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20 Years of Mutual Recognition – Part 7

July 10, 2009 3 comments
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…


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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…”

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