Houston, Texas, 1927
Henry Cohen Hardy was a Jamaican immigrant who moved to Houston, Texas in 1870. In 1882 he founded the Ancient Order of Pilgrims, the first Houston-based national fraternal lodge for African Americans.
Although little is known about his Jamaican background, Hardy arrived in Houston, Texas in 1870 to teach in the city’s public schools. Soon after his arrival, however, he discovered that black Americans rarely got access to medical care, life insurance, or loans to start business from banks and other financial insinuations. To respond to these needs, African Americans across the country formed fraternal lodges, mutual aid associations and benevolent societies to pool their resources in order to provide for themselves the services that were often denied under the Jim Crow system.
Hardy, along with other black Houstonians, faced similar discriminatory treatment, and in response he formed the Ancient Order of Pilgrims in 1882. The lodge provided its members burial insurance and life insurance. The Pilgrims also extended loans to aid individuals in distress, and raised thousands of dollars for larger community projects. By 1915 the Pilgrims grew to 31 chapters across the United States. The organization’s assets were valued to be $200,000 before the start of the Great Depression, and the Pilgrims were one of the most successful black lodges in the United States.
The Ancient Order of Pilgrims, with Hardy at its helm, was influential in Houston. With the wealth the lodge amassed it was able to acquire urban land, which in turn allowed the organization to offer office space for African American professionals and businesses.
In 1927 the Ancient Order of Pilgrims opened a four-story building, located on San Felipe (later West Dallas) Street and Bagby Avenue in Houston’s Fourth Ward. The building housed the offices of physicians, dentists and attorneys. The building also gave space to drug stores and grocery stores. The Pilgrims not only supported the adults in the community, they offered mentorship and scholarships for students. The organization also held dance parties at their new building to offer young black Houstonians a safe and enjoyable environment.
Records are not clear on when Hardy passed away, but the Ancient Order of Pilgrims continued to operate until 1960s.