Prince Hall, Myths, Legends And Facts

complied by
Aubrey Brown, MPS, Kevin Gembarosky MPS, David Gray, MPS, Nelson King, FPS.

ph2The late Allen E. Roberts wrote “For more than two centuries Prince Hall Freemasonry has been the most lied about organization in the world. Caucasian Freemasonry has misstated the facts about it; Black Freemasons and their supporters have exaggerated its history and its hierarchy.” We will dispel those myths, legends and lies.

MYTH:  Prince Hall was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, B.W.I. His father Thomas Prince Hall, was an English leather worker, and his mother, a free colored woman of French extraction.

FACT: To date there has never been any proof of the birth place, or who the parents of Prince Hall where. To date there has only been speculation.

MYTH: The Initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other men of color was illegal.

FACT
:  What constituted a legal Mason prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge system in USA? There were none before 1778 when the Grand Lodge of Virginia was instituted. Before then there were Provincial Grand
Lodges–several of them. In Massachusetts there were two such bodies. One held allegiance to the “Modern” Grand Lodge of England; the other, the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Studying the works of Henry Wilson Coil, Melvin Maynard
Johnson, J. Hugo Tatsch, Harry Carr and many others we find there were hundreds of “illegal” Masons in the early days of Freemasonry in America.

For example, where were the members of the lodge that met in Philadelphia in 1731 (and perhaps earlier) made Masons? Was Benjamin Franklin, who was made a Mason in this lodge, illegal? No of course not.

MYTH: African Lodge which the men of color formed was illegal.

FACT: Freemason’s proudly proclaim the supremacy of the Grand Lodge of England. It was the Grand Lodge of England that granted a warrant on September 29, 1784 for African Lodge No. 459, and this warrant is still in
existence.

MYTH:  African Lodge had no right to warrant other lodges and form a Grand Lodge.

FACT:
Let us look at the Lodge at Fredericksburgh VA. It warranted two lodges: Falmouth and Botetourt. Those Lodges helped form the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and both are still in existence. What did the only lodge in
Massachusetts do after 1733? Did it not form a Provincial Grand Lodge and then warrant other lodges, and not only in Massachusetts? Why should African Lodge be refused the same privilege?

MYTH
:  African Lodge’s Warrant did not give them the right to Make Masons.

FACT: Africa Lodge No. 459’s Warrant was no different from any other Warrant issued by the Grand Lodge of England.

Below is a copy of that Warrant.

TO ALL AND EVERY
Our Right Worshipful & loving Brethren, we Thomas Howard, Earl of Effingham, Lord Howard, etc. etc. etc., Acting Grand Master under the authority of His Royal Highness, Henry Frederick Duke of Cumberland etc.etc. etc., Grand Master of the Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, sends greeting:

KNOW YE, that we, at the humble petition of our right trusty and well-beloved, Brethren, Prince Hall, Boston Smith, Thomas Sanderson and several other Brethren residing in Boston, New England in North America do
hereby constitute the said Brethren into a regular Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, under the title or denomination of the African Lodge, to be opened in Boston aforesaid, and do further at their said petition, hereby appoint the said Prince Hall to be Master, Boston Smith, Senior Warden, and Thomas Sanderson, Junior Warden, for opening the said Lodge, and for such further time only as shall be thought proper by the Brethren thereof, it being our will that this our appointment of the officers shall in now wise affect any future election of officers of the Lodge, but that such election shall be regulated agreeable to such by-laws of said Lodge as shall be consistent with the general laws of the society, contained in the Book of Constitution: and we hereby will and require you, the said Prince Hall, to
take special care that all and every the said Brethren are or have been regularly made Masons, and that they do observe, perform and keep all the rules and orders contained in the Book of Constitutions; and further, that
you do, from time to time, cause to be entered in a book kept for that purpose, an account of your proceedings in the Lodge, together with all such rules, orders and regulations, as shall be made for the good government of the same, that in no wise you omit once in every year to send to us, or our successors, Grand Masters, or to Rowland Holt, Esq,. Our Deputy Grand Master, for the time being an account in writing of your said proceedings and copies of such rules, orders and regulations as shall be made as aforesaid, together with a list of the members of the Lodge, and such a sum of money as may suit the circumstances of the Lodge and reasonably be expected, toward the Grand Charity. Moreover, we hereby will and require you, the said Prince Hall, as soon as conveniently may be, to send an account in writing of what may be done by virtue of these presents.

Given at London, under our hand and seal of Masonry, this 29th day of September, A .L. 5784, A. D. 1784.

“By the Grand Master’s Command,
R. Holt, D. G. M.”

“Witness
Wm. White, G. S.”

MYTH: African Lodge was erased by the United Grand Lodge of England.

FACT:  So was every lodge in America still on the roles of either of the rival Grand Lodges. This included about half of the lodges in Massachusetts!

Has any critic dared claim all other American lodges erased from the roster of the United Grand Lodge of England are clandestine?

MYTH: African Lodge was dormant for a number of years and therefore is illegal.

FACT: So were numerous other lodges. Research the anti-Masonic craze beginning in 1826. Check out the vast number of lodges giving up their charters. Hundreds of them came back into the fold with no condemnation. Why
should they be privileged and African Lodge not?

MYTH: Prince Hall Grand Lodges are not Regular:.

FACT: Prince Hall Freemasons as do all Regular Freemasons adhere to the “landmarks”.

l. its Brethren must believe in a Supreme Being [the GAOTU];

II. Obligations must be taken on or in full view of the VSL.;

III. it must display the three Great Lights of Freemasonry when it or its Lodges are open;

IV. discussion of religion and politics in its Lodges must be prohibited, and

V.
its membership must be male, and it must have nothing to do with mixed or women’s Lodges.

MYTH: Prince Hall Grand Lodges only accept men of color, and “Mainstream” Grand Lodges only accept Caucasian men.

I. John Pine, a black Freemason, who in 1769 designed the frontispiece for Anderson’s Constitutions.

II.
Canadian Grand Master by the name of Charles Lightfoot Roman, Grand Lodge of Quebec, was a black Freemason.

III. The proceedings of The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, 1871 provide us a record of a Lodge of German Jews working under the authority of this Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

IV.
Alpha Lodge No. 116, F. & A. M. Grand Lodge of New Jersey [Mainstream] is comprised of Black Masons.

V. The United Grand Lodge of England, The Grand Lodge of Scotland, and The Grand Lodge of Ireland have had Provincial Grand Lodges through out the world, and their membership is not restricted by color.

MYTH:
Prince Hall Grand Lodges only accept men who are Christians.

FACT: This is a question of Regularity. Since it has already been determined that Prince Hall Lodges are Regular, for us to practice or teach this would be against the Ancient Landmarks of our order. [see Landmarks above] In 1787, Prince Hall forwarded a copy of “The General Regulations of the African Lodge to D.G.M. Roland Holt in London, with the very first item declaring, “. yet at the same time allow every man to join his own religion so that they be men of Honour and Freeborn.”

MYTH: Prince Hall Grand Lodges have women members.

FACT: That would be a violation of the Landmarks and Prince Hall Affiliated Freemasons adhere to the Ancient Landmarks [see Landmarks above]

MYTH: Prince Hall Lodges have sexual orgies in the Lodge Room

FACT: Again this would be a violation of the Landmarks. [see Landmarks above] It is unfortunate that there exist in this world spurious and even out right clandestine organizations who dare travel under the name of Freemasonry and use the most immoral and un-Masonic acts in her name and in the name of Prince Hall.

MYTH: William Harry Grimshaw’s, “Negro Freemasonry… ” and books that quote this book are a reliable source for information about Prince Hall Freemasonry.

FACT: Grimshaw’s purpose was sound when he wrote this book. Grimshaw theorized and wrote what had been handed down to him from years of word of mouth teaching. Unfortunately, his theories and teaching were corrupted. An
accurate comparison would be the ritual, which has developed in North America. There is no question that word of mouth rituals are not the same ritual dictated to Ben Franklin.

MYTH: Prince Hall Grand Lodges have chartered Lodges in other Grand Lodges’ Jurisdictions.

FACT: Prince Hall Grand Lodges have chartered military Lodges in Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Korea to name a few. The traditional act of chartering  a Lodge to service members traveling abroad is well recorded in Masonic history. This has been a practice in Freemasonry since the very beginning of the rebirth in 1717. United Grand Lodge of England, The Grand Lodge of Scotland, The Grand Lodge of Ireland, and many other “mainstream” Grand
Lodges have Charted Lodges though out the world in other Grand Lodges’ Jurisdictions.

MYTH
:  Prince Hall Masons intermingle politics and Masonry.

FACT: Again this would be a violation of the Landmarks [see Landmarks above] However, it is only natural that many prominent black politicians are or have been Prince Hall Masons. Prince Hall Masons by nature are inclined to be involved in their communities, and this extends to the political working.

This is done as individuals and not as masons. Prince Hall Masonry has had within it’s membership some of the preeminent Blacks in politics. The lists includes such notables as Harold Washington, Chicago; Thomas Bradley, Los Angeles; Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson, Atlanta; all former mayors.

Douglass Wilder, the first black elected governor, Thurgood Marshal, and Jesse Jackson, to name a few.

MYTH:
Prince Hall Grand Lodges do not enjoy full recognition from their Caucasian counterparts.

FACT:
Most Prince Hall Grand Lodges and their neighboring Regular counterparts do in fact enjoy full recognition. Most of the misunderstanding perhaps is due to the fact that Prince Hall Grand Lodges do not allow dual
or plural memberships. This means that members of recognized Grand Lodges can’t join as full members. Some Prince Hall Grand Lodges allow honorary memberships. These have a number of their “Mainstream” counterparts as
honorary members. Most Prince Hall Grand Lodges do allow their members to belong to Research Lodges. Many Prince Hall Masons belong to national and state Research Lodges.

MYTH: Prince Hall Masonry does not contribute to charitable activities.

FACT:
All branches of Prince Hall Freemasonry support charitable activities. From individual lodges to the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters, The Supreme Councils [ SJ & NJ], To the Shrine. Prince Hall Masonry has
contributed millions of dollars in such charitable activities as scholarships and medical aid and research.

MYTH: All Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges are Regular.

FACT:
Not all Regular Prince Hall Affiliated Grand Lodges are titled as such. The Regular Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the state of Mississippi is, The Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge, F.& A.M. [Prince Hall Affiliated].

The Regular Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the state of Florida is, The Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, PHA. There are irregular Black Grand Lodges in both these states using the title of Prince
Hall Grand Lodge. There are also other such outfits operating around the country. They will usually delineate somewhere in there title Prince Hall Origin.

MYTH: Prince Hall Masonry has never bothered to take Irregular Black Grand Lodges to court.

FACT: There is a long history of Prince Hall Grand Lodges taking irregular Black Masonic bodies to court. In many of these cases, their Caucasian counterparts, have filed “Friend of the Court” briefs supporting the Prince Hall Grand Lodge’s stance. In fact, Prince Hall Masonry has taken every major black Masonic body to court in one state or another and has won injunctive relief in all such cases. These suits span back as far as the 20’s and include such bodies as, The Internationals or Banks Organization, The Most Worshipful Universal Grand Lodge; also known as the John G. Jones
Grand Lodges, and the John A. Bell Grand Lodges. Virtually all major irregular bodies are the offspring to one of the afore mentioned bodies.

There are of course numerous smaller bodies that spring up virtually over night without any governing body. Today Prince Hall Masonry for the most part, has chosen to use it’s funds for the betterment of the community as
opposed to costly legal battles.

MYTH: The Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters has never or only recently embraced its Caucasian counterparts.

FACT: Even before recognition, Prince Hall Grand Masters have met, worked with, and received their Caucasian counterparts in informal as well as formal and public Masonic events. There is documentation going back to 1970
stating the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters received such prominent members as the Grand Master of Mass. AF&AM, and the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, N.J. at it’s meeting.

MYTH:
Prince Hall and its Caucasian counterparts have only recently began to meet formally.

FACT:
There is much documentation showing that the two bodies have often met formally as far back as 1923 when the two Supreme Councils [N.J.] met. This meeting resulted in the Prince Hall body deciding to change its name to
United Supreme Council and add the suffix, Prince Hall Affiliated to it’s name to distinguish the two. After the meeting, the Supreme Council [N.J.]

Caucasian, issued the following press release.

Offer of “Informal Co-operation”
Boston, Mass. Sept. 22, 1923

An offer of “informal co-operation” was extended last Wednesday by the Supreme Council A. A. S. R. Masons Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in session in this city to the United Supreme Council [Prince Hall Affiliated] representing Negroes in the United States. Although no official recognition was adopted by the convention, the Supreme Council voted it’s policy of co-operation after hearing a report of the legal aspects of the situation arising from the similarity in the names of the two organizations which existed until recently. The United Supreme Council changed its name in order to distinguish it from the organization meeting here. In appreciation of this action and to put itself on record of racial toleration the Council decided to adopt an attitude of co-operation that was generally felt would be advantageous both for the Negroes and the community at large.

The work of the two organizations is said to be approximately the same and the colored fraternity which is chartered in Pennsylvania is the Grand East for this organization.

These two bodies met again on May 19, 1944 in New York City where a similar resolution was made. The key addition made at this time was the Supreme Council acknowledging that the Prince Hall bodies were legally descended from the Grand Lodge of England and Regular in all Masonic aspects.

Published by Nelson King

What’s left to comment on is the The Right Of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction or the American Doctrine.  It is called the American Doctrine because only in America is it practiced.  It’s not a subject we haven’t been over before.

It’s always been against Masonic etiquette for a new Grand Lodge to enter an established Masonic territory as a Masonic Raider.  But that is not the case in the early development of American Mainstream and Prince Hall Freemasonry.

Some scholars say that they can trace back into the mid to late 1700s where the ROETJ was already a standard practice  even in England.  Some of these same scholars say that Prince Hall uses the same doctrine against its own – battling rogue Black Masonic Grand Lodges and declaring them clandestine.  The two assertions are interconnected and wrong.

There is a big difference in refusing to recognize and to take action against irregular Freemasonry which does not follow the Landmarks and refusing to subsist with a peaceful, regular Grand Lodge in the same territory.  The actions our early Mainstream forefathers took in battling other Grand Lodges was, for the most part, a fight against irregularity.  So is the battle Prince Hall wages against its knock offs.

But this whole separation and question of the ROETJ need not have happened.  It could have been avoided by Mainstream Masonry accepting Prince Hall into the family when the Antients and the Moderns reconciled.  The fact that this was not done leads to conjecture that the ROETJ was created specifically for the purpose of disenfranchising Black Masonry and to have a legal basis to declare it clandestine and illegal.  For it is precisely in this period in the first quarter of the 19th century that the American Doctrine came to be widely used. So you still have Southern Mainstream Freemasons saying that  – well if they weren’t a separate Grand Lodge in the same territory we would recognize Black Freemasonry.  Yet they and their ancestors are the very people that refused to embrace Blacks in Freemasonry, forced them to go their separate way and then created a Doctrine which made their continued separate existence illegal.   So if you set up roadblocks and codify separation so that you won’t accept Black Freemasonry inside Mainstream Grand Lodges nor  allow them to exist separately legally without declaring them clandestine then which way did those setting up these rules expect Black Freemasonry to go?  The answer is they expected it to go away.

For those of you who might be tempted to say – well Blacks can just join Mainstream Grand Lodges where Prince Hall is not recognized today, you could be accused of having your head buried in the sand. You would not have remembered the battle of Frank Haas in West Virginia, the scandal of the Grand Lodge of Georgia against Gate City Lodge No. 2 and the recent shenanigans now coming to light in Arkansas.

Southern white Freemasonry and that’s what Southern Mainstream Freemasonry is – white, a WASP society, cannot have it both ways.  It cannot refuse to recognize Prince Hall because of some legal mumbo jumbo in the ROETJ while at the same time black balling every non white applicant.  But that is precisely what it is doing.

How much longer are the states who now do recognize Prince Hall going to sit back and do nothing while a minority of the Craft in one region of the country smears the reputation and good name of the Craft?  How long are the good guys going to hide behind the good old boys understanding that one does not interfere in another jurisdiction’s business?  How many members of the next generation do you think will want to join an organization which can truthfully be labeled racist?

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About Fred Milliken

Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and former Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.

Comments

  1. For a short time before the Grand Lodge in England was named, it was called the Lodge of Jerusalem after its original title of so many years before the name Freemasonry replaced the old “Mysterious Force” association in 1717.

  2. The Palmetto Bug says:

    “What’s left to comment on is the The Right Of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction or the American Doctrine. It is called the American Doctrine because only in America is it practiced.”

    Now, THAT is a myth.

  3. J, Schwa says:

    Felons in Florida lodges:

    http://felonfreemasonry.wordpress.com/

  4. Grand Lodges of America. Read the Fred Milliken story again, especially the last paragraph containing three most important questions that all true Masons must address. Somehow, someway, and soon, we better respond to those three questions in a true spirit of Freemasonry. We can speak from our hearts—-or from our bigoted heads. Where were you first prepared to become a Mason?

  5. What I have found is that many, many gentlemen speak about unity and visitation yet fail to act when pressed on the issue. Both PHA and Mainstream have something different to say behind closed doors. To confront this issue I, now we, have a campaign started to resolve this disconnect using social media to gain support. Once people see there is enough support perhaps it will change.

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