20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 5
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the May 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
A Cautiously Positive Reaction
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 four installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition; based on a paper written for Philosophic Lodge of Research by WB Raymond H. Dragat, Connecticut Masons understood why they should 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. New Grand Master Smith appointed the subcommittee on Prince Hall recognition provided for in the motion; RW Grand Junior Warden Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr. headed this group.
How did the Prince Hall Grand Lodge react as the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge moved forward?
The year was 1978. Bro. Preston L. Pope, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and a friend of WB Ray Dragat, took an unprecedented action: he wrote to another friend, MW James M. Desmond, Grand Master of the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge, requesting dialog leading to mutual recognition between the two Grand Lodges.
Bro. Desmond – the first son of a Grand Master to become Grand Master in Connecticut – was surprised by this request, and unsure of how to proceed. He asked the Past Grand Masters for their counsel on such a momentous matter. The PGMs of that era overwhelmingly recommended that he do nothing! Sadly, many of these good brothers were from an era where ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was the answer to questions of race relations.
The Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. followed the suggestion of the ‘Pasts’ and never responded to the letter. MW Bro. Pope asked MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith to intercede on behalf of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. This he did, urging a response to the Prince Hall letter, if only out of brotherly courtesy. Regrettably, this did not happen. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge was understandable disturbed by the lack of even a negative reply.
Fortunately, this missed opportunity only cost a decade.
Prince Hall Freemasonry had come to Connecticut in 1849 with the chartering of Widow’s Son Lodge No. 1 at New Haven. In 1873, four local Prince Hall lodges formed what is now the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Connecticut, Inc. Despite broader Masonic issues of jurisdictional sovereignty, the Prince Hall and A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodges were well known to one another. Relations, at the state level, were friendly and generally respectful.
In 1960, the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge supported the Prince Hall Grand Lodge’s challenge to other organizations of black men claiming use of the name of ‘Masons.’ Two A.F. & A.M. Past Grand Masters testified “to the recognized legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.” The court found the Prince Hall Grand Lodge to be legitimate and enjoined the non-Prince Hall groups. The establishment of the “Brotherhood-In-Action” program in 1966 united members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Masons, Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. Masons, B’nai B’rith, and the Knights of Columbus. In 1967, decisions made by the Masonic Charity Foundation of Connecticut opened the Masonic Home and Hospital to qualified Master Masons, their wives and widows, of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.
Yet the Prince Hall Grand Lodge had no immediate response to the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge motion of March 29, 1989. Why? It was not informed of the motion until May because MW Bro. Smith wanted to be sure that everything was in place on his end before contacting his Prince Hall counterpart.
Bro. Lewis Myrick, Sr., was coming to the end of first year as Grand Master of Prince Hall Masons, and planned to seek election to a second year in the Grand East. (This is common in the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.) MW Bro. Myrick was personally in favor of recognition, but Prince Hall Masons did not universally share this sentiment. When MW Bro. Smith contacted Bro. Myrick about the resolution seeking mutual recognition, he was congratulated on the courageous step his Grand Lodge had taken but told that Prince Hall leadership needed to discuss the issue before any decision could be made.
Subcommittee chairman Ken Hawkins went to New Haven in May to introduce himself to Bro. Myrick, who was participating in the city’s annual Freddy Fixer Parade. Bro. Myrick was appreciative of the meeting, but Bro. Hawkins came away with the impression that the Grand Master’s opinion of this new initiative was best described as “here we go again.”
A lengthy discussion regarding mutual recognition among Prince Hall Grand Master Myrick, Deputy Grand Master Thaddeus Holman, Senior Grand Warden Michael S. Bivans, and Junior Grand Warden Robert Williamson led to consensus to proceed toward recognition. Grand Master Myrick appointed an A.F. & A.M. Committee, Prince Hall, to meet with Bro. Smith’s Prince Hall Recognition Committee. The Prince Hall chairman was MWPGM Preston L. Pope.
Bro. Pope and his committee would meet separately and with Bro. Hawkins and his committee throughout the summer to work out an agreement in principle satisfactory to both Grand Lodges. There was urgency in their work; a report was due to the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge special communication on October 14 – the same date as the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Annual Communication. Could these brothers, in less than five months, craft a lasting agreement? The Masonic world was watching….
“To be continued…”