People can be successful in a lot of ways. Businesses, politics, churches, and social work made men and women vital to North Omaha. Another avenue to success is through social life, including social clubs, fraternities, sororities and more. This is a biography of Nathaniel Hunter (1878-1942), a founder of Omaha’s Prince Hall Masons.
Born in Missouri in 1878, Nathaniel Hunter was raised on a farm in Kansas by Exodusters. Apparently his education ended after sixth grade, and he might have been a Mason before he came to Nebraska.
In 1907, he moved to Omaha. Starting off in his new city, reports suggest he was a barber, ran a funeral home on Cuming Street for a bit, and a few other occupations. Soon afterward, Hunter became a partner in the Skinner and Hunter Recreation Hall on North 24th Street. It was demolished in the 1913 Easter Sunday Tornado, and never reopened. In 1915 he took a job at the US National Bank as either a janitor or a guard or a messenger, where he kept working until he died 32 years later.
He was married to Ella Hunter (1880–1955) in 1908. The Hunters bought a six-room house at North 28th and Burdette Streets in 1911. Located at 2011 North 28th Street, their home was in the Fairmount Place subdivision. Fairmount was regarded as a fancier address than the folks who lived further south and east, and today, the few houses left in this neighborhood are more than 140 years old, and among the oldest in Omaha. The couple never had children.
Nathaniel Hunter isn’t historically notable because of his long career or family life though. Instead, he was a very active leader in the social and political growth of North Omaha, and in the Civil Rights movement in Omaha. He was a contemporary of Dr. John Singleton, Dr Price Terrell, Dan Desdunes, Rev. John Albert Williams, and several other notable African American community leaders. These men weren’t monolithic either; instead, they were conservative and liberal, educated and street-smart, religious and agnostic.
“With the prejudice that exists in this country today against the Negro, if he is sent to jail, whether he is guilty or not, his life is in danger.”– Nathaniel Hunter from here
His greatest mark on Omaha history was his role as a 33rd degree Mason. In 1919, he wrote the first constitution and bylaws of the Prince Hall Mason Grand Lodge of Nebraska, aka the Black Masons or PHGLN, and became it’s first official Grand Master in the state. In 1927, Hunter presided over the Black Masons opening their new hall at North 26th and Blondo Streets. He served as Grand Master two times, from 1919 to 1921 and from 1938 to 1939.
Hunter also helped establish the Colored Commercial Club in Omaha in 1922, and served as its president for three years. A member of the Coolidge-Dawes Colored Club in 1924, Hunter was active in voter registration campaigns. He helped organize celebrations for National Negro History Week starting in 1926 and continuing throughout his life, with several events held at Omaha Central High School. In 1927, Hunter was a charter member of the executive board of the Omaha Urban League, and was on the advisory board for the Colored Old Folks Home.
Hunter belonged to several fraternal organizations as well as the Prince Hall Masons, and became Illustrious Potentate or the Zaha Shriners Temple #52 and Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks Iroquois Lodge #92. He is also credited with founding Nebraska’s Amaranthus Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in 1921, and served as the Grand Worthy Patron of Amaranthus Grand Chapter Order of the Amaranthus Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.
He essentially held the highest position of all the Masonic bodies at one time or another.
A longtime member of Zion Baptist Church, Hunter’s funeral was held there when he died in 1942. The Omaha Star reported that every member of the Black Masons and the Black Elks attended the funeral. He was buried at Forest Lawn.
Nearly at the end of his life, a local Prince Hall Masons lodged was named after him, and it is still functioning. In 2012, the PHM discovered the Hunters were both buried with no gravemarkers. Fundraising throughout their organization, they placed two memorials and held a graveside ceremony at Forest Lawn with more than 120 attendees. Additional donations were used to create scholarships in memory of Nathaniel Hunter.
Today, there are no historic markers or plaques dedicated to Nathaniel Hunter. However, there are no other monuments, memorials or dedications in his memory.
Thanks to Karen Clopton for contributing to my research for this article!
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