20 Years of mutual recognition – Part 4
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the April 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
Timely and Good – a Paper Republished
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 three installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition and we learned that other Grand Lodges had also done so in the past. Would Connecticut Masons 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 Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution calling for the mutual recognition of Prince Hall Masonry immediately after installing his son, Gail Nelson Smith, as the new Grand Master. The craft would come to learn that this proposal had been made in at least three states previously, and that two had already passed – and then rescinded – recognition.
In the 1870’s, the question came before the Grand Lodge of Ohio, where it was ‘narrowly defeated.’ In 1897, the Grand Lodge of Washington was presented with the request of two transplanted Prince Hall Masons for the opportunity for fraternal interaction. The appointed committee, led by Deputy Grand Master William H. Upton, chose to examine “the large(r) question of… legitimacy” of lodges that were the ‘offspring’ of African Lodge No. 459 and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge that coalesced in 1808.
The result Bro. Upton’s committee’s work was simple: a ‘white’ Grand Lodge had legitimized Prince Hall Freemasons for the first time. Their report discussed the possible reaction from other Grand Lodges, but did not expect there to be significant problems. In that they were sadly surprised, and by the next Grand Lodge communication, it was necessary to rescind recognition of Prince Hall Masonry.
Now Past Grand Master Upton made his feelings clear: there was to be no monument, marker, or other identification on his grave that he was even a Mason until the Washington Grand Lodge again recognized their Prince Hall brothers.
A span of fifty years passed before another Grand Lodge would essay recognition. Much had changed in the world. Most Worshipful Past Grand Master of Missouri Harry S Truman had succeeded Bro. Franklin D. Roosevelt as President, and one of his executive orders provided for the desegregation of the United States military at all levels. Enlightened people questioned issues of race, and the civil rights movement was stirring.
In Massachusetts, the home of African Lodge No. 459, the Grand Lodge agreed with the conclusions reached a half-century earlier by a Grand Lodge a continent away. Grand Master Melvin M. Johnson was a strong proponent for recognition, which was passed in March 1947. Again, sadly, this was short-lived as Grand Lodges around the nation brought fraternal pressure to bear. Two years later, recognition was rescinded.
These activities at Connecticut’s northern border caught the attention of Bro. Raymond H. Dragat, a member of Level Lodge No. 137 and Philosophic Lodge of Research (PLR). Bro. Ray had been raised in Cosmopolitan Lodge No. 125 in New Haven while attending Yale Law School. Returning to his native Hartford, he changed his affiliation to a lodge that was initially built on the premise of alternating Christian and Jewish Worshipful Masters year by year.
The secretary of Level Lodge and PLR for more than 50 years aggregated, Ray ascended to the Oriental Chair in Philosophic Lodge in 1959. In that year he presented his paper, Prince Hall Masonry in the United States of America. This well-researched paper earned Ray the lifelong respect and numerous honors from Prince Hall Masonry.
Then Grand Lecturer and eventual Prince Hall Grand Master John E. Rogers ¬– and friend of Gail L. Smith at the Masonic Home – wrote to Bro. Dragat, “I cannot find the proper words to type my appreciation of your interest and inspiration. But I will give you this promise in return; I will ever in my lectures and future instructions to my younger brothers stress love and tolerance so that the spirit of Dragat, Upton and Melvin Johnson will always be reflected by those Prince Hall men with whom I come in contact.”
Bro. Dragat’s paper caused a stir at the time of its publication, especially when it noted that “the procedure of forming African Grand Lodge in 1791 was more properly accomplished than was the formation of white Grand Lodges in Massachusetts and other states.” He concluded, as had many before him, that there was no Masonic reason not to recognize Prince Hall Masonry.
Within a few years, though, it was generally forgotten. Ray updated the work in 1978 to reflect several court cases where ‘white’ Grand Lodges had supported Prince Hall Masons’ efforts to suppress clandestine black groups claiming the name of ‘Masons.’ One court expressed amazement that there was no record ever of any adversarial court action between Prince Hall Grand Lodges and their AF & AM counterparts!
Ray’s paper may have remained ‘forgotten’ had not Philosophic Lodge of Research begun a program to bring more Masonic light to the craft. Under the leadership of WM Frank H. Icaza in 1984, the lodge began selling 10 different papers from its archives. Bro. Dragat’s Prince Hall paper, the most expensive simply due to reproduction costs, was by far the best seller of the group.
Papers were available at Committee on Masonic Information officer seminars through the late 1980’s, and many brothers who owned the paper were voting delegates at the 1989 Grand Lodge session. Craft leadership was thus aware that Prince Hall Masonry was Masonically legitimate. They had every reason to support recognition.
A strong case can be made that when Gail Linnell Smith “… request(ed) fraternal recognition from the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, Prince Hall Affiliation;” and those hundreds of brothers rose as one to enthusiastically, urgently “Second!” this motion, they were expressing their understanding of a paper written 30 years earlier by a brother who would receive his 80-year pin at the age of 102. Fortunately, Brother Ray Dragat lived to see the premise of his paper accepted and recognition accomplished, the greatest honor he could have ever received.