From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Riggs, Arthur J.

(born: 1855  -  died: 1936) 

Arthur J. Riggs was born in Shelbyville, KY, the son of Rachel and Lloyd Riggs. In 1860, the free family was listed in the U.S. Federal Census. Arthur Riggs is regarded as one of the founders of Elkdom among African Americans. He took the last name Riggs after being freed from slavery; his family had been owned by Reverend John Tevis, a Carmelite minister.

Riggs worked a number of jobs, including a stint at the Galt House in Louisville, KY. He later left for Cincinnati, where he was employed as a waiter at the Grand Hotel. He helped organize the Knights of Pythias Lodge in 1896 and served as Grand Chancellor of the State.

Riggs and B. F. [Benjamin Franklin] Howard of Covington, KY, established the Negro Elks Lodge in Cincinnati. Riggs's participation in the Elks cost him his job as a Pullman Porter; he had gained access to the white Elks Ritual, which was used in establishing the Negro Elks Lodge. Riggs was later run out of Cincinnati and settled in Springfield, OH, with his family. He lived under an assumed name.

With assistance from lawyer William L. Anderson, Riggs had learned from the Register of Copyright of the Library of Congress that the Ritual had no copyright; therefore, it was redrafted and copyrighted to Riggs in 1898 for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World.

As the organization continued to grow and add form, Riggs received more threats. He then left the Elks for two decades. B. F. Howard took over the management of the organization and moved it to Covington, KY. Riggs died prior to the 37th Grand Lodge meeting in August 1936; his death is mentioned in the April 15, 1936 issue of the Springfield Daily News.

For more see History of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, 1898-1954, by C. H. Wesley.

Kentucky County & Region

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Outside Kentucky Place Name


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Wesley, Charles Harris
NKAA Source: Springfield daily news (newspaper)
NKAA Source: History of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, 1898-1954

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry:  Improvement Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Riggs, Arthur J.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 28, 2022,

Last modified: 2020-12-18 18:41:24