20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 8
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the October 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.
(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 seventh installment, both Grand Lodges overwhelmingly approved resolutions of mutual recognition. With strong craft support in both Connecticut Grand Lodges, the next question would be the responses of other A.F. & A.M. and PHA Grand Lodges. Would external pressure cause either Grand Lodge to regret — or rescind — their action? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
|From Prince Hall Recognition|
Connecticut Freemasons knew that Grand Lodges worldwide would respond to their actions of October 14, 1989. What they could not predict was how.
Prince Hall Grand Master Lewis Myrick, Sr. indicated concerns from several Prince Hall Grand Jurisdictions that the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodges would “swallow them up,” given the size disparity between the Grand Lodges. After he addressed a Grand Masters Conference in Boston in mid-May, 1990, these fears were largely put to rest. Prince Hall Grand Lodges, especially in the western United States, were quite favorable to recognition. Bro. Myrick did note, however, that the Prince Hall Grand Lodges of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were not supportive.
The A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge of Nebraska and their Prince Hall counterpart followed Connecticut’s lead, becoming the second state to approve recognition in February 1990. Grand Lodges in Wisconsin and Washington — which had been nearly a century ahead of its time in their initial Prince Hall recognition — quickly followed suit.
Formal letters of congratulations came from diverse places, as well. The Grand Lodge of Quebec, Canada, was most pleased by the vote, but was unsure how it could duplicate it since their counterpart Prince Hall Grand Lodge chartered lodges in both Quebec and Ontario. The Grand Lodge of South Dakota, also very supportive, had a similar concern — their very few Prince Hall Lodges were under the Grand Lodge F. & A.M., PHA of Minnesota. Also, as then Grand Master Leslie M. Spies noted, “we have a relatively small number of Blacks and they are readily admitted into our Lodges if found worthy and well qualified.”
Letters of support also came from Iowa, Germany, New York, and even a Past Grand Master of North Carolina! (This jurisdiction was the 41st United States Grand Lodge to approve recognition, doing so in 2008 after several failed efforts.)
For all of those brotherly acts, there were others that did not fit that category. In January and March 1990, L. Bruce Austin, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M. of Tennessee, communicated to his lodges, noting first Connecticut’s and then Nebraska’s recognition of their respective Prince Hall Grand Lodges. Stating that the “law of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee does not provide for the recognition of more than one Grand Lodge in this jurisdiction…,” he urged “great and extreme caution” in letting a Masons from either state visit Tennessee lodges.
Similarly, Grand Master Ed. W. Quillen, Sr. of Mississippi circulated a letter noting that visitation in those two states was permitted, but that if “there be black members present,” the visitor needs to determine if he holds a Prince Hall membership card. If yes, “you need to remove yourself from that lodge at once.” He goes on to state that if the black Mason was made in a regular lodge, “… you may, at your discretion, remain in that lodge.” How very brotherly!
The most egregious behavior came from the Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana and its Grand Master, the inappropriately named Bro. Eugene F. Love. In his first letter to Connecticut Grand Master Gail N. Smith, he expresses concerns about sitting “with Clandestinely made Masons” and asks for a “statement” before issuing an edict. He notes elsewhere in the letter, concerning Prince Hall Masons, that he has “many friends who are members” and that “They are happy with their program are we are happy with ours.” (Comment: sounds like the old apology: “Some of my best friends are black.”)
Obviously MW Smith’s reply did not satisfy Bro. Love; on December 8, 1989, he issued an edict that “The Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana, F. & A.M. does hereby sever all Masonic relations and/or communications with the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, A.F. & A.M.” This was followed by a similar letter of January 24, 1990 from Hayden P. Davis, Grand Master of The MW Grand Lodge of Arkansas. In it, he declares, “Fraternal Relations … suspended with the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut.”
Few probably remember the action of Arkansas, but several Grand Lodges strongly opposed Louisiana’s actions. The Grand Lodge of Quebec thoroughly discredits the “logic” by which the edict was justified, and urged “… your Grand Master to draw on your Masonic toleration and compassion and withdraw this counter-productive and potentially damaging edict.” The letter goes on to suggest that Masonic public relations could suffer greatly should this schism over race be broadcast widely in the media.
Unfortunately, Bro. Love did not withdraw his edict, and a Connecticut Mason’s family did suffer as a result. Worshipful Brother Norman W. Larkin of St. John’s Lodge No. 3, Bridgeport was denied a Masonic funeral when he died in his adopted community of Hammond, Louisiana. He was a decorated military veteran, and in his nine years in Louisiana, had been an active leader in the American Legion, VFW, and DAV, among other groups. Local Masons, incensed at this situation, suggested transporting Bro. Larkin to Texas to perform the service, but the family declined this brotherly offer.
The family had no such ‘charity’ for Bro. Love. Letters from around the country excoriated this Grand Master for causing “a childish feud … over a racial issue” and using Bro. Larkin as a ”
scapegoat.” Another, citing the racial intolerance that was the basis of the edict, said, “This is disgusting ignorance in this day and age.”
Perhaps Bro. Jack Macgregor of Trumbull, then a 35-year Mason, put it best.
“I have been told,” he wrote, “… that Masonic Grand Lodges in every corner of the nation deplore this high-handed behavior, even the members of your own Louisiana lodges.”
Jack went on:
“The fault is yours, Mr. Love, and yours alone. The local Louisiana lodge was willing to perform the rites, but were prohibited by your edict. Only you have severed relations with the Conn. Grand Lodge, and purely on racial grounds. I hesitate to think what would happen to your empire, should the national media become aware of all this.”
Accusing GM Love of still fighting the Civil War, he noted finding no reference “blacks” in any of the Masonic obligations. He notes, “They do, however, refer to a “Fool”. As far as I am concerned, a bigot is a fool.” Cooler heads would eventually prevail, too late for Bro. Larkin and his family, but eventually the edicts were rescinded by both Louisiana and Arkansas.
The issue was not yet ‘put to bed’ internationally, however.
Though documentation is not available, apparently a gathering of the first half dozen or so recognizing Grand Lodges was held in Massachusetts at the request of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). Bro. Michael Higham, Grand Secretary, was present and, during the discussion, is said to have recommended or suggested (or perhaps ‘demanded’ — as all of the stories are second- or third-hand, or worse, it has been impossible to be certain) that all American Grand Lodges rescind recognition immediately. Then the issue could be studied by UGLE, the world’s oldest Grand Lodge, and everyone could follow their lead once they eventually determined the ‘legitimacy’ of Prince Hall Masonry.
This ‘suggestion’ was not received well by the Americans at the meeting. After some discussion, one representative (perhaps from Colorado, the fifth state to extend mutual recognition) is said to have articulated the thoughts of his countryman. He is said to have told the Grand Secretary that “we kicked your (butts) out of this country 200 years ago, and we’ll do it again if we have to!”
Thus informed of American feelings on the topic, UGLE had no choice but to follow, rather than lead. On September 11, 1996, UGLE resolved to extend recognition to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut. It would also offer the same recognition to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, doing so before the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts!
Nearly 150 years after the start of the American Civil War, and 20 years after Connecticut’s landmark vote, there are 10 states that still have not extended Masonic brotherhood to members of the Prince Hall Affiliates. All were members of the Confederate States of America or claimed by the CSA as such; in all, slavery was lawful until the end of the war.
Readers may draw their own conclusions.
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The author acknowledges with appreciation his thanks to MW Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr., for allowing access to Ken’s notebook of documents relating to the Prince Hall recognition process in Connecticut. The author also acknowledges the work and website of RW Paul M. Bessel, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Leadership Center, concerning Prince Hall recognition nationwide.