The second day of the Phylaxis National convention saw us get right down to work. This day and the next we were primarily devoted to presentations of papers written by learned members of a certain field. Out of all the presentations made I will feature three.
The first paper was Masonic Jurisprudence by our National President, John B. Williams, FPS. He told us that because most Grand Lodges have incorporated there has been imposed on them civil rules, regulations and restrictions that were never previously considered. Prior to incorporation Grand Lodges were restricted only by the rules that they imposed on themselves. Civil courts generally do not meddle into private concerns.
But once a Grand Lodge incorporates it is no longer a private society and is governed as the state incorporation statues specify and to which the Grand Lodge who incorporates agrees to when it signs the article of incorporation.
So what’s the big deal?
Well let’s take the common practice of Grand Masters to rule and govern by edict when the Grand Lodge is not in Session. Most Grand Lodge by-laws stipulate that the Grand Master rules in absentia. This is a Masonic tradition and how most Grand Lodges have been governed for centuries. However, in most cases, depending on the state, this is not legally correct. Most state’s corporation rules state that the corporation is governed by a Board of Directors when the Grand Lodge is not in session. Corporate rules supersede any organization’s by-laws. This means that the Grand Master cannot decide matters at all, he must refer all business over to the Board.
Some states require all corporations be governed by a Board of Directors at all times and the President (Grand Master) acts under the powers granted to it by that Board but whether that Board can delegate its fiduciary responsibilities is open to question. If so interpreted the Grand Master could, then, in some states be nothing more than a ceremonial figure head.
Secondly Williams also informed us that incorporated Grand Lodges are then subjected to corporate tax laws as applies to tax exempt corporations.
- This means that there can be restrictions on fund raising
- That using funds for purposes other than purposes stated could be in violation of tax law
- That polling Board members by E-Mail could be a problem as the absence of a signature in corporate matters can sometimes be illegal.
In summary if a Grand Lodge is incorporated then it is now Government Protected. Final say rests with a Board of Directors and not with the President (GM). This contradicts traditional Masonic practice where the Grand Master and only the Grand Master is all powerful. Grand Lodge by-laws must conform to the state corporation laws that issued that GL’s corporate status. In essence by incorporating a Lodge or Grand Lodge is no longer a private society but becomes a public one much more readily sued.
It is good to remember that corporate law is state and (corporate) tax law is federal. The bottom line is that if a GL is incorporated it is now civilly regulated.
When we broke for lunch we all went to the Phyllis luncheon in the banquet hall. A catered lunch was followed by some presentations, recognitions and awards from our OES sisters.
The other presentation for the day which I will report on was “Prince Hall Freemasonry and the National Grand Lodge” by Alton G. Roundtree, FPS. This is a subject that is mostly of interest to just Prince Hall Freemasons and can be a very contentious sore spot.
Roundtree has done extensive research on the subject spending many weeks at the Iowa Masonic Library which houses much of Prince Hall Masonry’s archives. He wrote the book “Out of the Shadows” in collaboration with Paul Bessel. His latest book The National Grand Lodge and Prince Hall Freemasonry is the same title as his Phylaxis presentation and should be out and available in April.
Roundtree tells us that in 1847 all existing regular Negro Lodges formed a National Grand Lodge or National Compact. The controversy comes in because it is alleged that the National Grand Lodge shut down and disbanded itself, some say in 1877, others say in 1878. Later, according to the accusations Lodges and Grand Lodges who did not dissolve or who suddenly appeared claimed to be the continuation of Compact Negro Freemasonry. Some Prince Hall scholars and officials say that any restart was bogus and illegal and the Compact Lodges of today are clandestine and are not legally chartered.
Roundtree disputes these claims in a systematic point by point refutation. He asserts that the National Grand Lodge never dissolved or disbanded. At the Phylaxis Society National Convention his presentation was a power point quiz question and answer format projected on a large screen. He pointed out that many of today’s PHA Grand Lodges were formed by the Compact PHO and thus their point of origin is the National Grand Lodge. PHA, Prince Hall Affiliated,
Grand Lodges are those that broke away from the National Compact and became independent or were formed without Compact assistance after 1878. Today’s PHO, Prince Hall Origin, Grand Lodges of the Compact still exist in many states but are not as numerous as PHA. Today traditional Black Masonry is concentrated in state PHA Grand Lodges just as its Mainstream counterparts. But the few National Compact Lodges still around practice regular Freemasonry and according to Roundtree have a legitimate claim to be equal and recognized Brothers.
Before adjourning for the day a special award was presented to Dr. Robert L. Uzzel who will be the third paper presentation featured in The Third Day. He received the prestigious Harry A. Williamson Masonic Hall of Fame Award.
The Phylaxis Society’s Hall of Fame is named for Harry A. Williamson, the founder of the Harry A. Williamson Collection on Black Masonry at the Schombug Center for Research on Black Culture, the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library.
Bro. Williamson was born in New York in 1873. He was raised as a Master Mason in Mount Olive Lodge #2 in New York on March 5, 1904. He served the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York in the following capacities: Deputy Grand Lecturer, Grand Secretary, Grand Senior Warden, Deputy Grand Master, Chairman of the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, Grand Historian, and Grand Lecturer.
Bro. Williamson was a member of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research in Manchester, England; Dorsett Master’s Lodge #3366 in Poole, England; and the National Masonic Research Society of the U. S. A.
Bro. Williamson was the author of:
- Freemasonry among the American Negroes (1920),
- The Negro in Masonic literature (1922), Men of Mark in Prince Hall Freemasonry (1943),
- and Prince Hall Primer (1956)
Uzzel is an ordained minister, a professor and PHD and a prolific Masonic writer and researcher. His record includes:
- Pride of Ennis Lodge #420, Free and Accepted Masons (Prince Hall Affiliation), Ennis, Texas
- Dale Consistory#31, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Dallas, Texas
- Zakat Temple #164, Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Dallas, Texas
- Actual Fellow of the Phylaxis Society (1985)
- 1985 Phylaxis Certificate of Literature
- Dr. Charles H. Wesley Medal of History
- Blue Friar #92 (2003)
- Founding Fellow of the Masonic Society (2008)
- Harry A. Williamson Hall of Fame (2010)
After adjourning for the day and freshening up at our hotels we returned for the hospitality of the MWPHGL of Arkansas – libation, epicurean delights and fellowship. Another great day in the annuals of Masonic fraternalism.