose a degree a new rule was given to him.  Thus it was only when he reached the thirty-third degree that he know what he was to avenge.”


“And how many rules had you?”


“I was in the first degree, so I had only one rule. That ordered me to pay my dues, to be punctual in attendance, and nothing more. The Avenger told me that I was to be initiated at a special meeting held in a garret over a stable the following Tuesday at midnight.”


“Did you go?”


“Certainly I went. There were forty-nine gentlemen present. All wore masks. One of them advanced to administer the oath. I declined to take it. ‘Know you not,’ said the president, He told me that the penalty was death.”


Zeb continued his story.  “I said to the president ‘I don’t care…I won’t be an Avenger till I know what I have to avenge. Then the president said, ‘Gentlemen it becomes our painful duty to sentence him to death.’ And they did so.”


“A that moment,” continued Zeb, “a fork of flame penetrated the floor of the garret (top floor).


The place was filled with smoke. The retreat was cut off. Escape from the windows was hopeless. Suffocated, I fell to the ground. That is all I knew till I found myself safe at home and in bed, with the hair singed off my head.”


“What had become of the Avengers?”


“They were all burned to a crisp.”


“Did you hear what they had to avenge!”




“Do you think they knew themselves?”


“No sir,” said Zeb.  “I don’t believe they ever did.”


Many years later I learned from various newspaper reports around the country that these Negro secret societies were torturing and killing some of their own members and plotting and sometimes succeeding to kill whites.  In time, the white authorities as well as white vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands a wage a war against these Negro secret societies. 


When these Negro secret societies interfered with the control of Negro labor vigilante whites wrecked and dynamited the institution of these Negro institutions.  In the early 20th century, the silent war to destroy Negro secret societies had begun.  


Destroying the physical structures that these associations created by Negroes did not end the ancient traditions from Africa.  The Negro secret societies continue into the 21st century to operate as intended, in secret.



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