Between 1900 and 1930, Los Angeles attracted thousands of white and black migrants from the Midwest and the South. Many had attachments to Protestant churches. But they also arrived with commitments to Freemasonry, Spiritualism, and social reform causes. This paper argues that these religionists in Los Angeles covered a broad spectrum of faiths, including Free Thought, innovative versions of Protestantism, and Freemasonry, and that traditional accounts of religion in the city have ignored these aspects of religious life and civic engagement. As World War I ushered in conservatism in every aspect of public life, the Los Angeles Times, the City Council, and the Protestant churches combined in an effort to squash these challenges to orthodoxy. In profiling two prominent Spiritualists, African American George W. Shields and white midwesterner Cynthia Lisetta Vose, this article illustrates the wide ranging civil and religious engagement of two committed Spiritualists. By the end of the 1920s, the fragmentation of Los Angeles neighborhoods and the growing racism of the city had nearly destroyed what had been a vigorous religion and a thriving commitment to progressive reform. Segregated white women's clubs and Freemasonry organizations turned the worship of California into a replacement for older forms of religious practice and civic engagement.
Spiritualist Angels, Masonic Stars, and the Douglass Temple of Universal Brotherhood: Race, Religion, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles, 1900 to 1930
sharon hartman strom is Professor Emerita of History and Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Her most recent book is Fortune, Fame and Desire: Promoting the Self in the Long Nineteenth Century.
Sharon Hartman Strom; Spiritualist Angels, Masonic Stars, and the Douglass Temple of Universal Brotherhood: Race, Religion, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles, 1900 to 1930. California History 1 May 2018; 95 (2): 2–26. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2018.95.2.2
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