The Brown Fellowship Society was an benevolent society of free Black-Americans and racially mixed men. The brown Society was founded in Charleston, South Carolina in 1790, and is the oldest all-male funeral society in Charleston. It’s founders were James Mitchell, George Bampfield, William Cattel, George Bedon, and Samuel Saltus. All were mulatto men and attended St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Although the Church was interracial, the attached cemetery was restricted to whites. The Brown’s Society was not linked to a church, even though the founders were. The Society even banned religious discussion.

Whites were not the only group of people that were banned from the Brown’s Society, but dark skinned people were also. Typically only free light skinned and mulatto men were allowed to join only, but sometimes darker skinned individuals with straight naturally hair were allowed to join as well. It provides a major historical example how racism and slavery affected the Black American community. The lighter skinned black Americans in society considered themselves superior to darker skinned Black Americans, although still considered inferior by the white population. All who joined were considered prosperous and a few wealthy. Most of the society members held affluent jobs such as shoemakers and tailors, but were still subjected to prejudice from the white community.

Determined not to upset the white community, the society did nothing to help slaves and were careful about whom they admitted into their society, which consisted of no more than fifty men at a time. In fact, prospective members were voted in after three meetings, then that person would be allowed to join.

Darker skinned black men, led by Thomas Smalls formed their own society called The Society for Free Blacks of Dark Complexion, in 1843, and they purchased their own burial land. After the Brown Fellowship Society aimed to establish their own cemetery (at the time the society were using the church cemetery), for “Brown” Black- American individuals, believing it would bring a sense of social unity among the light skin and mulatto Americans. Officially states purposes were to provide respectable funerals for their society members, support to the widows, and educations to the surviving children.

After the American Civil War, the Brown Fellowship Society expanded to include more Black Americans, including women and those of darker skin. The society was renamed the “Century Fellowship Society” about 100 years after its founding. The graveyard property was sold in 1945 by descendants of the Century Fellowship Society. In the late 1950s the graveyard was paved over so that a parking lot could be built for Catholic Bishop England High School. In 1990, the graveyard descendants organized to erect a small memorial to their ancestors, who are buried beneath the asphalt.


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