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Black fraternal group practices positive philanthropic endeavours
Prince Hall Freemasons
Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 1:10 pm |
Black fraternal group practices positive philanthropic endeavours
By Jessica R. Key | 0 comments
Much is uncertain about the life of a slave named Prince Hall, however it is known that he forged an arm of Freemasonry for Blacks that has overcome racism that existed until about 50 years ago.
The organization is shrouded in mystery, but members firmly state that not only was freemasonry formed for the purpose of making good men better, but they are the oldest and well-regarded Black fraternal order. Furthermore, nothing is mysterious about their adamant stance on philanthropic efforts which include helping kids achieve educationally, providing food for the poor and caring for widows.
The Recorder spoke with several Hoosier Prince Hall Freemasons to get the history, dispel myths that surround the organization and find out how they plan to remain viable.
A history lesson
Prince Hall, the founder of the world’s first Black Masonic lodge, African Lodge No. 459, laid the foundation for an organization that continues on today.
The earliest mention of Hall’s name is in a document in the late 1740s and says he was the slave of a Boston leather-dresser named William Hall. Prince was taught leather crafting as a trade.
William Hall gave Prince Hall his freedom on April 9, 1770, a reward for 21 years of steadfast service.
In early 1775, the Revolutionary War era, Hall petitioned to become a member of Boston’s St. John’s Lodge of Freemasons but was turned away because of his race. Although free, Blacks in and around Boston had little social or political power and lacked formal organizations.
According to James Stanley, Most Worshipful Past Grand Master and a Masonic historian, Hall and 14 other Black men approached an Irish army lodge of Freemasons. This time, they were successful and were initiated into the lodge on March 6, 1775, however they were only allowed certain Masonic privileges.
“England is where the operation of speculated Masonry began,” said Stanley.
Not satisfied with the limits, on July 3, 1775, the group formed African Lodge No. 1, the first lodge of Black Free and Accepted Masons, and Hall was made “master.”
There’s a slight gap in this history of Prince Hall Masonry after 1783 believed to be due to Blacks serving in the war.
Following the war, Stanley said after writing to the main lodge in England, African Lodge No. 459 was credentialed in 1784 as a chartered lodge under the leadership of Prince Hall as master.
Hall’s other agendas included organizing a back-to-Africa movement, equal education for Black children, and ending slave trading in Massachusetts.
The Voice of Black America quotes Hall as saying “… Let us seek those things which are sure and steadfast, and let us pray God that, while we remain here, he would give us the grace and patience and strength to bear up under all our troubles, which, at this day, God knows, we have our share of…”
As Black masonry continued to remain separate from white masonry in the U.S., Prince Hall Freemasonry spread to other cities. The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana was organized on Sept. 16, 1856.
“They used names such as ‘Independent Union Lodge.’ You usually find the word ‘union’ or something that would indicate it was coming from the support of Black people,” said Stanley. “See, this was after the revolution and the U.S. had become a nation.”
Prince Hall died in Boston on Dec. 4, 1807. After his death, Hall’s followers renamed their order for their former, much-beloved leader.
A secret society?
Prince Hall Masonry has few limits to membership, therefore there are a wide variety of men who can become members. Despite their open policy there are many myths about the organization. Otis Dodson, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana, said it’s all because of lack of knowledge and curiosity of the unknown.
It is a requirement that members believe in a supreme being, however he said masonry is not a religious organization.
“In order to be a Mason, you must believe in the existence of a supreme being be it God, Allah, Buddha, whomever,” said Dodson, who became a member due to his family history within masonry.
“We are an organization with secrets, but we are not a secret society. The only thing that’s hidden is passwords. You have passwords to go on the computer, right? This keeps people out of the inner workings,” said Dodson. “Those secrets are all found in the Holy Bible. If an individual has a good knowledge of the Bible, they know everything we know. We actually represent or emulate what we call ‘operating masons’ that built King Solomon’s temple.”
Other myths say Pythagoras, a scientist and mathematician, was a “master mason.” Masons say Pythagoras lived between 582 and 507 B.C., and while there were masons and other professional craftsmen at that time, there were no lodges and no granting of “Master Mason degrees,” or ranking levels, at that time. Rankings didn’t come until the late 1720s. However, Pythagorean theorems do influence modern freemasonry.
They also say there is no evidence of writer William Shakespere being a mason.
Allegedly President George Washington and other American presidents such as both Roosevelts, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford were masons and that masons organize themselves under other names such as the Knights of Malta, Illuminati, Jesuit Priests and High Shriner Freemasons.
Keeping history alive
Persian Temple #46 recently held its public installation for the newly elected Illustrious Potentate, or highest-ranking officer, Kenneth “Biznessman” Allen. As Illustrious Potentate, Allen is over the Prince Hall Shriners in Central Indiana. He is only 29-years-old – the youngest person to lead the Masonic Order temple since it was chartered in 1912.
At an early age, Allen was inspired to become a Mason from his great uncles.
“All the Masons I knew were heavily involved in church. It was the way they dressed, the way they took care of their family, the way they took care of their community – I was so impressed as a kid, especially as one that didn’t have a father in the home,” said Allen. “I approached my uncle about joining and he said I was too young. But they did have a youth component called the Pythagoreans, that I could get involved in.”
When he turned 18, he became a Prince Hall Mason.
Allen is among many younger men who are becoming Prince Hall Masons. While masonry membership is diverse, Allen said internally the organization is working on increasing their brand and exposing their positive attributes.
“People think we’re a negative organization or a cult, and we don’t do a good job policing that,” said Allen.
Being a Prince Hall Mason can be pricey, possibly creating a barrier for young men, who oftentimes are underemployed or unemployed, who aspire to join the group. Allen understands this possibility and assures young men that joining Prince Hall Masons is arguably cheaper than joining other community service groups and fraternities.
As a matter of fact, when young men are joining masonry, Allen said candidates learn the history of the organization, making it clear that Prince Hall Masonry is not the same as a historically Black college fraternity.
Allen encourages young men who are interested in Prince Hall Masonry to do their research and connect with a member.
“This isn’t just your grandfather’s fraternity. We have younger members and those of a variety of backgrounds,” said Allen.
For more information, call the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana at (317) 546-8062 or visit www.mwphglin.org.
What is the Order of Eastern Star?
The Order of the Eastern Star Inc., is a charitable, educational and fraternal organization whose members primarily include the wives, daughters, and other women connected to Masons.
Eastern Star says it strives to take good people and through uplifting and elevating associations of love and service, and through precept and example build an order, which is truly dedicated to charity, truth and loving kindness.
On behalf of the Most Worshipful Grand Master and the Indiana Prince Hall Grand Lodge Family, we welcome you to our website. It is the mission of this Grand Lodge to be ever so vigilant in the pursuit of love, charity, sympathy and brotherly love.Remember that God’s gift to man is life and that your gift to God is how you live your life as an upright man.