Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

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Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Secret Society of the Week - the Prince Hall Masons

This is going to be a bit of an ongoing theme in Encyclopedia-of-Fraternal-Organisations-blogging, as the heyday of the fraternal lodge and secret society craze in the USA overlapped with the heyday of segregation. This week, a society that is still not without importance, although mainly in Liberia. Heavily abridged by me, and still one of the longest entries in the book ...

"In surveying Prince Hall freemasonry, one discovers first hand what effect racial prejudice and discrimination has had in American society, even among fraternal orders. For instances, PHF came into being because white Masons barred black citizens[1] [...]

Prince Hall, a black man, was born in 1748 in the West Indies. In 1765 he came to the USA and soon became a clergyman in Cambridge, Mass. For some reason, he was intent on becoming a Freemason. Thus, in 1775 he courageously approached a British military camp in Boston [...] the British Army Lodge (Lodge no. 441) accepted him. On July 3, 1775, he opened a Masonic lodge of black men, dedicated to St John. This was the first black lodge in the United States [...]

[Hall] petitioned the Grand Master of Massachussets for a charter. His petition was rejected on the basis of color. Not too long after, he petitioned the Garnd Lodge of England for a charter and received it on September 29, 1784 [...], by 1808 the first grand lodge was formed, the African Grand Lodge of Boston, later known as Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachussetts.[...]

In spite of Prince Hall Masonry having received its fraternal legitimation from the same source that the white American Masons received theirs, white Masonic lodges have not only refused to recognize Prince Hall Masonry, but have often referred to it as "clandestine"[2].

The statement made some years ago by Albert Pike, the leading Masonic spokesman, is frequently cited [...] "I took my obligations from white men, not from negroes. When I have to accept negroes as brothers or leave Masonry, I shall leave it. Better let the thing drift"[3]. [...]

Whenever attempts have been made (and there have been several) to recognize black Masonry, it has met with rebuff on the grand lodge level. For instance, in 1898 the Grand Lodge of Washington entertained the question [...] Although the report was favorable to the black Masons, stating that Prince Hall Masonry was legitimate, the Grand Lodge of Washington took no specific action relative to recognizing black Masonry. This rather innocuous report set off a flurry of condemnations [...] some of the grand lodges servered their ties with the Grand Lodge of Washington [...] Because the Grand Lodge of New Jersey has over the years tolerated the [black] Alpha Lodge, it has been censured [...] the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma severed its relations with New Jersey in 1940 - two years later, however, the ties were restored.

A number of white Masons, it must be noted, have over the years strongly disagreed [...] William H Upton, a former Grand Master of the Lodge of Washington, published a pamphlet, Light on a Dark Subject (1899) and Negro Masonry: A Critical Examination (1902) [...] The Grand Lodge of Massachussetts in 1947 gave a special committee report on black Masonry. While neither the committee nor the grand lodge formally recognized black Masonry as legitimate, it noted "The real opposition to Negro Freemasonry is rather social than legal". The report also noted that racial discrimination, practiced by so many American Masons, was inconsistent with the tenets of Freemasonry and that "we should practice our teachings" [...] Marshall Field, the famous Chicago businessman[4] was initiated into a Prince Hall lodge in Chicago.[...]

With reference to the use of ritual, degrees, signs and oaths, the black Masons differ very little from the white lodges. In fact, the Scottish Rite degree ritual, from the first to the thirty-third degree, was given to the Prince Hall ANcient and Accepted Scottish Rite by Albert Pike. Apparently, Pike, who felt white Masons were to be segregated from the black members, did not see it amiss to supply the black Masons with his works.[5][...]

Prince Hall Freemasonry, it must be remembered, is over 200 years old. During these years the order has overcome a number of setbacks. The latest one confronting PHM is its membership decline. From 1900 to 1930 it probably experienced its finest decades. Then came the Great Depression, which sent memberships downward. The late 1940s and 1950s again brought increases to the black craft. Since the 1960s, however, memberships have been declining, a trend very similar to Masonry among white Americans. In 1976, the total American membership stood at 265,000.

True to the white traditions and "landmarks" of Freemasonry, PHM does not permit women to join. Women belong to auxiliary organisations [...]

This book was published in 1980, and Masonry in the USA was apparently still segregated. According to Wikipedia, 41 out of the 51 Grand Lodges in the USA now recognise Prince Hall lodges. Per this list, the Prince Hall Lodges of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina[6], Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia are not recognised by their home state's "mainstream" grand lodge, which makes 12 on my count.

By way of scale, the 1976 membership figure, after a decade and a half of decline, would have been as much as 4% of the adult black male population.

Next week: Something shorter. Possibly the Vasa Order of America.

[1] He means men, of course, not "citizens" - my edition of "Fraternal Organisations" was published in 1980, at the beginning of the non-sexist language crusade.

[2] A very nasty Masonic insult, it is to be presumed. The author of "Fraternal Organisations" is not clear why it might be applied to Prince Hall lodges, or why it might be considered a bad thing for a secret society to be clandestine.

[3] Much more to come on the subject of Albert Pike in the future.

[4] Whose company gave James O McKinsey of the eponymous management consultancy his big break, but that's another story

[5] His works? Pike wrote all the rituals of the Scottish Rite. Blah blah ancient tradition, but the actual words were all his own work. The literary appeal of Pike's rituals was one of the big selling points of the Scottish Rite as opposed to other forms of Freemasonry. The other big selling point was the link with the Shriners, but that really is a story for another week.

[6] This one possibly worthy of comment as Charleston, SC is the World Grand Lodge of York Rite Freemasonry.
6 comments this item posted by the management 5/05/2009 04:59:00 PM

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