At the former intersection of Exchange Alley and St. Louis Street — now a parking gate for the Louisiana Supreme Court — once stood the meeting place for Fraternité No. 20, a racially integrated Masonic lodge that included George Herriman’s grandfather and father among its members.
“In spite of all the old prejudices, the Scotch Rite Masons have taken the initiative in unfurling the banner of fraternity and equality, under whose glorious folds so much good may be accomplished,” reported the New Orleans Tribune on June 23, 1867. Lodge minutes show that on July 9, George Herriman Sr. (the cartoonist’s grandfather) joined, and became an active member on the finance and charity committees. On January 15, 1873, he introduced his son, George Herriman Jr. (the cartoonist’s father), as a member. In the induction ceremony, the younger Herriman was praised for traits of courage, prudence, and modesty.
Meeting on St. Louis street, the members of Fraternité No. 20 would have been well aware that they were sitting near a vivid reminder of these old prejudices. Just across the street was the city’s most notorious site for the sale and purchase of enslaved people: the auction block at the St. Louis Exchange Hotel, at the location of the current Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.
“Society is now being reorganized among us, upon the true principle of freedom, and, to do this great work, we need harmony and friendship, for we want to build up an edifice that will stand,” wrote the Tribune in 1867. Yet the edifice did not survive long after that. The lodge appeared to disband in 1873, and the building where Fraternité No. 20 meetings took place probably fell in 1903, demolished with the rest of the block to make way for the Louisiana Supreme Court Building.