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20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 9

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the November 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 eighth installment, we examined the responses nationwide and worldwide when both Grand Lodges overwhelmingly approved resolutions of mutual recognition. This is the final installment in a series of stories in Connecticut Freemasons that have celebrated the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)

Part of the reason for the publication of this series of articles was to collect and preserve the memories of those who were a part of the process of achieving mutual recognition two decades ago. Being able to speak with both Gail Smith’s, Lew Myrick, Ken Hawkins, and others who, it can be argued, made the recognition happen, provides a valuable historical record for the future, removed as far as possible from speculation and conjecture.

Old lapel pin commemorating the mutual recognition

Graphic: joint recognition pin from 1989, probably Day Spring Lodge No. 30.

It should not have come as a surprise, then, when information not previously available to this author came to light after the publication of the October 2009 Connecticut Freemasons. MWPGM Richard A. Hodgson, now retired to Arizona, was a part of the meeting held at the request of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) to discuss recognition. Slightly excerpted, his account follows.

“The day following my installation, together with Past Grand Masters Harrison, Desmond, and Lorenson, I went to Boston to meet with the Grand Secretary and Chairman of the Committee of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of England, a board having duties similar to our Committee of Recognition. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the Chairman. [Editor’s note: presumably this was Michael Higham of the UGLE.] Most Worshipful Darling [Charles Darling, MWGM of Massachusetts] met us at the Grand Lodge to host the meeting but declined to take part.

“On arrival we were met by Most Worshipful Brother Don Smith and Right Worshipful James Wood, Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Washington. As well as Grand Master, Brother Don was a Judge of the Supreme Court of Washington…MW Don asked that although I was entitled to conduct the meeting as the Grand Master of Connecticut, that I consider allowing Most Worshipful Brother Dean Massey, Grand Master of Wisconsin, then also Dean of Law at the University of Wisconsin, to conduct, as he had come prepared with a great deal of research.

“I then welcomed and introduced all and asked Brother Massey to present his questions and concerns to the English brothers. Brother Dean had indeed come prepa

red.

“England had denied that Prince Hall was chartered by the Grand Lodge of England, which was indeed true. However, they chartered African Lodge 459, which later changed its name to honor Prince Hall. Brother Dean then brought out the yearly assessments paid by the Grand Lodge of African/Prince Hall, to the Grand Lodge of England up to the mid 1800’s, and that lodge being dropped from the rolls although they maintained their payment beyond that of several other American Grand Lodges who were not (dropped).

“At the conclusion of Brother Dean’s presentation, Brother Higham remarked that he could not repudiate Brother Dean as they (the English) were not as well informed as he, and they would have to go home and research Dean’s challenges and questions.

“We enjoyed a nice lunch and fellowship provided by Most Worshipful Brother Darling and departed in peace and good will. The result of this meeting was the removal of the restriction on visitation by the Grand Lodge of England, which had had, little if any effect.

“The record in a nut shell by one who was there.”

As noted in a prior article, the UGLE recognized the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts before the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge did so. This was an odd circumstance, made even more so by the historic recognition of Prince Hall Masonry by that Grand Lodge in 1947.

It is more than a bit sad that 20 years after the first Grand Lodges A.F. & A.M. and P.H.A. opted for brotherhood, there are so many American Masons that have not yet accepted the concept

of brotherhood that is not based on racial characteristics.

This failure borders on the absurd when these same Grand Lodges recognize African and Caribbean lodges chartered by the Grand Lodge of England in which all of the members have the same racial background as those Prince Hall Masons whom they shun here.

Has recognition worked? A Prince Hall grand officer put it well: “Not everything everybody feared happened, some things people hoped for happened, and some things people expected didn’t happen.”

What did happen was the opportunity for Masonic brothers – who a

ll express belief in Deity, take the same obligations, and meet on the same level – to do so on a broader basis, with artificial barriers removed. On this basis alone, recognition has certainly worked.

Brother Ben Franklin once wrote that the biggest secret in Masonry was that there were no secrets. He later expanded his commentary on Masonic secrets to note that “The good effects … have subdued the rancor of malevolence and broken down the barriers of political animosity and sectarian alienation.”

To that we may add that progress has been made in breaking down racial barriers that divide, rather than unite, men and Masons. To those who took these bold steps two decades ago, we owe our thanks. To those who will lead our fraternity in the future, we urge their efforts to continue the good work begun by different Grand Lodges two decades – and six decades – and a century ago.

Thus may we honor our obligations as men and Masons. So may it ever be. So mote it be.

# # #

20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 8

October 17, 2009 Leave a comment
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’s recognition of Prince Hall Masons eventually resulted in the National Sojourners accepting Prince Hall Masons as members. Here, from left, fellow Sojourners Lou Vander Eyk, Bill Greene, Lew Myrick and Stan Sheldon share a moment at a Sojourners get-together.



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.
= = =
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.

20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 7

July 10, 2009 Leave a comment
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the July/August 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 Votes are Tallied

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 six installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition and Connecticut Masons and Prince Hall Grand Lodge leaders enthusiastically supported this proposal. How would the craft vote? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)

Dateline: Cromwell, Connecticut, October 14, 1989. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge met in annual communication, and voted on the recognition resolution first. In the parlance of sports, the vote was a slamdunk, with only one member voting in the negative.

That brother later approached then Prince Hall Grand Master Lewis Myrick, Sr., asking to change his vote. “Hell no!” replied the Grand Master. “That’s how you voted, and that’s how it stays.”

With the requirement of ‘all or nothing,’ it was Prince Hall’s turn to wait to see if the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge would likewise approve mutual recognition at their special communication, being held at Sheehan High School in Wallingford.

As it became clear that the special Prince Hall Recognition Committee chaired by Grand Senior Deacon Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr., would report favorably on the plan, brothers who may not have been in favor carefully attempted to have influence on the decision.

A Past Grand Master approached MW Gail N. Smith to suggest that given the magnitude of the proposed change, some brothers might desire a written, private ballot to express their feelings. Bro. Smith agreed that he was correct – thinking that some would use ‘privacy’ as an excuse to retain the status quo while not appearing to be racially motivated. Still, Grand Master Smith directed Grand Secretary and MWPGM R. Stanley Harrison to prepare paper ballots for the recognition vote – knowing that they would never be used.

As some in Prince Hall Masonry feared being overwhelmed by the much larger A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge, so some A.F. & A.M. Masons expressed a concern that their meetings might be visited by large groups of Prince Hall Masons. Why, others asked, would that be a problem? Lodges that ‘blitz’ might arrive unannounced at a visited lodge with 10, 20, even 30 members (and, politely, with a large quantity of refreshments). Why would a visit from a Prince Hall delegation make any difference to the visited lodge? Unless, of course, there were other, unspoken, considerations….

Then Senior Grand Warden of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Michael Bivans focused on some of those concerns while speaking to Compass Lodge No. 9, Wallingford in the weeks leading up to the votes. RW Mike had been invited by Compass WM Charles Rogers to speak to his lodge to give a history of Prince Hall Masonry. After his formal presentation, Mike responded to a question about visitation between jurisdictions.

“Do all of your (A.F.& A.M.) members show up at your meetings? Of course not,” Mike answered his own question, looking at vacant seats in the nearly full lodge room. “And do all of my (P.H.A.) members show up at all of our meetings? Same thing. So what makes anybody think that when we approve mutual recognition, all of ‘your’ members are going to start going to ‘our’ meetings, and all of ‘our’ members are going to going to start to ‘your’ meetings? Won’t happen,” he concluded. History has proven him correct.

 

From Prince Hall Recognition

Image: MW Lew Myrick and RW Carl G. Ek, Worshipful Master. Unity Lodge No. 148, New Britain, at the Recognition Table Lodge. MW Myrick was protagonist for recognition twenty year ago, and RW Ek is the author of this series.

Dateline: Wallingford, Connecticut, October 14, 1989. The Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. special communication being held at Sheehan High School had several items on the agenda, most of which were disposed of as preludes to what everyone understood to be the main topic of business. Brothers learned about plans for the next inspection cycle and filled out a questionnaire concerning the then-Grand Lodge quarterly publication, Connecticut Square and Compasses.

The questionnaires filled out and collected, Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith announced, “We will now take up the Prince Hall Recognition…” and stated that there could be no amendments to the resolution since it was the same resolution being acted upon – at the same time – by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. After opening remarks, Bro. Smith asked subcommittee chairman Hawkins to read the recommendations of his group.

Issues of Masonic legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, the ‘sovereignty issue’ of only one Grand Lodge per jurisdiction, and the potential for other Grand Lodges to withdraw Masonic recognition from Connecticut should the vote be in the affirmative were discussed. The first two were simple to resolve; as to the last, the report stated, “… we have no control over their actions, and our vote must not be influenced by what might happen, but rather what is prudent in this Grand Jurisdiction.”

Past Grand Master Morris I. Budkofsky, chairman of the Fraternal Relations Committee, reported complete satisfaction with the legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and recommended that approval of “Fraternal Recognition, including rights of visitation, be granted…” The original motion was reread and opportunities for remarks allowed.

Grand Master Smith then asked those in favor of the resolution to stand, be counted, and those opposed to stand. The final tally was not recorded in the Grand Lodge Proceedings except to say that “a large majority” had approved the resolution at the historic communication of the Grand Lodge.

Bro. Smith then reported – to great applause – the Prince Hall Grand Lodge’s vote of approval and concluded the agenda of his own session. Thereafter, Bros. Smith and Hawkins made a short drive to close a centuries-old gap in Masonic brotherhood, becoming the first A.F.& A.M. Masons to be formally received into the tiled Prince Hall Grand Lodge session.

Joint news releases would spread word of the good work publicly, but the pre-Internet Masonic grapevine spread the word faster, that recognition was reality. Response would be rapid….

To be continued…

20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 6

June 1, 2009 Leave a comment
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…”

20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 5

May 12, 2009 Leave a comment
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…”

20 Years of mutual recognition – Part 4

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment
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.

“To be continued…”

20 Years of mutual recognition – Part 3

February 27, 2009 Leave a comment

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.”

They noted:

“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…

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