Hobson R. Reynolds (1898-1991)

Hobson R. Reynolds, born in 1898 in Winton, North Carolina, was a prominent funeral home director in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1934, he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he drafted the Reynolds Civil Rights Bill, the first such legislation in the state. In 1936, Reynolds was elected to the post of Director of the Civil Liberties Department in the Improved and Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (I.B.P.O.E.W., or Elks). Founded in 1898, the Elks is a largely African American fraternal organization that strives for racial justice and equality. Its Civil Liberties Department was permanently established in 1927, and Reynolds held the post of director for 25 years. In this position, he investigated and reported on racial discrimination in the nation, lobbied for racial justice and equality in government, law enforcement and education, and supported civil rights activists such as Marry McLeod Bethune, Dr. Martin Luther Kink, Jr. and Roy Wilkins. 

Reynolds took initiatives like those before him and campaigned for civil rights across the nation, concealing his race to investigate a lynching in Missouri in 1942 and giving speeches as well as using other forms of communications to call for African Americans to register and vote. In 1941, Reynolds instituted the Elijah P. Lovejoy Medal Award within the Elks. This medal was to be presented to a person, regardless of race or color, and judged most distinguished for service rendered to humanity. The first Lovejoy Award was presented in 1950, and among the awardees were Ralph Bunche, Branch Rickey, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. martin Luther King, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Adam Clayton Powell, Whitney Young, Edward Brooke Dorothy Height, Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, and Verdon Jordan.

In 1959, Reynolds was appointed to the Fair Housing Administration by President Dwight Eisenhower, where he advocated for equal housing for the disenfranchised, especially African Americans. Reynolds ended his 25-year tenure as Director of the Civil Liberties Department upon becoming the Grand Exalted Ruler of the I.B.P.O.E.W. in 1961 and continued to advocate for civil rights and equal opportunity for all. Throughout his term as director, Reynolds enjoyed the support of the Elks board and earlier Grand Exalted Rulers.

In the 1960s, Reynolds donated his family's 77-acre farm in Winton, North Carolina to the Elks for the establishment of a new national headquarters. The Elks National shrine Hobson R. Reynolds (Elks Shrine) includes seven buildings with offices, meeting rooms, lodging, a campground, and a swimming pool. The Elks shrine provided the first swimming and life-saving classes to African Americans in Hertford county and the surrounding counties and continues to support the local community and beyond with classes, events, and employment. In 1982, Reynolds retired as the Immediate Past Grand Exalted Ruler and returned home to Winton, where he lived until his death in 1991. He is buried, along with his wife Evelyn, on the grounds of the Elks Shrine.

Adapted from essay submitted with historical marker application by Marvin Tupper Jones.








Hobson R. Reynolds. Image courtesy of Chowan Discovery Group.


“H. Reynolds, 92, headed Elks Group”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, February 21, 1991. (Obituary of Hobson R. Reynolds)

“Sikeston Lynching Probed by National Elk Official”, Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburg, PA, February 21, 1942.

“Say Negro Needs Economic Freedom”, Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster, PA, May 10,1943.

“League Speaker”, The York Dispatch, York, PA, March 28, 1946.

“Parade of 20,000 Set for Tuesday”, Buffalo Evening News, Buffalo, NY, August 23, 1946.

“Democracy Must Work At Homes First – Reynolds”, The Gazette and Daily, York, PA, May 26, 1947.

“IBPOE Challenges”, California Eagle, Los Angeles, CA, September 8, 1949.

“Race Prejudice Nation’s Number One Evil, Elks Told”, Alabama Tribune, Montgomery, AL, September 7, 1951.

“Elks Elect Leaders”, Jackson Advocate, Jackson, KY, Sep 6, 1952.

“Sparkman Hit on Civil Rights”, Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph, Pittsburgh, PA, October 19, 1952.

“National Elks Meeting Opens”, Tampa Bay Times, Tampa, FL, August 25, 1953.

“Elks to Cite Ala. Leader”, Carolinian, Raleigh, NC, June 23, 1956.

“FHA Man Specializes in Minority Groups” Deseret News and Salt Lake Telegram, Salt Lake City, UT, Nov 28, 1959.

“Johnson Expects Senate to Modify Filibuster Rule”, Nashville Banner, Nashville, TN November 20, 1958.

“Masons Hear Grand Officer”, Wilkes-Barre Leader – The Evening News – Wilkes-Barre Record, Wilkes-Barre, PA, June 6, 1959.

“Thurgood Marshall Stirs Elks in Philadelphia Civil Rights Plea”, Carolinian, Raleigh, NC, June 6,1959.

“FHA Tries to Keep Bias Out of Insured Mortgages”, The Star Press, Munice, IN, November 29, 1959.

“Hobson R. Reynolds to Speak Tomorrow”, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, December 30, 1959.

“Emancipation Association Celebrating”, The Memphis Press Scimitar, Memphis, TN, Dec 31, 1959.

“Warns of Take-Over By “Hate Peddlers”, Palladium Item, Richmond, IN, August 1, 1963.

“Vote For Friends, Negro Elks Urged”, The Herald News, Newton, NJ, October, 28, 1963.

“Grand Lodge of Elks Sets Goal of $45,000 for 1965 Freedom Fund”, The Omaha Star, Omaha, NE, June 18, 1965.

WBAP-TV (Television station : Fort Worth, Tex.). [News Clip: Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World], video, August 16, 1973; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1707720/m1/), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections

Wilson, Dr. (BRO,) Robert J. Wilson, PGER, Coplin, PGDR Peggy J., Murray, PGER Theodore D.; A Documentary History of the Improved and Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World 100 Years of Benevolence and Image Building, Imprints Unlimited, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, 1996.

Skocpol, Theda; Liazos, Ariane; Ganz, Marshall, “Chapter 6 - Black Fraternalists and the Mid-Twentieth-Century Movement for Civil Rights”; What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle of Racial Equality, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2008