At the turn of the century, when lynching, Jim Crow laws, and disfranchisement were at their worst, black fraternal organizations offered Afro-Americans a place to preserve their self-respect. Scholars have studied these organizations little and understood them less. One early study dismissed them as merely parodying white organizations, but hardly resembling them, while the blacks, it claimed, exaggerated both regalia and ritual. When Noel Gist published his Study of Fraternalism in the United States, Carter Woodson charged that Gist failed to understand the importance of fraternal orders to blacks and that, indeed, Gist barely mentioned the black orders. After a detailed analysis, W. E. B. DuBois found that even black and white orders that shared a name might not resemble one another. He found similarities only in Pythians, Odd Fellows, and Masons. He thought the other black societies were “Negro inventions” and “curious and instructive” organizations. “Invention,” “curious,” “exaggeration,” “parody,” “importance to blacks”—these are the key phrases. All attempt to describe an amorphous quality of black fraternal orders that makes them unique. Yet while failing to define that quality, its would-be describers avoid the issue.