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Mount Gilean Cemetery Clean-up Unveils a Unique Story about the Phillips County Community


Last month, during a drive through a familiar part of Arkansas, a few headstones were visible in a place I'd never noticed headstones before. And no wonder I'd never noticed them. For years, the Mt. Gilean Cemetery has been shrouded in thick vegetation. Recently, though, the brambles, briers, and brush have been mostly removed. The result? The now-visible headstones not only give important genealogical information, but also offer a history lesson of sorts.

Mt. Gilean Cemetery prior to clean-up; from Google Maps App

Numerous headstones in the Mt. Gilean Cemetery display rare and curious symbols, but what exactly do they mean? What do they signify? The truth behind the stones suggests that at the turn of the century, Phillips County, Arkansas, was home to many community-minded people purposefully focused on the future.

And what a great genealogical find, too! Researchers not only gain information about when someone was born or when they died, but they also will know (based on the symbols on the headstones) that their ancestors were part of an organization dedicated to strengthen the community.

Now, about those symbols and their meanings:

The symbol represents the Royal Circle of Friends organization and can be found in a number of headstones in Mt. Gilean

The Royal Circle of Friends (RCF), aka Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World, was founded in 1909 in Helena, Arkansas, very near the Mt. Gilean Cemetery. It was a fraternal organization for African Americans for the primary purpose of providing insurance within the African American community. The organization was such a success in their mission that by 1921, RCF had been able to do much more than simply provide insurance - they opened hospitals in Memphis and Little Rock for African Americans to receive free medical care.

The Little Rock hospital, photo from UAMS collection.

Among the more important priorities for members was fellowship and community. Each lodge or circle held its own meetings and social activities. Men and women held equal membership status. Members were required to have a gathering at Thanksgiving each year. Benefits also included sick pay, loans, social inclusion, a death benefit for beneficiaries, and a headstone provided by RFC. The headstone is marked with a triangle containing the letters RFC with a lion atop the triangle. (See RCF headstone photo above). The number in the middle (09) indicates the founding year 1909.

This headstone represents the International Order of Twelve.

In 1846, the International Order of Twelve was founded as an abolitionist group. Following the Civil War, the group was restructured into a charity and fraternal organization in 1872 in Missouri.

Although the group did encourage social activities, men and women met separately.

The most notable contribution of the group to the community beyond social activities was the opening of a hospital in the Mound Bayou community in Mississippi in 1938.

As to the symbols: “the emblematic figures 333 convey a deep significance, and prove the faith the Knights and Daughters of Tabor have in an overruling Providence. We believe in a triune God—the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. May He bless this building and the inhabitants of this city.” - from the IOT manual

"The mystic 777 emblematizes the triple perfection of the International Order of Twelve, founded upon the solid principles of justice, equity, benevolence, prudence, loyalty, unity and impartiality. May these principles govern the business of this building.” - from the IOT manual

The currently visible gravestones located in Mount Gilean may be viewed here: Mount Gilean Cemetery As more are cleared of the remaining vegetation, they will be added.

Sources:

FindAGrave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&GSmcid=47635071&GRid=176954325&CRid=55166& : accessed 3 March 2017), Mount Gilean Cemetery, Phillips County, Arkansas.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture (http://m.encyclopediaofarkansas.net : accessed 3 March 2017), "Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World."

A Grave Obsession (http://agraveobsession.blogspot.com/2016/05/supreme-royal-circle-of-friends-of-world.html?m=1 : accessed 3 March 2017), "Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World."

International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor, Manual of the International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor, containing general laws, regulations, ceremonies, drill, and a Taborian lexicon, (St. Louis : A. R. Fleming, printers, 1891), iBook app.

Wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Order_of_Twelve_Knights_and_Daughters_of_Tabor : accessed 3 March 2017), "International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor."


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