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20 Years of mutual recognition – Part 2

February 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the February 2009 issue of The Connecticut Freemasons publication, which is running a series of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of our mutual recognition.

Part Two: A Craft Ecstatic

Reflections on Recognition, 20 Years Later

by Carl G. Ek

(Author’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first installment, the stage was set as MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith rose to present a resolution proposing mutual recognition. What led MWPGM Smith to the belief that this was necessary and proper? And how would local lodge leaders react to such a proposal? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.

Closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session, approaching 6 PM, at the hot, un-air conditioned Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven; the business of the session – much highly contentious – had been accomplished, the new Grand Lodge officers elected and installed, and everyone anxious to close and go home.

There were three brothers in the room who had other plans.

“Is there anything further to come before this Grand Lodge session?” asked newly installed Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith of the silent gathering.

“Yes, Grand Master, there is!”

The growl seemed to resonate from the past. Gail Linnell Smith, 1968 Grand Master, father of the new Grand Master, strode from his seat in the corner of the Grand East dais. The crumpled paper he took from his pocket was placed on the podium. Father and son stood together as the elder Smith read a resolution he had hoped to offer for more than a decade.

“WHEREAS – Qualified Masonic scholars and several in-depth investigations have demonstrated conclusively that the Prince Hall body of Freemasonry is completely legitimate;

“WHEREAS – Eminent and distinguished members of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, A.F. & A.M. have, more than once, attested in the courts of the land to the legitimacy of the Prince Hall Masons in Connecticut;

“WHEREAS – The doctrine of exclusive jurisdiction is a myth, and a device formulated by American Grand Lodges without any basis in Masonic custom and usage and not universally practiced by the originators;

“WHEREAS – Division among Men and Masons claiming to practice the Brotherhood of all Man under the Fatherhood of one God is contrary to the basic and ancient tenets and teachings of Freemasonry;

“THEREFORE – Be it resolved that this Grand Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, request fraternal recognition from the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, Prince Hall Affiliation;

“And be it further resolved that the Grand Master is hereby authorized to appoint a special, temporary sub-committee to the Committee on Fraternal Relations for the sole purpose of contacting Connecticut Prince Hall Masons and advising the full Committee.

“I move that this resolution be accepted, printed in the proceedings and referred to the Committee on Fraternal Relations with instructions to present a report with a recommendation at the next communication of this Grand Lodge on October 14, 1989.”

Hundreds of brothers rose as one to enthusiastically, urgently “Second!” this motion. The Grand Lodge Proceedings reported the approval as unanimous. Moments earlier, a hot, tired, gloomy craft awaited the end of an unpleasant session. Suddenly, a sense of jubilation gripped the craft. The issues of earlier in the day were forgotten; all that was important was that we were recognizing Prince Hall Masonry! Brethren all but floated out of the Grand Ballroom after a closing that no one heard as they discussed among themselves what they had just occurred.

* * * * * * *

The Smiths

Pictured are the son/father Grand Masters: Gail N., left, and Gail L, at a recent discussion of Prince Hall recognition.

What brought the senior Brother Smith to believe that this was a necessary and proper course for Connecticut Freemasonry to take?

PGM Gail Smith had done his research well. He knew that twice before, ‘white’ Grand Lodges had recognized their Prince Hall counterparts, only to withdraw that recognition in the face of protests from other Grand Lodges throughout the nation. What made him think that Connecticut could successfully pursue the recognition that had eluded the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1897 and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1947?

After Bro. Gail retired from the state police, he came to the Masonic Home and Hospital in Wallingford as director of admissions. He assumed that position only a few years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A part of the Act provided that recipients of Medicare and similar health care payments could not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color when providing those services. Those who did would lose their right to government payments.

The Masonic Home and Hospital was never segregated, but it was only open for Masons and their families. Connecticut lodges in the 1960’s likely had no black members. However, the Grand Lodge was well acquainted with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which it deemed the only legitimate – though not recognized – Masonic group for black men.

In 1960, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. had appeared in Superior Court to support the petition of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge against other black organizations trying to use the name “Masons” in public events and parades. Past Grand Masters and lawyers Frank L. Wilder and George R. Sturges, and future Grand Master Irving E. Partridge, then Deputy for Scottish Rite, appeared as ‘friends of the court’ to state unequivocally that Prince Hall Masonry was the only black group that had the right to use the term “Mason.” They pointed to the long history of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, including the chartering by the Grand Lodge of England of African Lodge No. 459 in 1774, as reasons to support the Prince Hall position. The court agreed, issuing the requested injunction.

In 1966, The Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. united with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and the statewide groups from the Knights of Columbus and B’nai Brith to form  “Brotherhood in Action.” The goal was to bring together fraternal organizations of men doing good work in their communities to multiply their successes. Local units were encouraged to follow suit, giving the ‘white’ and ‘black’ Grand Lodges a chance to work with their Roman Catholic and Jewish counterparts – and, perhaps most importantly, with each other.

Against that backdrop, Prince Hall brothers and their families were welcomed and encouraged to apply for residence at what is now called the Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford. Thus did PGM Smith meet MW Bro. John Rogers, a Prince Hall Past Grand Master who spent the last several years of his life as a guest in Wallingford. Bro. Rogers was a scholar and educator, and in their frequent talks, Bro. Smith became convinced that there was no good reason why the two Grand Lodges could not extend recognition to one another, visit each other’s meetings, and truly practice the Masonic brotherhood that we speak about. He set about doing the research necessary to have such a change – a monumental change – made.

to be continued…

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