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20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 6

The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the June 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 five installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition and Connecticut Masons enthusiastically supported this proposal. But what of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge? 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.

The ball, as the saying goes, was now in the court of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

From Prince Hall Recognition

Prince Hall Grand Master Lewis Myrick, Sr., favored mutual recognition and appointed MWPGM Preston L. Pope to head the Prince Hall committee that would make a recommendation on the topic. Bro. Pope had opened the topic of mutual recognition with the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. a decade earlier, during his term as Grand Master; regrettably, his correspondence was never answered. Now he would have a chance to move forward the plan he had advanced a decade ago. This did not mean that Connecticut’s Prince Hall Grand Lodge did not have legitimate concerns about being the first Grand Lodge to recognize, and be recognized by, its counterpart ‘white’ Grand Lodge.

For some, undoubtedly, the term ‘recognition’ would serve only as a precursor to the eventual merger of the two Grand Lodges. The idea of merging – losing individual identities through combining or being absorbed – was understandably unacceptable to Prince Hall Masonry. The history of Brother Prince Hall and his efforts to obtain a charter for free black Masons in Boston before the independence of the United States is a source of pride among brothers of Prince Hall Affiliation.

Further, innumerable Masonic authorities have examined the now unquestioned regularity of the charter of African Lodge No. 459 across the centuries. As Bro. Myrick asked, “How many ‘Regular Grand Lodges’ could withstand the scrutiny that Prince Hall has been subjected to? According to Masonic history, not very many would be considered ‘Regular’ if the same rules were applied as used against Prince Hall.”

No, ‘merger’ was neither the object, nor an acceptable outcome.

However, what about such Masonic courtesies as demitting and dual membership? The Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. (Caucasian) had, in 1989, approximately ten times the membership of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. A scenario could be envisioned where demits by A.F. & A.M. members could dilute or change the character of Prince Hall lodges.

The question of dual membership was easily resolved: the Prince Hall Grand Lodge did not then permit dual membership, and this would not change under mutual recognition. After considerable discussion, it was agreed that initially, at least, demission between the two Grand Lodges would not be allowed. This would, after the votes were taken, lead some to say that the two Grand Lodges had only achieved ‘partial recognition,’ but all appropriately opted for caution as the Grand Lodges explored unbroken ground.

It will be recalled that the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1897 and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1947 did not feel that there would be any backlash from other Grand Lodges when they extended recognition to Prince Hall Masonry. In both cases, they severely underestimated the wrath prompted by their actions. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge was concerned about similar reactions from their sister Grand Lodges.

Not every state has a Prince Hall Grand Lodge, but across the states that do, there were strong feelings – mostly negative – about the recognition of ‘Regular Grand Lodges’ by other Prince Hall Lodges. Much discussion and soul-searching was expended on this topic. Among the questions that had to be answered by Connecticut’s Prince Hall Masons: were we willing to be outcasts? Would we be able to accept criticism for taking this step? Were we willing to accept the possibility of some Prince Hall Grand Lodges withdrawing recognition of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut?

After debate and deliberation, Connecticut’s Prince Hall brothers moved forward with what was thought to be best for Connecticut. Under Bro. Myrick’s leadership, Connecticut Prince Hall Masonry decided that it was willing to accept criticism and the possible withdrawal of recognition from sister grand jurisdictions in order to practice the true meanings of Freemasonry.

These feelings were communicated to Bro. Pope’s committee as the basis for its discussions with the A.F. & A.M. committee chaired by Bro. Hawkins.

The summer of 1989 saw the two recognition committees meeting separately and jointly. The first joint meetings allowed brothers to get to know one another, and to begin to feel comfortable speaking frankly about things that they liked and disliked, things that were acceptable and unacceptable to their respective Grand Lodges.

It was at a late summer joint meeting in the conference room of the old Grand Lodge office in Wallingford that the final wording of resolutions to be circulated among voting members of both Grand Lodges was signed off on by the committee members and Grand Masters Smith and Myrick. On October 14, the resolution would come before the Prince Hall Grand Lodge at its annual communication in Cromwell; on the same day, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. would hold a special communication in Wallingford to take up the identical resolution.

As October 14 approached, Connecticut Freemasons and the Masonic world watched and waited.

Would both Grand Lodges approve mutual recognition? What if one voted in the negative
– would the process proceed? All sides had agreed that there would be but one chance to secure recognition – what if the vote failed?

“To be continued…”

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