Today’s reader question is a sticky one. So let’s jump right into it. The viewer asks, “Please explain why it is that mainstream masons don’t recognize Prince Hall masons.” Why the segregation?
Well, this has a lot of different moving parts to it. And as much as I have tried to set out an outline for myself to try to make sure that my message to you was crystal clear, I still don’t think that I’ve accomplished that.
So I apologize if this article isn’t as clear as you would like it to be. I’m going to do my best. So stay here with me. Let’s first talk about that term “mainstream,” and to do that, we’re going to go to good old Wikipedia.
Why is it that mainstream masons don’t recognize Prince Hall masons? Why the segregation?
So let’s take a look. Wikipedia’s website about regular Masonic jurisdiction tells us that in the United States, each state has a grand lodge that supervises the lodges within that state and is sovereign and independent within that jurisdiction. Now that is an important key sovereign and independent in its jurisdiction. We’ll be coming back to that in just a minute.
The provincial Grand Lodge of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were the first of these, founded in 1731, and also the third grand lodge ever formed around the world after England and Ireland. These are commonly referred to as “regular” or “mainstream” grand lodges. There is no speaking about it inside the United States.
Remember, there is no national grand lodge. All regular grand lodges in the United States are mutually amenity with each other and with the United Grand Lodge of England. This article continues to go on into Prince Hall Grand Lodges, but I will leave you to read that on your own because I think we have other references that work better for our discussion today.
So the next thing we need to do is talk about our Prince Hall lodges and where they came from? And I learned something while trying to research this question. I never knew that, at one point, they were called African Lodges. So let’s go over to the official Prince Hall website and learn a little bit about Prince Hall freemasonry and where it came from.
The website says that on March the 6th, 1775, Prince Hall and 14 men of color were made masons and lodged at number 441 of the Irish Registry, attached to the 38th British Foot Infantry at Castle William Island in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. It marked the first time that black men were made masons in America. Now look folks, we are specifically addressing the differences between Prince Hall masons and what are termed “regular masons” or “mainstream masons” and why sometimes those two lodges are told not to speak with each other.
If you want to talk about the history of race throughout the world, that is not what we’re here to do. We can’t fix that. We’re trying to move forward. So let’s continue with the story of Prince Hall and those first African masons here in the United States.
About a year later, since the conflict between England and America had commenced, the British foot infantry left Boston along with its lodge, leaving Prince Hall and his associates without a lodge before the lodge left. Worshipful Master Bat, I believe, is how you pronounce his name, gave them a permit to meet as a lodge and bury their dead in a manner and form. This permit, however, did not allow them to do any Masonic work or take in any new members under it. The African Lodge was organized on July the 3rd, 1776, with Prince Hall as the Worshipful Master.
It wasn’t long before this lodge received an additional permit from the provincial Grand Master, John Roe, to walk in a procession on St. John’s Day. On March the 2nd, 1784, African Lodge number one, petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, their Premier or Mother Grand Lodge of the World, for a warrant or charter to organize a regular Masonic lodge with all the rights and privileges thereunto prescribed. The Grand Lodge of England issued a charter on September the 29th, 1784 to African Lodge, number 459, the first lodge of blacks in America.
Now here is where we start to run into some misunderstandings of how the freemasonry organization is established, I think too many times people that aren’t in Masonry, and perhaps maybe a few people who are in Masonry, presume that there is a hierarchy of sorts wherein the mother lodge of the world, which is now termed the United Grand Lodge of England, is somehow pulling strings or micromanaging every grand lodge it recognizes and therefore all the different lodges that are supporting those grand lodges, and that’s not the way it works.
So, in my understanding, if you have some masons, let’s try to think back to a time where perhaps our country wasn’t so populated. They moved into an area where there was no Lodge, and if you have a sufficient number of masons, they can request a charter just as the Prince Hall masons did and request to be able to form a regular lodge. They usually go to whichever grand lodge jurisdiction they are in. If we’re talking about 150 years ago or 200 years ago, when there weren’t very many states and there were a lot of open territories, there were times when more than one grand lodge would hold jurisdiction over a certain area of land. So it is possible that they would have gone to a couple different, could have gone to a couple of different jurisdictions to request that Nowadays with our state boundaries being in place.
If myself and a couple other masons wanted to form a new lodge and it was going to be inside the state of Mississippi, we would have to request permission from the Grand Lodge of Mississippi to allow us to do that, and we would get a charter and form a new lodge. So then what’s the next step then? If you have this area where there are now three or more lodges and you want to be able to form your own grand lodge, you still have to get a charter or a warrant to be able to form your own grand lodge. And so these lodges come together, agree that that’s what they want to do, make the request, and eventually receive a charter and establish the grand lodge of wherever it is that they are. So, for example, here in Mississippi, there were lodges in Mississippi before Mississippi was ever officially a State of the United States.
So when the State was organized, it became theL odges, they had formed a grand lodge and then the state formed and now it was a grand lodge of the state of Mississippi. I understand that can be confusing, but that’s the way it works. So here is where the disconnect is. Having been given permission to form a lodge or a grand lodge, more specifically, there is no need for that grand lodge to go back to the grand lodge who issued that charter and say Mother May I.
They now have what we read about earlier on the Wikipedia page, which is the sovereignty and independence inside that jurisdiction. So now there are certain landmarks that they are expected to follow by being freemasons. But moving forward, they can form their own regulations. Now, what happens when a new grand lodge takes place? So let’s say this is when Mississippi first became a Grand Lodge and there were already these other grand lodges throughout the rest of the States in the Union.
Well, the way it works is that the new lodge the young lodge, the lodge that just came to be the grand Lodge, just came to be right with the older lodges, the ones that have already been established and requests for fraternal correspondence. They say “Hey, we are a grand lodge. We were chartered by this grand lodge and we would like to have fraternal correspondence with your Grand Lodge. We would like to be recognized as a regular lodge by your grand lodge. And then the older grand lodge accepts or denies that, and everybody moves forward. So it’s a matter of custom and respect to do that. So let’s go one step further and take a look over here at the United Grand Lodge of England. They have a very handy website which shows all of the foreign grand lodges that they recognize, and I’ve already broken out here.
The lodges that are recognized in the United States of America and you don’t have to go far to start seeing Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Alaska. Now, in some cases, this is a bit of a different situation because some of these grand lodges may have been established by the Grand Lodge of England. So by default, you have fraternal correspondence, but in other cases, between individual Prince Hall Grand lodges and whether or not a regular lodge in a jurisdiction recognizes the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in that jurisdiction, it is all a matter of whether or not the custom and form have been followed. That has always been followed. So in the state of Mississippi, to answer this question, the answer would be because the Prince Hall Grand Lodge has never asked to be recognized and it is tradition from the beginning of masonry that the new, newly formed, or newer formed grand lodge asks for that communication, and it hasn’t happened yet.
And that’s the case that I understand it to be in many other jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, that request has been made and accepted. So I hope that somewhere in there is the answer that you’re looking for. Until that were to take place, they’re considered to be the, regular lodges would consider the Prince Hall Lodges to be irregular or not recognized as being regular freemasons. And all that really means is whether or not there is any approval or agreement that the way in which they were made freemasons was legitimate. Just like I was talking about before, where the grand lodge rights to the older Grand Lodge and says, hey, we were chartered by this Grand Lodge, and in doing so, sort of gives a line of succession or, or a reference to where the authority came from, for them to call themselves a grand Lodge, then nothing can move forward.
So there’s your answer. I hope it at least gives you, some more information that you didn’t have before, whether or not we all agree on it or not. If you have any other questions, be sure to leave them down in the comments below and I will try to get them to you in another article as soon as I can. Thank you all so much for reading. We’ll see you next time.
By Brother Jared, a Master Mason of Grad Lodge Mississippi
Join Masonic Group!
Masonry is a university, teaching the liberal arts and sciences of the soul to all who will attend to its words. This FB Group was created so that Freemasons could converse, better understand Freemasonry and to educate those in the craft.