Located across the street from the Western Branch Library, the African American Knights of Pythias Temple in Louisville, Kentucky was built in 1914 by Henry Wolters. The building served as the Pythias headquarters, as well as housing offices, hotel rooms, a restaurant, movie theater, and drug store. The rooftop terrace and the sixth floor ballroom were used for dances and parties. The building was sold in 1953 to the Chestnut Street YMCA.
Prior to the Civil War, fraternal
organizations were common among white men, but most African Americans did
not gain the right or opportunity to create such organizations themselves until
after the war. The fraternal society of the Order of the Knights of Pythias was
established by whites in Washington, D.C. in 1864, on the principles of
Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence. Since African Americans were,
by that time, free to do so, they formed their own chapters of the organization.
While there is little recorded of the African
American Knights of Pythias in their early days, in 1893 Louisville's first and
second lodges were organized, and by World War I, that number had expanded to
eleven. Founding members included Albert Mack, W.H. Wright, and Albert Meyzeek
(who also played an important role in
establishing the Western Branch Library). In 1914-15, the Knights built the six-story temple
on Chestnut St. as their Kentucky state headquarters. Quickly, the building
developed into a multi-functional resource building to the African American
community. In addition to holding Knights meetings, the building housed the
offices of African American professionals, including doctors, dentists, and photographers.
The offices of civil rights leader James Bond and United Service Organizations
for African Americans were located within the lodge. The building also held a
movie theater, drug store, restaurant, ballroom, rooftop garden, and even hotel
rooms for visiting Knights.
When the Knights of Pythias held their
annual meeting in Louisville in 1925, it is estimated that around 25,000
members attended. A downtown parade with chapters' marching bands was held in celebration.
The Knights had grown to be a successful and large fraternal organization,
comprised mostly of well-educated and professional citizens. These individuals
were often looked to as the role models for the younger African Americans. Though
the Great Depression took its toll on Louisville's lodges, the Knights of
Pythias Temple continued, throughout the 1930s to early 1950s, to house
offices, apartments, and educational facilities. In 1953, the building was sold
to another community service organization founded by members of the Louisville
Knights, the Chestnut Street YMCA.