Sunday, January 10, 2021

Why Black (African American) Ushers Wear White Gloves As Part Of Their Usher Attire

The Usher March

B. Tirrell, March 26, 2015

73rd Annual Usher Day at Second Baptist Monrovia, CA


Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a pancocojams series on African American church ushers.

This post showcases a video of African American ushers marching during an annual church Usher Day.

This post also presents some theories about why African American ushers wear gloves as part of their usher attire.

Click for Part I of this pancocojams series. Part I presents a video of Black church ushers and presents excerpts from three articles about African American church ushers.

Part III showcases a video of a Church Ushers Grand March and showcases an article excerpt about the roles of the Black Church ushers. That article excerpt also includes a section on the ushers' Grand March. 

The content of this post is presented for historical and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners. Thanks to the publisher of this embedded YouTube video.
Click the "Black Church Procession" tag for more pancocojams posts on this subject. 


Why Ushers Wore White Gloves by Ann Brock, February 4, 2018 
"I'm from the hills of Alabama and some information like this is hard to verify because it is information that was passed on from generation to generation. Anyhow growing up we were told that this was an old slave tradition in the deep south. Slaves were asked to put their arms behind their backs so they could be watched to be sure they were not stealing the money during collection time.

They also wore the white gloves because again they were not trusted and the white church members did not want to touch their skin. My understanding is back during slavery time when the slave served in white churches they had to wear white gloves and place the one hand behind the the slaves wouldn't take from the offering plate as they served aisles to aisles why ushering."

"Why" is probably a typo for the word "while".

Here's a re-wording of that same explanation that I came across in the discussion thread for this YouTube video: This video is showcased in Part I of this pancocojams series.

This commenter is replying to the question "Why do ushers wear white gloves?"
 Minister Stay Fly, 2018
"Usher's originally wore white gloves in the slavery days because whites claimed to see the slave's hand if they were stealing. The average black person won't know because they never researched or ask. Facts"
With all due respect to people who have passed along these explanations for why Black church ushers wear white gloves, I believe these theories aren't based on historical facts.  

While some African Americans attended the same churches as White people in the late 19th and early 20th century, I don't know of any documentation of Black people serving as ushers in those congregations. 

I believe that the custom of Black ushers wearing gloves is tied to the symbolism that was attached to wearing gloves throughout history -particularly the history of the Catholic church and the history of the order of Masons.

I believe that the gloves that Black (African American) ushers wear are white because the color white symbolizes purity and cleanliness.  

Here are some excerpts of online articles about these subjects: 

Note that the following excerpts don't directly refer to or allude to the custom of Black (African American) ushers wearing white gloves as part of their uniforms.]

..."The gloves became a part of liturgical decoration at the Catholic Church in the 11-th century. The bishops wore gloves knitted with golden thread. The priests of lower position wore only white gloves which symbolized purity.

The gloves were so important and in the Middle Ages, so that they became a symbol of dignity and honor. All ceremonies were followed with transmission of a glove."...

Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 94, Number 176, 14 February 1898

[Pancocojams Editor's Note: This excerpt is reprinted "as is" including spelling or typing errors]

..."In some parts of Christer;dom Bishops themselves were inducted Ito their dioceses by receiving a glow, I investing them with temporal as w< I las spiritual rights. The glove became Iso associated with Episcopal authority j that at different times the wearing of ; gloves was absolutely prohibited to the :> lower clergy. While one council issued ■ this edict, another declared that monks should only presume to wear gloves of j common sheepskin. Episcopal glov * ! were often richly adorned, as we may j gather from the fact that Bishop Ile- ; calfttS, dying in the year 915, bequeathjed a pair of gloves in his will. For the I word glove it would appear that we are indebted to the Icelandic glof. As a ! gift of gloves was a mark of the highI est honar, a token of investiture, a I conferring of tru?t. so the deprival of a ! person's gloves was a sign of the deep- ! est degradation. We read of the Earl j of Carlisle, condemned to die as a tra'- ! tor In the reign of Edward 11.. that h:3 "spurs were cut off with a hatchet, and ' his .tioves and shoes were taken off." In yet another sense to lose the glove lof a lady at tourney was a deep disgrace. Knights wore their ladies' dainty gloves as the most precious of insignia, and he who lowered his lady's honor need little look for her smile-. The practice of giving gloves to the judge at maiden assize probably had its origin in the fact that a judge was not supposed to wear gloves while on the bench) to present him with a pair might signify .that he gN» now free to do as he ciiose.—London Standard."...



By V.W.Bro. L. Tustain; 24th June, 1948.
... "There is in the wearing of Craft Clothing, as in everything else pertaining to Freemasonry, a symbolism. Briefly, white gloves are symbolical of clean hands, and are complementary to the lambskin apron, the symbol of a pure heart. These two are of equal importance and are really inseparable.

White Gloves

The custom of wearing white gloves is of great antiquity. In the Christian Churches from the earliest times, white linen gloves were always worn by Bishops and Priests when in performance of their ecclesiastical functions. The Bishops always wore a thin plate of gold, called “a tassel” on the back of their gloves to denote their high ecclesiastical rank. The gloves worn by the clergy indicated that their hands were clean and not open to bribery.

In an indenture of covenants made in the reign of Henry VI between the church-wardens of a parish in Suffolk and a company of Freemasons, the latter stipulate that each man should be provided with a pair of white gloves and a white apron.


Dr. Robert Plot, a non-mason, states in his “Natural History of Staffordshire”, 1686, that “the Society of Freemasons presented their candidates with white gloves for themselves and their wives.”

In the general regulations of George Payne approved by the Grand Lodge in London in 1721, Article 7 reads: …“Every new brother at his making is decently to cloathe the Lodge, that is, all the brethren present,    ” By ‘clothing the Lodge’ is meant furnishing all the brethren present with white aprons and gloves.

In Count Tolstoy’s well-known novel “War and Peace” it states that, “the newly-obligated brother was then invested with a white apron, and received a trowel and three pairs of white gloves, two pairs for himself and one pair for the lady he most esteemed, after which the Master explained their symbolic meaning to him.”

In the Netherlands ritual the presentation of white gloves is still retained. The candidate for initiation is taken upon three journeys; after the second journey his hands are dipped in a basin of water, and a reference made to the necessity of “clean hands” and purity of heart and life as an essential prerequisite to Initiation. On the completion of the third journey he takes the Ob., after which he is led to the West, where he is invested with a white apron, and is given a pair of white gloves, which he is directed to hand to her whom he considers most worthy to receive them from the hands of a Freemason.

I do not know when the presentation of white gloves ceased to be the general custom, but the wearing of them as part of the proper clothing of a brother is still retained in New Zealand by ruling of the Board of General Purposes.

Today, the Supreme Court Judge is presented with a pair of white gloves if there is a maiden session. This indicates “clean actions” or freedom from crime in that particular city. This is a very old custom, for anciently, judges were not allowed to wear gloves on the bench; so to give a judge a pair of gloves symbolized that he need not take his seat.

Undoubtedly, the use of white gloves in Freemasonry is a symbolic idea handed down to us through the ancient and universal language of symbolism, and, like the apron, is intended to denote purity of life and action.”…
Quotes in italics were given that way in this article.


According to George T. Grier, first president of the Illinois chapter, who codified the Black ushers' hand symbols in 1948 in "The Universal Church Ushers Manual," a loose fist at the small of the back — the "service position" — means an usher is on duty. (quoted in  "Ushers History: Ushers serve as 'doorkeepers' to worship" by Jonathan M. Pitts, July 11, 2015

This concludes Part II of this pancocojams series.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I have vague recollections that prior to the 1960s in my Baptist church in Atlantic City, New Jersey women and females who were at least 6 years old were required to wear hats covering their hair and white gloves in the church sanctuary.

    I especially remember getting a new hat and new white gloves for Easter, but I think that women and older girls also wore those items on other Sundays and during other programs in the church's sanctuary.

    1. I share this ,in part, to say that because wearing white gloves was an expectation for women while they attended a church service, I didn't think there was anything out of the ordinary about seeing women ushers and men ushers wearing white gloves.

  2. Here's a comment about females wearing gloves in African American churches: Behind the Tradition of the Church Hat, Great Big Story, Jan 3, 2018
    Beatrice Feldz, 2018
    "So true so true ladies I grew up watching grandma, big mom, my mother and other ladies in the community on Sunday morning ALWAYS wearing hat 2 church . Oh don't forget gloves😊. Lordy Lordy we got so much 2 teach this younger generation about our traditions. Hat! Gloves! Handbag! Lace socks or tigh for girls!"
    "Tigh" is probably a typo for "tights" (stockings with panties attached).