Difference between White and African American Freemasons

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The difference between White and African American Freemasons
         Conspiracy theorists rarely, if ever, deal with a charge such as this. The 'Religious Intolerant' though will find this convenient to use in an attempt to persuade others that Freemasonry excludes Blacks while their own church may practice the same type of discrimination they accuse Freemasons of doing.
         However, the charge of racism in Freemasonry seems to come primarily from the mouths and pens of the 'Self-Server' in the United States. Here's why:
1)      The United States began as a segregated country. It was segregated at first by religious groups (recall, for example, the founding of Rhode Island) and later - as religious differences blended - by the introduction of slaves whom many treated as 'property'. This is a fact that many accepted. Others acquiesced or ignored it completely (or as much as possible). A precious few spoke out against it - and they were nearly universally condemned for doing so.
2)      Masonry, like virtually all other organizations of the 1700's and most of the 1800's in the United States followed the mores of society.
3)      Masonry today in the United States can be seen through the eyes of two different independent 'controlling entities' (grand bodies) which are - primarily - divided along racial lines.
In the earliest days of the United States, white men and black men did not mix socially - in any way. In fact, this continued through the 1960s with segregation at virtually all levels of live.
         A Masonic Lodge was chartered in Boston under the direction of a Black man, Prince Hall, who had received his degrees from a duly chartered military traveling lodge and who proceeded in accordance with the custom of the day for forming lodges. While there was specific prohibition against Blacks in Freemasonry then or now, there was a phrase in the Masonic obligations that required a candidate to be "free-born". This requirement harkened back to the days of apprenticeship where a new apprentice was not accepted unless he was free from bondage. Regrettably, this restriction - mirroring other such restrictions in society in the United States at large - was used to restrict membership of Blacks.
         In the days of Prince Hall and his companions, even the act of mailing a simple letter to another town required considerable wherewithal. During this period, the Lodge which Prince Hall had formed in Boston ultimately lost their contacts with the Grand Lodge in England from whom they were originally chartered.
         Here we must digress for a moment to explain that at this time, there were actually two Grand Lodges in England. This had come about because certain innovations had begun to appear in the development of Freemasonry and a group of 'traditionalists' calling themselves (ironically) 'The Moderns' split from the former group (who came to be known as 'The Antients'). In the early 1800s this rift was healed, however, and when the two Grand Lodges united (forming today's United Grand Lodge of England - UGLE), each dropped all of the lodges throughout the world with whom they had lost contact. African Lodge #459 in Boston met this fate.
         Nevertheless, African Lodge - following ancient Masonic tradition - continued to make Masons and grow as an organization. Soon there were two parallel organizations in existence but because of complicated rules regarding recognition of other Masonic bodies, the various lodges and Grand Lodges formed from that original lodge with Prince Hall soon found themselves somewhat outside the larger body of Freemasonry.
         The problem was further compounded by - ironically - the growth of the United States from its colonial roots to the broad expanse of territory from coast to coast. As new territories were admitted into the Union, a concept of 'exclusive jurisdiction' peculiar to the United States was adopted. This concept allowed for only one Grand Lodge within the boundaries of a particular state's borders. Because of this, recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodges which were founded there was precluded since they were always created after the 'mainstream' Grand Lodge and was not part of the 'covenant' which created the territorial exclusivity.
         Freemasonry was separated by what appeared to be clearly a racial divide. Although this was not the plan in the 1700s, the hardening of racial divisions leading up to the US Civil War made the progression inevitable. Thus, arriving in the 1950s, a 'Black' and a 'White' Mason did not co-existed, both knowing the other existence. White Masons did not recognize the Black Masons as a true "Masonic" body.
         Being traditionalists, some 'mainstream' Masons reminded others of the 'free-born' requirement or pointed to the loss of Charter and subsequent inappropriateness of creating new lodges when not a lodge itself (in their eyes). Other Masons, however, saw a division as plain as the color of their faces - and as a result, worked tirelessly to remind Masons that the matter of a lost document in the early 1800s should not be the cause of remaining at a perpetual distance - and that the concept of territorial exclusivity, unique in the United States, should not interfere with the sharing of Masonic fellowship. However, because each organization now had over two hundred years of tradition, it was difficult to see how the bodies would unite.
         After considerable effort on the part of some, recognition has occurred beginning in the 1990s and the United Grand Lodge of England (recognized by all Masonic bodies as the 'senior' grand lodge and thus due primacy in these matters) restored recognition to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1994. Within the week, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had extended similar recognition.
         Now the details of such recognition processes continue throughout the United States and the world and both parts of Freemasonry are working more together as a team. A majority of 'mainstream' Grand Lodges have recognized their Prince Hall counterparts. Some still remain at a perpetual distance due to long-standing racism, fears, personality conflicts, or procedural issues. Nevertheless, the direction of the movement is clear and soon Prince Hall Freemasonry will fully and completely take its place within the world-wide fraternity of Masons once again.
         As we enter the 21st century, we continue to see the charge of racism leveled against Freemasonry. Regrettably, though, some Grand Lodges in the Southern United States have clung tenaciously to their segregated ways thus exposing the racism charge further. Some believe that this is a temporary situation and within the next few years will be resolved. Freemasonry is, if nothing else, an organization that places great weight upon tradition. Couple this with a section of the country which does likewise (and is often very reluctant to change, regardless of the reason) and we see 4/5ths of the U.S. accepting Prince Hall while the remainders drag their heels.
         In light of the above discussion, a non-Mason might well wonder why Prince Hall and 'mainstream' Freemasonry in the United States don't simply join their lodges together and eliminate any issue years and years ago. The answer has a lot to do with race, but is wrapped up in the rich heritage each Grand Lodge now has. With some recognition, the bodies can and will work together yet retain their history and culture. Those choosing to join Freemasonry will do so in lodges where their ancestors did. This will allow the traditions and histories will weave into the fabric of their lives. Some think joining together risks the loss of their tradition in future generations and thus it is unlikely at this time that any such joining would ever be contemplated. Perhaps in centuries to come things will be different but for now, Grand Lodges are pleased to share fellowship and fraternalism while maintaining their independence and historical lineage.

7 comments:

  1. Bro. Brinson,
    I am pleased to make your aquaintance. My name is Bro. Ralph F. Weathers. I am a Master Mason in good standing with Doric Lodge #92 in Seattle, WA. I am the installed Senior Warden and this Fall I am scheduled to be installed as the first Black American Worshipful Master in my Lodge's history since it was founded in 1892. I have viewed your Blog and am thrilled with the historical education and comments about Freemasonry! It was extremely informative and a pleasure to read. Keep up the great work!
    Fraternally Yours,
    Bro. Ralph F. Weathers
    noblemason.com

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    1. Good Evening Bro. Weathers,

      First, thank you for the compliments on the blog I set up on Freemasonry. It is my intention to enlighten as many minds as I can (with the help of God), to show what true Masonry is all about in our Jurisdictions. And I am overjoyed to hear of your historical installation in the future, as a Worshipful Master in your Lodge in the great state of Washington. It is with great honor that I welcome you into this fraternity of Elected Officials, and I know with even greater honor, you will do an outstanding job in representing Doric Lodge #92. I look forward to meeting you one day on our travels. So until that time, travel light and see you soon.



      Fraternity yours,

      Edward Elijah Brinson

      Past Master

      Capstone Lodge #30

      PHA, Michigan

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    2. Bro. Brinson,

      I am very pleased to be in contact with you. I was curious, is Sir E. Elijah Brinson a relative of yours? Many Brothers have proud Masonic histories in their family’s past. I am descended from Texas Prince Hall Masons. The connection to the past is an exhilarating one and one worthy to be remembered!

      As I go forward in my Lodge to participate in the next EA Degree I am mindful of the fact that we have a Black American candidate and a White American candidate entering the Fraternity as Brothers. I have participated in every single degree that my Lodge has put on since 2007. It never loses it’s significance. I am hoping that I will be assigned to help teach these Brothers how one becomes a Freemason both in mind and spirit. I love to see the signs of recognition of what being a True Man of vision and honor is like. In a perfect world, all Masons would be Brothers. I hope to contribute to making that happen in the future. After all, it’s the right thing to do!

      Stay in touch. I invite you to view my blog at www.noblemason.com and I wish you continued success in your endeavors there in North Carolina. Keep up the great work!

      Fraternally Yours,

      Bro. Ralph F. Weathers

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  2. Bro. Edward:

    Great article - very interesting, informative and well written. I've only had the pleasure of sitting in a Prince Hall lodge twice, but both times have been great experiences. Their ritual is the best in Massachusetts and our "traditional" Masonic lodges would all do well to observe them. The Grand Officers also do a very impressive, moving ceremony annually at the gravestone of Prince Hall in Boston. I highly suggest you visit if you've never observed it.

    I've often been asked the question of why there is a "black Grand Lodge" in Massachusetts, in addition to the original Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, and I've only been able to give a bare-bones (though accurate) answer. Your article gave me the missing pieces to explain this much better.

    Keep up your great work!

    -R.W. David R. Lucas

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  3. I was just wondering if anyone know of Willie T Dupree from Georgia

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  4. I was told that he was a Freemason.

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  5. Hello My Name is Derrick Dilworth I am From East Texas and I have Been doing a Lot of Research on Becoming a Mason . I had a lot of Freemason in My Family that's has In lighted my Heart about this Great Organization but all the older Generations of Men or Gone Home to Glory . I am searching for the Light With a Humble Heart and Soul ddilworth78@gmail.com my Email

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