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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…”

Face Off!

May 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Grand Lodge of Connecticut on Facebook

Last week, our Zeta-Reticulan  overlords protectors decided that it might actually not be a horrible thing for a few of us to put up and manage a Grand Lodge of Connecticut Facebook page.

No, the End Times aren’t here.

I wrote a few weeks ago that our Grand Lodge is rather progressive with regard to using the internet for promotion and communication; a Facebook page is something that a few of us have been discussing for a while, partly because so many of our members already have Facebook profiles and use it for a combination of family, work and social interest activities.  The page is not meant to replace our own Grand Lodge website – it’s simply another way for us to reach our various members, and for them to share relevant news and information.

The page features some basic information, group discussions (not that anybody has started one yet), and is open to pretty much anyone who has an interest in Freemasonry. We just started it this week, so content is a bit sparse, and probably will be until we find our way with it.  I expect that we will be posting more information about general events around the state.

If you are one of my 27 or so Connecticut readers, I urge you to sign up for Facebook and link to the new page (in Facebook parlance, one becomes a “fan” of a page), and please feel free to pass along any ideas for content or features.

20 Years of mutual recognition – Part 2

February 16, 2009 Leave a comment

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

Part Two: A Craft Ecstatic

Reflections on Recognition, 20 Years Later

by Carl G. Ek

(Author’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 installment, the stage was set as MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith rose to present a resolution proposing mutual recognition. What led MWPGM Smith to the belief that this was necessary and proper? And how would local lodge leaders react to such a proposal? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.

Closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session, approaching 6 PM, at the hot, un-air conditioned Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven; the business of the session – much highly contentious – had been accomplished, the new Grand Lodge officers elected and installed, and everyone anxious to close and go home.

There were three brothers in the room who had other plans.

“Is there anything further to come before this Grand Lodge session?” asked newly installed Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith of the silent gathering.

“Yes, Grand Master, there is!”

The growl seemed to resonate from the past. Gail Linnell Smith, 1968 Grand Master, father of the new Grand Master, strode from his seat in the corner of the Grand East dais. The crumpled paper he took from his pocket was placed on the podium. Father and son stood together as the elder Smith read a resolution he had hoped to offer for more than a decade.

“WHEREAS – Qualified Masonic scholars and several in-depth investigations have demonstrated conclusively that the Prince Hall body of Freemasonry is completely legitimate;

“WHEREAS – Eminent and distinguished members of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, A.F. & A.M. have, more than once, attested in the courts of the land to the legitimacy of the Prince Hall Masons in Connecticut;

“WHEREAS – The doctrine of exclusive jurisdiction is a myth, and a device formulated by American Grand Lodges without any basis in Masonic custom and usage and not universally practiced by the originators;

“WHEREAS – Division among Men and Masons claiming to practice the Brotherhood of all Man under the Fatherhood of one God is contrary to the basic and ancient tenets and teachings of Freemasonry;

“THEREFORE – Be it resolved that this Grand Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, request fraternal recognition from the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, Prince Hall Affiliation;

“And be it further resolved that the Grand Master is hereby authorized to appoint a special, temporary sub-committee to the Committee on Fraternal Relations for the sole purpose of contacting Connecticut Prince Hall Masons and advising the full Committee.

“I move that this resolution be accepted, printed in the proceedings and referred to the Committee on Fraternal Relations with instructions to present a report with a recommendation at the next communication of this Grand Lodge on October 14, 1989.”

Hundreds of brothers rose as one to enthusiastically, urgently “Second!” this motion. The Grand Lodge Proceedings reported the approval as unanimous. Moments earlier, a hot, tired, gloomy craft awaited the end of an unpleasant session. Suddenly, a sense of jubilation gripped the craft. The issues of earlier in the day were forgotten; all that was important was that we were recognizing Prince Hall Masonry! Brethren all but floated out of the Grand Ballroom after a closing that no one heard as they discussed among themselves what they had just occurred.

* * * * * * *

The Smiths

Pictured are the son/father Grand Masters: Gail N., left, and Gail L, at a recent discussion of Prince Hall recognition.

What brought the senior Brother Smith to believe that this was a necessary and proper course for Connecticut Freemasonry to take?

PGM Gail Smith had done his research well. He knew that twice before, ‘white’ Grand Lodges had recognized their Prince Hall counterparts, only to withdraw that recognition in the face of protests from other Grand Lodges throughout the nation. What made him think that Connecticut could successfully pursue the recognition that had eluded the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1897 and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1947?

After Bro. Gail retired from the state police, he came to the Masonic Home and Hospital in Wallingford as director of admissions. He assumed that position only a few years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A part of the Act provided that recipients of Medicare and similar health care payments could not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color when providing those services. Those who did would lose their right to government payments.

The Masonic Home and Hospital was never segregated, but it was only open for Masons and their families. Connecticut lodges in the 1960’s likely had no black members. However, the Grand Lodge was well acquainted with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which it deemed the only legitimate – though not recognized – Masonic group for black men.

In 1960, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. had appeared in Superior Court to support the petition of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge against other black organizations trying to use the name “Masons” in public events and parades. Past Grand Masters and lawyers Frank L. Wilder and George R. Sturges, and future Grand Master Irving E. Partridge, then Deputy for Scottish Rite, appeared as ‘friends of the court’ to state unequivocally that Prince Hall Masonry was the only black group that had the right to use the term “Mason.” They pointed to the long history of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, including the chartering by the Grand Lodge of England of African Lodge No. 459 in 1774, as reasons to support the Prince Hall position. The court agreed, issuing the requested injunction.

In 1966, The Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. united with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and the statewide groups from the Knights of Columbus and B’nai Brith to form  “Brotherhood in Action.” The goal was to bring together fraternal organizations of men doing good work in their communities to multiply their successes. Local units were encouraged to follow suit, giving the ‘white’ and ‘black’ Grand Lodges a chance to work with their Roman Catholic and Jewish counterparts – and, perhaps most importantly, with each other.

Against that backdrop, Prince Hall brothers and their families were welcomed and encouraged to apply for residence at what is now called the Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford. Thus did PGM Smith meet MW Bro. John Rogers, a Prince Hall Past Grand Master who spent the last several years of his life as a guest in Wallingford. Bro. Rogers was a scholar and educator, and in their frequent talks, Bro. Smith became convinced that there was no good reason why the two Grand Lodges could not extend recognition to one another, visit each other’s meetings, and truly practice the Masonic brotherhood that we speak about. He set about doing the research necessary to have such a change – a monumental change – made.

to be continued…

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