I recently had the pleasure to interview one of Phoenixmasonry’s own, Bro. Frederic Millken, Executive Director for the Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library. Frederic is a prominent and hard working Masonic author. The reason for the interview, however, was the recent intervisitation between the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and the Grand Lodge of Texas. Frederic has a fascinating personal and Masonic history included here that I hope readers will find as interesting as I have.
Elena Llamas (EL): Frederic, first things first! Give us a bit of your personal background.
Frederic Milliken (Frederic): I was born and brought up in Lexington, Massachusetts the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was the battles of Lexington and Concord that started the Revolution. Lexington came first. Here Paul Revere rode into town hollering, “The British are coming,” the British are coming” (although he probably really said the Regulars or the Redcoats).
When I was 5 years old my father died. My mother worked three jobs to support me and my two sisters. She had a day job, part time night job and a weekend job. On the weekend she manned the Buckman tavern where the Minute Men gathered in the wee hours of the morning of April 19,1775. The Buckman tavern was on the northeast corner of the Lexington Green in 1775 and that same building is still there today. On the northwest corner today stands Simon W. Robinson Lodge where I went to DeMolay and on the southwest corner stands the First Parish Church where my Mom was secretary, her day job.
On weekends at the Buckman Tavern my Mom’s job was to be a tourist guide and she would go through the story of Paul Revere riding into town and the subsequent battle with the British that took place on the Lexington Green for any who wanted to hear. I can remember as a young boy sitting on the stone step just outside the screen door listening to her tell that tale over and over again. That’s why it was such an honor for me later on in life to become Master of Paul Revere Lodge and to participate in a Colonial Degree Team.
Every Patriot’s Day (April 19th) Lexington held a recreation of Paul Revere’s ride and a reenactment of the Battle of Lexington. In the afternoon there was a huge two hour parade. As a DeMolay I marched in that parade.
(EL): At what age did you join Freemasonry and where?
Frederic: I joined Freemasonry at the age of 45 in Plymouth, Massachusetts where the Pilgrims landed.
I worked in the next town over and my wife worked in Plymouth so we had many Plymouth acquaintances. Plymouth Lodge had just completed its brand new building a few years before my arrival. I was initiated in 1989 and immediately went into line as Junior Steward. The next year I jumped to Senior Deacon and three years later was Master. In 1992 I affiliated with Paul Revere Lodge in Brockton, Massachusetts where I lived. It was not long after that I entered Paul Revere’s two year line as Senior Deacon. I was Senior Deacon at Paul Revere the year I was Master in Plymouth. I can remember doing the Masters ritual for the First Degree on a Monday night in Plymouth and the next night, Tuesday, performing the Middle Chamber lecture in the Second Degree in Brockton. Immediately upon affiliating with Paul Revere Lodge I joined the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team and as Master I brought that team to Plymouth Lodge for a historic night where over a hundred Masons gathered with five District Deputies in attendance, one from Rhode Island, to watch the degree team. I had to get permission for overflow parking from a business next door and hire a policeman to handle the traffic. That experience greatly influenced my philosophy on how, as Master, to put a yearly program together for a Lodge. My theme from then on became, “We Need To Celebrate Our Freemasonry.” And celebrate it we would!
Kilwinning Degree Team at Paul Revere Lodge with Bro. Frederic as Master
Both Plymouth Lodge and Paul Revere Lodge were high profile Lodges that had a lot going on. Paul Revere Lodge was looked upon as one of the five top Lodges in the state. I was honored to sit in the East in both these Lodges which were in two different Masonic Districts.
EL: Please elaborate on celebrating Freemasonry!
Frederic: What I am saying is THINK BIG! Many Lodges meet twice a month and they spend the majority of their time in boring business meetings where the topics of discussion are how much toilet paper should we buy and what do we do for the next fundraiser? How about inviting a guest speaker to enlighten the Brethren?
But even better than that how about planning and executing a big event where many Masons gather for some special brotherhood? When you do that you increase the pride Brothers feel for their fraternity and bolster their enthusiasm for the Craft. That all works for more camaraderie and perhaps more candidates.
After that first big bash with the Colonial Degree Team at Plymouth Lodge I continued to put on Masonic Events as large as I could come up with.
The Grand Daddy of them all was the Colonial Degree Team’s visit to Indiana. Bloomington, Indiana is my wife’s hometown and there you will find Monroe Lodge. Monroe (family name also spelled Munroe) was a natural, the name of the Revolutionary War Masonic patriot I had adopted for the Degree Team.
My correspondence with the Master of Monroe Lodge in Bloomington, Indiana, lasting for more than a year, proved fruitless in trying to put this undertaking together. After I stepped down from the East at Paul Revere Lodge and Monroe Lodge got a new Master talks picked up again and finally it was a go.
So on a Friday morning 18 Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team members boarded a plane for Indianapolis. There we were met by a small bus and a Past Grand Master of Indiana, MW Richard Hickham, and the Worshipful Master, Wor. Gary Denson, and some Brethren from Monroe Lodge. They transported us to Bloomington, about a 2 hour drive, where we stopped at the Bloomington Shrine Club for a steak dinner and welcoming speeches. Afterward we were taken to the state DeMoaly Chateau for billeting.
The next morning we were picked up by the bus and transported to the Lodge where we were served breakfast. After breakfast we visited the Lodge room and laid out what the degree would look like for the officers of Monroe Lodge. Then back in the bus we received a tour of Bloomington and Indiana University.
Saturday night we had dinner at the Lodge followed by the degree. The Lodge room was packed! After it was all over we went downtown to an Irish Pub and celebrated. Following that we were bused back to the DeMolay Chateau for some shuteye. The next morning, Sunday, the bus picked us up and transported us back to Indianapolis to the airport. By Sunday night we were back in Boston.
What a great time we all had and how rewarding it was to make new friends. That was really celebrating our Masonry!
EL: What attracted you to Freemasonry?
Frederic: My best friend in school introduced me to DeMolay. Battle Green DeMolay met at Simon W. Robinson Lodge AF & AM in Lexington, Massachusetts. Eventually I became Master Councilor. Our Dad Advisors were Freemasons and I became very acquainted with a Masonic Lodge and some of its workings by belonging to DeMolay. Joining DeMolay was the main reason for my later joining Freemasonry. But there is still another important reason. I reached a stage in my life where I really wanted to associate and become friendly with like minded men, that is those that value honesty, morality and uprightness. I found that every Mason I knew was a good man and that perhaps associating with many good men would keep me from straying into the less than noble world.
When I was elected to become Master for the first time at Plymouth Lodge I gathered an installation team of five Past Masters of Simon W. Robinson Lodge who were also Past Master Councilors of Battle Green DeMolay and all old friends of course. They installed me and my officers.
EL: Tell us more about The Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team
Frederic: The Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team was formed as a tribute to our nation’s Centennial in 1976. It was only supposed to be for that one year but was such a great hit that it continued on and is still active today. Each member of the team dresses in Colonial costume which always includes a tri-cornered hat and takes the name of a Revolutionary War Mason. The Team performs the second and third sections of the 3rd degree. At the end the Team’s Historian gives a lecture on our American Flag and the sacrifices that Colonial Mason’s made to make our country free. At the conclusion each Team member rises and gives a brief bio of the Revolutionary War Mason he represents.
While the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team performs in its own Lodge its claim to fame is the travelling it does to put on this degree for other Lodges. I accompanied the Team to the 200th anniversary celebration of Provincetown Lodge on Cape Cod, to a Lodge in the state of Maine and to an outdoor degree held in the woods of the Grand Lodge’s retirement home with the Grand Master present, to name just a few. At the retirement home stone stations and altar had been carved out in a clearing in the woods at the bottom of a hill. As Master I took the Degree Team to Plymouth Lodge as we have already heard, to Simon W. Robinson Lodge in Lexington, MA and to Putnam, Connecticut, again to mention just the most memorable.
The visit to Simon W. Robinson Lodge was a really a big time affair. Along with our usual 3rd degree exemplification we also participated in a tri Table Lodge. Three Lodges came together with the District Deputy of that District so that we had three Masters in the East, three Senior Wardens in the West and three Junior Wardens in the south. We started at 4:00 PM on a Saturday and finally finished up at 11:00 PM.
The Putnam, CT performance was our second visit to this Lodge. The first visit was precipitated by a church member of mine who upon selling her house and cleaning out the basement found an old Masonic diploma. It was from the 1800s for a Mason completing his degrees at Putnam Lodge. So, after going through channels, I contacted the Lodge and arranged for us to bring a bus load of Paul Revere members to formerly return the diploma. That got us a return visit 6 months later with the Colonial Degree Team.
EL: What role did you have in the Team?
Frederic: My role was to do the Charge at the end of the degree before the Historian came on. I tried many different charges but eventually settled on one called “The Canadian Charge” in Massachusetts. This charge is known in many other states by a different name. For a historical sketch of this charge see the article penned by a friend here – http://phoenixmasonry.org/a_charge_by_any_other_name_is_still_a_charge.htm
As you remember each member of the Paul Revere Degree Team adopted the name of a Revolutionary War Mason. When I arrived onto the team all the famous names had been taken. With permission from the team leader I researched my own name. I wrote to the Grand Lodge Of Massachusetts Library and asked them if there were any Freemasons that fought in that battle against the British on April 19,1775. The reply stated that of some 70 Patriots that lined up to fight the British some where near 26 were Masons. That was remarkable because Lexington did not have a Masonic Lodge at that time. From that list I chose William Munroe.
William Munroe was a Sergeant in the Lexington Minute Man and he was stationed by the Lexington Green on an all night vigil the night of April 18,1775. He was to warn the Minute Men of any British activity in the area. When Paul Revere rode into town he woke up sleeping Masons in the area and had word sent to Captain Parker the leader of the Lexington Minutemen. Munroe was also the proprietor of the other tavern in town, the Munroe Tavern which still stands today just a stone’s throw down the street from the Scottish Rite National Heritage Museum.
In 1797 William Munroe went into Grand Lodge to receive a charter for Lexington’s first Masonic Lodge with himself as its first and founding Master. He was escorted to the East of Grand Lodge there to be received by Most Worshipful Paul Revere. Hiram Lodge met for some 40 years in the backrooms of Munroe Tavern in Lexington.
EL: Who were the other team members representing?
Frederic: I can’t remember all the names chosen by Colonial Degree Team members but some of them were Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Israel Putnam, John Paul Jones, Paul Revere, George Washington, John Marshall, Henry Knox, Robert Livingston, General Hugh Mercer, Ethan Allen, Patrick Henry, Benedict Arnold, Joseph Warren and of course the honorary American Marquis de LaFayette, These are some of the Revolutionary War Freemasons represented by the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team.
EL: How fun! What led you to join Prince Hall Masonry?
I was Master of Plymouth Lodge in 1994 when Prince Hall recognition was being worked out. Recognition was formerly signed in 1995. Thereafter I was active in receiving Prince Hall visitations into Paul Revere Lodge. I was very impressed with their Masonic knowledge and work.
A few years later I started to become very active with Masonry on the Internet. There I met and corresponded with such stalwarts as Jeff Naylor, Chris Hodapp, Errrol Hinton, Stephen Dafoe and Theron Dunn to name a few. We all seemed to be involved with the reform Freemasonry movement. And among those reforms was recognition of Prince Hall. These were the days when “Laudable Pursuit” was penned. And I added my 2 cents in, often with biting sarcasm.
When I moved to Texas I joined the Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM and went to their Grand Lodge Session. I was not impressed with some of the leadership and disappointed with the racial divide that was part of the tradition. I had some unfortunate incidents which I do not wish to go over again.
It was then I figured out that the best way I could work for racial justice within Freemasonry was to join Prince Hall. After all I had been an advocate for many years for Prince Hall recognition across the board in every state. I decided to put my feet where my mouth was and walked on over into Prince Hall Texas. I have never regretted that decision. I love and am much loved.
EL: Any other special personal Masonic history you want to share with the readers?
Frederic: The Fellowship Players of Fellowship Lodge in Bridgewater , Massachusetts, a town close to Brockton, invited me to take the part of Squire Bentley in the Masonic play “A Rose Upon The Altar,” by Carl Claudy. This is a very moving play about a man who disowns his daughter for marrying a man he disapproved of and the discussion that goes on in the Lodge room about his plight and his subsequent change of heart. By removing all Masonic signs, tokens and grips from the play, the Fellowship Players was able to get permission from the Grand Master to perform this play to the public at large.
We played for Lodges, Ladies nights and to the public. I can remember one performance for the Bridgewater Knights of Columbus and their wives and another in New Bedford for Masons visiting from England and their wives and the public.
These performances gave the Craft another way to feel proud of themselves and enthusiastic for their membership in the fraternity. It also introduced non Masons to a little slice of Masonic life and opened the door for a dialogue about Freemasonry.
Lastly it was one of the biggest joys of my Masonic career to be able to do this.
EL: Wow! That is awesome! Now, let’s talk about the recent events in Texas. What are your thoughts on the historic intervisitation between the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and the Grand Lodge of Texas?
Frederic: I think intervisitation was long overdue and that now that it is here those that have a difficulty with Prince Hall are going to recede into the background and not be heard from hardly at all. A new day has dawned on Texas Freemasonry and it will be one of shared brotherhood. As the two Grand Lodges cooperate in a wide range of efforts together, all the fears and the fairy tales will disappear and we will become one in Masonic purpose and practice.
There were many forces behind the scene on both sides working for recognition for years and then for intervisitation. I was one of them but also from the Grand Lodge of Texas was Blake Bowden and his website “My Freemasonry.” Many other unknown and unheralded Masons on both sides of the aisle worked behind the scenes, especially to see that we could visit each other’s Lodges. There was literally a ground swell of sentiment from the rank and file that this was something that needed to be done. And I don’t think anything could have come of it all if Prince Hall Texas did not have such a gentle, soft spoken, easy going Grand Master in Honorable Wilbert M. Curtis.
EL: Really? You think Grand Master Curtis’ personality had a lot to do with it?
Frederic: You would really have to get to know the man to see how much his personality has kept the peace. I know that I am nowhere near that personality type. Cross me and I will let you have it, both barrels. But in the face of false accusations, finger pointing, lies and deceit Grand Master Curtis has remained calm, cool and collected. He has not fought fire with fire but rather with brotherly love and affection. He can be firm and commanding but never mean or derogatory. In some tough negotiations he was solid as a rock.
EL: This marks the first time in history that both Grand Lodges sat in a regular session together. How does this feel to you on a personal level?
Frederic: It is exhilarating! To know I have played a small, miniscule part, but one nevertheless, that is rewarding. I think that Prince Hall Freemasonry has been vindicated. I think that some of the misconceptions of Prince Hall will now disappear.
EL: Which misconceptions are you referring to?
Frederic: That Prince Hall Freemasonry is not regular; that it is Clandestine; that it does not perform acceptable ritual; that it is disrespectful to the Craft; that it is rowdy and raucous; that it doesn’t take Freemasonry seriously enough, that its first Grand Lodge was not formed according to Masonic protocol. These are all false misconceptions.
Race relations in the state will improve. My only disappointment was that I was too ill to participate on this historic occasion. But I know that years of opening my big mouth and even at times inserting my foot into it have paid off. That when it came time to choose the fork in the road, I didn’t take what I thought was the easiest path but the one that was the right thing to do. It means my rebel rousing days are over for Texas. However we have nine US Grand Lodges left who still do not recognize Prince Hall. This battle is won but the war is not yet over.
EL: What would you like to see happen in the future?
Frederic: I would like to see the two Grand Lodges do more things together inside and outside the Lodge room. Intervisitation opens up a whole new world to many Masons. Both Grand Lodges can celebrate some Masonic historical remembrances together. They can have a joint Table Lodge. They can join together on some charitable events. They can study Freemasonry together and pull lecturers from each Grand Lodge to speak at the other.
As it stands now each side must apply to its Grand Secretary to visit the other’s Grand Lodges and permission must be granted by the other side. I think that in time this requirement should just disappear and a more free flow of cross visitation assume its place.
They say time heals all wounds. I’m not so sure that is true but I am willing to give it a shot. As each Grand Lodge does more together it will cement the bounds of peace and harmony and brotherly love will freely flow.
EL: Hopefully! Are there other Caucasian Brothers in your Lodge?
Frederic: There was one other Brother who was Caucasian who has since demited and moved away. My Lodge also has a Brother of Filipino heritage.
EL: Do you want to share any racial insights from your perspective?
Frederic: I think that to rehash old instances and war stories does more harm than good. Suffice it to say that there was some animosity between Caucasians and African Americans in the state of Texas that bled over into Freemasonry. Those feelings have not all gone away but we are on the road to peace and harmony in Freemasonry.
All it really took was for some association to take place. I have maintained for years that if you sit down and break bread with a stranger or an enemy or someone you don’t understand, that that act of having a meal together opens up the common humanity you have with each other and promotes a mutual respect. Upon that can be built real friendship.
There will always be people who can’t see beyond skin color. This is not Utopia. Evil exists. But when you greet another Freemason on the five points of fellowship it matters not what race he is.
We would be wise to remember our ritual, “By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one Family – the high and low, rich and poor, who as created by one almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet are to aid, support and protect each other.”
EL: Seems like you have a positive and hopeful view of the future.
Frederic: There is only one place to go and that is up. Every close association, every time of togetherness will meld Brothers from both Grand Lodges into fraternal love. We can learn a lot from each other and in so doing we can come closer and closer together. New traditions will soon be formed. Some joint fellowships will become part of those new traditions. As that unfolds disharmony will become a thing of the past. As I said before a new day has dawned on Texas Freemasonry. It will never be what it was again.
EL: Wonderful! Frederic, you are an avid blogger and Masonic author. Tell us about your work and where it can be found.
Frederic: I write in other areas besides Freemasonry but it is my wish that these areas remain separate and unknown to each other. In this manner I can remain more open to other ideas and interface better with people of all different views without others having a preconceived notion of what I am all about. There is nothing worse than an agenda driven person who will not get off your ear. My thing is to approach fields from a point of view that fosters knowledge, education and understanding.
My Masonic writing started on the early well known Masonic websites with forums of the 90s. Masonic Light started by Jeff Naylor and frequented by Hodapp, Dafoe and Dunn gave way to The Lodge Room.com. Here I was in constant discussion on Masonic issues especially with my nemesis Theron Dunn who after he suddenly passed was replaced by Grayson Mayfield. When that Forum died I went on to Master Mason.com and then got out of the forum talk back and forth show altogether.
I formed my own blog “The Beehive” which I merged with Freemason Information by invitation of Greg Stewart. Those forum discussions formed the basis of the articles I then wrote which can be found on either Freemason Information or Phoenixmasonry. It is in these two places that I continue to write but with less frequency.
I have evolved over time. Much of my early Masonic writing was about the abuses of Freemasonry and certain Grand Lodges and the reforms needed. I really took some Grand Lodges to task and I wasn’t afraid to be vocal about it. Some of the high profile cases I wrote about were PGM Frank Haas, Derek Gordon, Mike McCabe, Victor Marshall and Gate City Lodge No 2 and Corey Bryson & Duke Bass Fortesque.
I actually got to meet in person Derek Gordon who resigned from the GL of Arkansas and Victor Marshall who the GL of Georgia attempted to expel because he was an African-American. Mike McCabe was expelled unjustly from New Jersey and Bryson & Fortesque were forced to resign from Florida for not being Christians.
I have gradually steered myself into a more philosophical approach and find great joy in telling the stories of some super Masonic Craftsmen. I was able to meet Masonic artist Ryan Flynn last year and record a session with him about his work.
There are two other places I write for which may not be open to all Masons. I write and deliver articles to the Phylaxis Society and to my Grand Lodge publication “The Texas Prince Hall Freemason.”
EL: You are also Executive Director for the Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library. Tell us about your work and experience there.
Frederic: It was President and owner David Lettelier who approached me about the position of Executive Director of Phoenixmasonry. He had read some of my writings and liked what he read. One of the first things I did upon coming aboard was to convince David that we needed to get into Social Media. I felt this was where Freemasonry on the Internet was going. So Dave and I put our heads together and opened a Phoenixmasonry Facebook page. I then added Twitter followed by Rebel Mouse. David starting putting many of my articles into the Phoenixmasonry essay session.
Soon I was to open a special Prince Hall section of the main website inaugurating its inception with the William Upton videos which tell such a heart rendering story. We added a few more article writers such as Nelson King and Ian Donald and the poetry of Ezekiel Bey. The Essay section was rapidly increasing. Adding books was very time consuming and proceeded at a slower pace.
But we wanted to give our readers the widest possible choice of Masonic content. It wasn’t long before we started to invest heavily into You Tube videos. We added a You Tube section to our Facebook page. This became very popular.
I spent a lot of time as Executive Director in marketing Phoenixmasonry especially among the Prince Hall brethren. I got the Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas to add a link to us on the Grand Lodge’s website. I worked with David on his project of a 10 year (2009) medallion minted as a thank you to all who had contributed to Phoenixmasonry’s success. That became a tremendous marketing tool as I carried a bunch of them with me wherever I went and gave to many influential Masons one as a gift.
My job concentrated on disseminating whatever we were doing to various Grand Lodges, Masonic websites and forums, Masonic Yahoo Groups and an extensive E-Mail list. It was my goal to always keep the name and content of Phoenixmasony on the lips of as many Masons as possible.
I took over the project of getting us a 501(c) 3 status with the IRS, filling out the laboriously long form and making sure all the information was correct. This designation will facilitate contributions to Phoenixmasonry from those who are looking for a good cause to contribute to.
What I started with David to increase our visibility has been continued with the addition of new blood to our team. We have added editorial assistants to our Facebook page who help us add the most interesting Masonic material we can find. We recently added
you, Public Relations Director Elena Llamas, and you have carried on right where we left off. You have spruced up our Facebook page, created a Phoenixmasonry You Tube channel adding many videos and put Phoenixmasonry on Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, Reddit and Tumblr. It’s a team effort and I am proud what all of us have been able to accomplish. Phoenixmasonry is the most complete and best Masonic website on the Internet.
EL: It is a pleasure to work with you at Phoenixmasonry! Thank you so much, Frederic, for sharing such a fascinating personal history and all you insights. I hope the readers have enjoyed this interview. For more information on Frederic’s work, you can find him at http://freemasoninformation.com.