James Murray Jeffress and the Grand United Order of Moses
University of Virginia Library; Submitted by: Donald R. McKinney
Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations / David M.Fahey;
Historical Architectual Survey of Charlotte County, Virginia, Hill Studio, PC.
Submitted by: Donald R. McKinney
James Murray Jeffress was born in Charlotte County, Va. in 1873 to Conway and Eliza Brown Jeffress. James graduated from Hampton Institute with a degree in teaching and went on to Howard University Divinity School in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 1901 and became an ordained Baptist Minister. He served Charlotte County as the Principal in one of the county’s public schools and was dedicated to education until his death in 1951. The Reverend James Murray Jeffress and his wife, Zena Wilson Jeffress, also a teacher, were leaders in the establishment of the Charlotte Training School in 1928, which later evolved into Central High School, to broaden educational opportunities. He served his God as the Pastor of numerous churches in Halifax and Charlotte Counties.
“The Grand United Order of Moses, Inc., was a small fraternal insurance society for black men and women based in rural south-central Virginia. The founder and lifelong leader of the Order of Moses was James Murray Jeffress (1873–1951), who organized the society in 1904 at his birthplace, the village of Charlotte Court House.
By 1900, white Virginians had disenfranchised blacks and had segregated schooling and public transportation. Jeffress, sometimes called "the Booker Washington of Charlotte County," was an accommodationist who tried to make life tolerable for his fellow blacks without challenging white racists directly. Fraternal societies such as the Order of Moses offered a modicum of economic security through medical and funeral insurance. They also supplemented the churches as black organizations that whites were willing to tolerate. They were organizations in which African Americans could vote, hold office, and brighten their drab lives with the color and spectacle of regalia and ritual, impressive titles and fancy-dress parades, lodge meetings and funerals.
Even more than in other fraternal societies, a charismatic oligarch dominated the Order of Moses: Murray Jeffress. He depicted the origins of his society in quasiprophetic language. "It was in 1901 that I began having visions repeatedly. These visions consisted of a single blackboard in which was chalked the words: The Grand United Order of Moses. After the third vision, I decided that I would do something about it." In 1904, the Order of Moses recruited 203 members, and the society received a state charter. A few years later, it acquired Moses Hall as its headquarters. Jeffress took the title right worshipful grand leader.
A crisis in the society occurred when a black man, presumably instigated by whites, alleged that the Order of Moses had been organized to keep African Americans from working for white people. A prominent white man squelched this rumor by offering $ 150 for evidence in its support, evidence that never materialized. For his efforts, the Order of Moses made him an honorary member.
Jeffress resented the injustice of segregation and disenfranchisement, but he considered small economic advances the only realistic goals. "Let us teach every boy and girl to build and not tear down. Teach them that being God-fearing, property owning and debt paying citizens is greater than being a voter or being on social equality with [a] king" (speech, August 1942, quoted in Kreusler 1952, p. 21). He encouraged his followers to buy farmland or learn a vocational trade.
Although Jeffress opposed urban migration, many rural black Virginians moved to northern cities. As a result, Order of Moses lodges appeared outside Virginia, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Northern lodges unsuccessfully asked for the headquarters to be moved to Philadelphia, which they regarded as more convenient than Charlotte Court House, a village that at the time of Jeffress’s death had only 250 residents and neither a railroad station nor a bus stop.
The strength and the weakness of the Order of Moses was its identification with Charlotte Court House and Charlotte County. The order helped establish a high school there for black youth, provided bus transportation for the students, constructed and equipped a hospital building, and provided electrical service for the village. The order owned an auditorium that could accommodate four hundred people, an office building, and apartments for black schoolteachers. The society also owned three hundred acres of farmland worked by black sharecroppers.
As leader of the Order of Moses, Murray Jeffress became a respected figure in African American life. He was elected first vice president of the Negro Organization Society and president of the Federation of Negro Fraternal Organizations. He served a number of Baptist churches as pastor.
At the time of Jeffress’s death in 1951, the Order of Moses claimed a little more than five thousand members. Apparently, his son Wilson became the society’s new leader. How long it continued to operate is unknown. In any event, the little Order of Moses had survived into the post—World War II era, an achievement that few better-known African American fraternal societies equaled.”
Source: Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations / David M.Fahey
Moses Hall and the Grand United Order of Moses Society
"The most far reaching social institution in Charlotte County was the Grand United Order of Moses Society, organized in 1904 by J. Murray Jeffress as a benevolent insurance society to meet the needs of the black race. Moses Hall in Charlotte Court House served as the national headquarters for this society as well as a social gathering place for the local black community. The annual three-day meetings held each year were a spectacular event drawing delegates and new initiates from across the country as well as entertaining the loc and a carnival. The current structure was built ca. 1925 for these gatherings.
Most everyone could receive adequate medical care, except for the African American citizens. In 1951, with the help of the Grand United Order of Moses, a black nursing home was erected on the site of their headquarters, Moses Hall. The building was originally intended as a hospital; however, due to permit restrictions, it was opened as a nursing home and continues to operate as an adult home. A circa 1930 bungalow was constructed for the resident doctor by members of the Grand United Order of Moses.
In 1904, J. Murray
founded The Grand United Order of Moses as a way for black citizens to
insurance, while at the same time forming a social order similar to the
Masonic Lodge. The organization was large and had branches in many
Moses Hall, a two and a half story vernacular brick building in
House, served as the national headquarters for this society as well as
gathering place for the local black community. The three-day meetings
year were a spectacular event, drawing delegates and new initiates from
the country as well as entertaining the local community with parades,
and a carnival.
The present brick building with stepped parapet was constructed ca. 1925, replacing the original frame building. The Grand United Order of Moses was an African-American insurance agency and fraternal institution, headquartered in Charlotte Court House. The fraternal organization held its annual initiation and meeting in August at Moses Hall where many vendors and patrons,
Black and white, would gather for the festivities. The activities included lectures and sermons, games, carnival rides, vendors, and a parade. This event was attended by numerous members from across the country, providing much excitement in the community."
Architectual Survey of Charlotte County, Virginia
Hill Studio, PC.
Old Time Picnic
Source: The Afro-American Newspaper, Baltimore,
MD., September 20, 1930
(ANP) – In addition to 10,000 dele-
gates, friends, and visitors, there
were 700 whites in attendance at the
27th annual meeting here of the
Grand United Order of Moses, Inc.,
a fraternal organization. The Rev.
James Murray Jeffress, founder, still
heads the order as Right Worthy
Grand Ruler. The organization is li-
censed to operate in Virginia, Penn-
sylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey,
and Kentucky. It has assets of
At the Charlotte Court House meet-
ing, all officers of the order were re-
elected, including Mrs. M. A. Rags-
dale secretary. The meeting, which
continued three days, took the form
of an old time picnic. All delegates
were housed and fed in the dor-
mitories owned by the organization.
The organization, which reported
new members and several new
lodges, owns an office building, a
brick auditorium, a small hospital, a
power plant, and helped finance a
local brick school for children of the
county. The county treasurer, G. W.
Williams (white), who has been an
honorary member for 27 years, was
present and spoke.