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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…

20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part One

January 9, 2009 Leave a comment
The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the 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 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.)

1989 is when it all changed.

The state of Connecticut has a not-undeserved reputation for being “the land of steady habits,” populated with staid (some might say “stodgy”), old-fashioned conservatives. But in 1989, Connecticut was on the forefront of the first wave of mutual recognitions between the AF & AM Grand Lodges and their MWPH counterparts. And while it’s true that Oregon made an attempt to recognize PHA lodges in 1890, and Massachusetts made an attempt right after World War II, both states quickly rescinded those decisions in the wake of opposition from other Masonic jurisdictions. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the political climate was ripe enough to allow other states to revisit the issue.

The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the January 2009 issue of The Connecticut Freemasons publication, which is running a series of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of our mutual recognition.

~~~~~

(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. Two decades later, almost 80% of United States Grand Lodges have formally recognized Prince Hall Masonry, including several south of the Mason-Dixon line. How did these Connecticut organizations bring together under the umbrella of recognition two old and proud bodies? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)

Prince Hall Recognition

“Is there anything further to come before this Grand Lodge session?” The newly installed Grand Master asked the question perfunctorily, almost as though it was a necessary piece of the ritual.

The craft – more than 500 uncomfortable, tired brothers, seated in the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven that day in March 1989 – were sure they knew the answer to that question. They looked forward to the closing of what would surely be recalled as the most rancorous Grand Lodge session in decades, if not ever.

The heating and cooling systems of the era were often mutually exclusive, providing either heat or air conditioning, and not easily shifting from one to the other. Less than a week into spring, it was not expected that the outdoor temperature would rise to nearly 80? on March 29. In the ballroom, brothers’ tempers would raise that figure significantly.

The year 1989 was already an historic year for Connecticut Masonry. The Grand Lodge had been chartered in 1789 and a New Haven brother installed as the first Grand Master. Thus, New Haven was an appropriate city to host the Grand Lodge kickoff of the bicentennial. Further, the Masonic Charity Foundation was celebrating its centennial, having been incorporated in 1889. There would be much to celebrate in the coming year.

To help Masonry grow into its third century, a ‘task force’ had been commissioned to learn what was good and what needed to be changed about the fraternity to make it more relevant, especially for young men who would be desirable prospective members. Consultant Dudley Davis, a non-Mason, was employed to survey Masons and non-Masons alike, distill their thoughts, and offer proposals for change in an organization not noted for embracing that concept.

Most Worshipful Grand Master John Gonsalves had the unenviable task of presiding over the session. The task force had presented five recommendations, three of which the voting delegates approved as a package, apparently unanimously, by voice vote. A controversial proposal to change the requirement to reject a candidate for Masonry from one black cube to three was also approved, but only by a one-vote majority. As a by-laws change needed a 2/3 majority, this proposal failed, but showed an amazing degree of open-mindedness among the craft.

The ‘leadership’ proposal was the most controversial, and the Grand Master announced that there would be two hours allotted for commentary from the craft before the vote would be taken. He then began calling upon appointed Grand Lodge line officers to read supportive speeches that had been prepared by the task force. The delegates, ready to have their say, remained respectful as RW Bro. Ken Hawkins read his tract. Then RW Bro. Sam Walker took the microphone.

By midpoint in the presentation the craft had had enough. They realized that someone had planned to use as much of the debate time as possible by having line officers read “their” remarks, thus allowing little or no time for the lodge delegates to express their positions. This these delegates would not allow.

Past Grand Master Herbert L. Emanuelson, Jr., who was shepherding the task force proposal, took the microphone in the Grand
East. Acknowledging the obvious – that the craft would not be excluded from being heard – he asked that the floor be opened for comments. It was clear to even the most enthusiastic backer of the task force’s work that the last proposal would not even reach the slim one vote victory.

The work of the day completed, it was time for the concluding events of every Grand Lodge session – the then private installation of the Grand Lodge officers, the roll call of lodges, and closing. For those who had been in the ballroom for more than eight hours, lunch excepted, closing could not come soon enough.

MW Past Grand Master Gail L. Smith, 1968, took the Grand East for the unique opportunity of installing his son, Gail N. Smith, as Grand Master for the Bicentennial year. The elder Smith installed his son and the corps of officers with dispatch. The usual presentations of jewels, past and present, followed. Departure would be soon for those occupying the delegate seats.

“Is there anything further to come before this Grand Lodge session?” Newly installed Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith paused, silence being the expected response for all but three brothers sitting in that session.

“Yes, Grand Master, there is!”

The growl thundered from the southeast corner of the all-but deserted dais in the Grand East. Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith stalked back to the podium, pulling a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket as he went. The exhausted brethren were all but beside themselves. What could he possibly need to do now, well past 5:30 p.m.?

Gail Linnell Smith needed to change the history of Freemasonry in Connecticut.

Brother Smith read a resolution proposing that, with the approval of both Grand Lodges, there be mutual Masonic recognition between the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, A.F. & A.M. and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, Inc.

To be continued…
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