Masonic Education - April 2018

In this portion of our website, I will present various articles that I hope readers will find interesting and educational. Hopefully a new one each (calendar) month. Most, if not all articles will not be my own creation, so I will indicate my source of information. Should I depart from or add to the original script, I will indicate in brackets [ ]. As some of the entries on a website are done in ''code'', there may be slight variations from the original script which I may not indicate in the brackets.

PRINCE HALL FREEMASONRY [This subject is dealt with at some length because of the increasing measure of recognition now being accorded by regular Grand Lodges to those of 'Prince Hall' descent.]

We are told that membership of our society is drawn from 'worthy men alone', 'of mature age, sound judgement and strict morals'. But within the regular Craft in certain countries there has existed a colour bar, and this would seem to have been a negation of the universality taught by our masonic forefathers. There has over many years been in existence in the United States of America, Freemasonry primarily for men whose colour has prevented them from seeking admission under under 'regular' Grand Lodges. The term 'regular' is here employed to denote the jurisdictions in each of the states and in the capital city of Washington which are widely recognized throughout the masonic world. The 'alternative' Grand Lodges operate under various titles: the King Solomon persuasion has briefly been mentioned elsewhere; others have carried such names as 'Hiram', 'Hiram of Tyre', 'St. John' and 'St. Joseph', and no doubt there are or have been many more. The best-known and by far the most influential are known as the 'Prince Hall Grand Lodges' and for the brethren owing allegiance there is a structure of degrees and Orders in parallel in most respects with those associated with 'regular' Freemasonry in America.

It is of great importance that the masonic provenance of the Prince Hall system should be understood for it is on this that the label of irregularity has hitherto been predicated.

Prince Hall - 'Prince' was his forename - was a man of African descent who lived for many years in Boston, Massachusetts, dying there in 1807. There is evidence that he and fourteen others were initiated in 1775 in the travelling Irish Lodge No. 441 in the 38th Regiment of Foot. Endless controversy has arisen on the subject but 'it must be presumed that he [Hall] became a mason in the normal and regular way according to the customary manner of the times' (Draffen, AQC 89, p.73). The fifteen new-made masons were, it seems, given a 'Permet' to walk in procession on St. John's day and, as a lodge, to bury their dead, but not to confer degrees. Nonetheless they continued for some years to meet as a lodge, with Prince Hall as Master. Upon due petition, the Premier Grand Lodge of England issued a warrant in 1784 to Prince Hall and his brethren for African Lodge No. 459, although the document took two and a half years to reach Boston. Lane's Records tell us that this lodge made its last payment of dues to London in 1797 and was erased at the Union of 1813, but it is only fair to add that Hall made many complaints to the Grand Secretary that he was not receiving replies.

In 1797 some coloured brethren in Philadelphia who had been initiated in English and Irish lodges formed a lodge under permission from Hall and another lodge was at the same time 'warranted' by him at Providence, Rhode Island. From African Lodge No. 459 and these two sprang the 'African Grand Lodge' from which the Prince Hall system is descended. At a recent tally there were Grand Lodges of it in thirty-eight of the American states and more in the provinces in Canada and in Barbados. (There was in Liberia.)

It must be emphasized that, until recently, we in England have regarded all Prince Hall Grand Lodges as irregular solely because of the unconstitutional nature of the original African Grand Lodge and in no way because of the racial characteristics of the majority of its brethren. It is said that the membership of today is to some extent also drawn from the so-called 'Caucasian' (white) races of the United States.

Conversely it must be said that some of the regular American Grand Lodges have for some time accepted that a man's race and colour should not affect his eligibility for admission to the Craft and there is many worthy coloured brethren in their lodges. A very much entrenched attitude can understandably be found among the Grand Lodges 9of the southern states. It must not be overlooked that under the regular Grand Lodge of New Jersey there has since 1871 worked the Alpha Lodge No. 116 at Newark (effectively a suburb of New York), consisting entirely of the coloured brethren.

There have in the last decade or so have been much more positive moves in what must surely be considered as 'the right direction'. In certain states committees were formed and dialogue between leaders of the 'regular' and Prince Hall jurisdictions. An exploratory stage followed in some instances, whereby approval was given to intervisitation between brethren of the two persuasions. This of course created a problem for English freemasons who might be invited to lodges at which Prince Hall visitors could possibly be present.

The next development was that the 'regular' Grand Lodge of Massachusetts extended recognition to the Prince hall authority in their state and this encouraged further similar moves, not only in the United States but also by several of the Canadian Grand Lodges. The effect of such recognition is that, in each state or province, the two Grand Lodges remain independent of each other, regarding the sovereign jurisdiction over the brethren and lodges of their own Constitutions. Most importantly, it also means that members under the one may freely visit the lodges of the other.

In December 1994, after due consultation with Boston, the United Grand Lodge of England resolved that, its usual antecedents notwithstanding, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts should be accepted as regular. It was at the time foreseen that the recognition of what is essentially the 'Mother Grand Lodge' of Prince Hall Freemasonry might in due course lead to the acceptance of other Prince Hall authorities which derived from the African Grand Lodge. This proved to be the case: in September 1996 the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut was also received in communication and, by the spring of 1998, similar recognition had been accorded to its sister jurisdictions for Pennsylvania, Ohio, California and Ohio, Colorado, Washington (state), Wisconsin, Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and New Mexico. All these moves were of course with the prior approval of the relevant masonic authorities in the states concerned. In other states and in Canadian provinces internal communication has taken place or is being considered and further announcements may be expected in the United Grand Lodge. It should be added that our sister Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland have taken similar action in all these cases.

NOTE: In the late 1980's and early 1990's in the Sudbury-Manitoulin District, I had the pleasure of being the Worshipful Master of 'The No. 13 District Ontario Provincial Police Masonic Degree Team'. We initiated several O.P.P. officers into masonry. Our 'Team' was invited to participate in the 150th Anniversary Celebration of Port Washington Lodge in Wisconsin USA. I contacted our Grand Secretary with regard to attending. He subsequently advised that it would not be appropriate as they accepted Prince Hall.

Our Grand Lodge on Wednesday July 16th 2008 voted to recognize the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, Province of Ontario and Jurisdiction, at the 153rd Annual Communication.

from 'A Reference Book For Freemasons' - compiled by Frederick Smyth and published in 1998.

R.W. Bro. Robert South-Webmaster