20 Years of mutual recognition – Part 3
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the March 2009 issue of The Connecticut Freemasons publication, which is running a series of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of our mutual recognition. Read other articles in this series: 20 Years.
Reflections on Recognition, 20 Years Later
“The large(r) question of… legitimacy…”
by Carl G. Ek
(Editor’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 two installments, the stage was set and MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition. Would local lodge leaders be knowledgeable enough to support this proposal? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
In the closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session, three brothers revealed their plan. New Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith, his father, Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith, and newly installed Grand Senior Deacon Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr., had agreed on the presentation of the Prince Hall recognition resolution, which was met with unrestrained positive response from the craft.
An observer would have believed that craft leadership present understood the complexities of the issue, knew that Prince Hall Masonry was as Masonically legitimate – and perhaps more so – than many or most North American lodges, and that there was no Masonic reason to oppose recognition. Perhaps they did, even though Bro. Smith’s resolution had included none of his research.
In large measure, most of the work necessary to establish the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry had been conducted by the Grand Lodge of Washington in their preparation to recognize Prince Hall Masonry in 1897. This work was updated by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts just after World War II and they recognized the descendants of African Lodge No. 459 in 1947. Regrettably, both Grand Lodges withdrew recognition soon after due to pressure from other continental Grand Lodges.
On this point, the trio behind Connecticut’s proposal was in agreement. There would only be one chance for recognition to be mutually approved, so the work done by the special committee authorized in the resolution would have to get it right. They also agreed that once recognition was approved – as they confidently expected – there would be no turning back.
MWGM Smith quickly appointed his special committee. RW Hawkins would chair, and six Worshipful Brothers who had supported Prince Hall recognition would make up the committee. They were: John H. Blennerhassett, Jr., Annawon No. 115, West Haven; William L. Greene, Uriel No. 24, Merrow; Robert L. Hodgson, Bay View No. 120, Niantic; Edward N. Jones, Wooster No. 10, Colchester; W. John Nissen, St. John’s No. 3, Trumbull; and John E. Suomala, Hiram No. 98, Bloomfield. Several would later wear ‘the purple of the fraternity,’ but the committee intentionally excluded permanent members of the Grand Lodge. Recognition, if it were to occur, would come as the desire of the craft, not as an imposition from the Grand Lodge. But what evidence could be offered as to the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry? PGM Smith had done his work well in mining a mountain of research from recognized Masonic authorities.
In 1897, the Grand Lodge of Washington received a report of the “Special Committee on Negro Masonry,” prepared by Deputy Grand Master William H. Upton and “most heartily concurred in” by the committee. With no Prince Hall lodges then in Washington state, Prince Hall brothers Gideon S. Bailey and Con A. Rideout – a justice of the peace and an attorney, both with impeccable Masonic credentials – requested that the Grand Lodge “devise some way whereby we [the writers of the letter] as true, tried and trusty Masons, having been regularly initiated, passed and raised, can be brought into communication with, and enjoy the fraternal confidence of the members of the Craft in this State.”
The committee recognized the larger issue than two transplanted Prince Hall Masons hoping to attend lodge; namely that “what they really seek is recognition of the right of the bodies in which they were initiated to make Masons. In other words, they raise the large question of the legitimacy of the so-called ‘Negro Masonry’ of the United States.”
“The question of the legitimacy of the Lodges existing among the colored men of the United States is no new one. It has been warmly and ably discussed from time to time: and was quite fully examined over twenty years ago, when a proposal in the (white) Grand Lodge of Ohio — recommended by the Grand Master and favorably reported by the committee to which it had been referred — to recognize as a lawful body the negro Grand Lodge which has existed in that State since 1849, was defeated by a very slender majority.”
The Washington State Grand Lodge committee recited the history of what is now known as Prince Hall Masonry:
“On March 6, 1775, an army Lodge, warranted by the Grand Lodge of England… initiated Prince Hall and fourteen other colored men of Boston into the mysteries of Freemasonry…. They applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant, March 2, 1784. It was issued to them, as ‘African Lodge No. 459,’ with Prince Hall as Master, September 29, 1784, but not received until May 2, 1787. The Lodge was organized under the warrant four days later.”
“Brother Prince Hall a man of exceptional ability, worked zealously in the cause of Masonry; and, from 1792 until his death in 1807, exercised all the functions of a Provincial Grand Master [licensing lodges in Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island]… In 1808 these three Lodges joined in forming the ‘African Grand Lodge’ of Boston — now the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts – and Masonry gradually spread over the land.”
To support these actions, the committee quoted Brother and General (and racist son of the slave-holding antebellum South) Albert Pike: “Prince Hall Lodge was as regular a Lodge as any Lodge created by competent authority, and had a perfect right (as other Lodges in Europe did) to establish other Lodges, and make itself a mother Lodge. That’s the way the Berlin Lodges, Three Globes, and Royal York, became Grand Lodges.”
After several additional pages of supporting material, the committee set forth recommendations that were adopted:
“Resolved, That, in the opinion of this Grand Lodge, Masonry is universal; and, without doubt, neither race nor color are among the tests proper to be applied to determine the fitness of a candidate for the degrees of Masonry. Resolved, That in view of recognized laws of the Masonic Institution, and of facts of history apparently well authenticated and worthy of full credence, this Grand Lodge does not see its way clear to deny or question the right of its constituent Lodges, or of the members thereof, to recognize as brother Masons, negroes who have been initiated in Lodges which can trace their origin to prince hall Lodge, No. 459.”
A ‘white’ Grand Lodge had legitimized Prince Hall Freemasons for the first time.
To be continued…