Friday, February 22, 2008

I Hate This Post

It was another outstanding evening at old St. John's. The energy was at the same level as it was at our last meeting, and that one was buzzing. Brethren were arranged in groups chatting, laughing, and enjoying the greatest benefit of our craft, good fellowship among good men. The District Deputy was waiting for me when I got there(I am always the first to arrive) and quickly ushered me to the candidate preparation room because it was our annual inspection and it was time for me to be tested. No problems there. After blazing my way through the words and grips, I went back to setting up the lodge for our second Entered Apprentice degree in as many meetings. We had three candidates waiting to be brought to light and with the usual degree of pomp that accompanies a Grand Lodge inspection. This went on without a hitch, delivered meaningfully and gracefully by the Brethren of my lodge. Our three newest brothers were then treated to three meetings worth of minutes that had been pushed aside for too long and a couple of bills,which I was sorry they had to sit through! We then closed in due fashion and went downstairs for a little refreshment and more fellowship.
One by one the Brothers left until it was myself, the Worshipful Master, the Senior Warden, and the Junior Deacon. We started to discuss the heavy matter of the future of the lodge and during the discussion it was decided that we should move it outside so the W.M. and S.W. could have a cigarette and me and the J.D. decided to join them and have a cigar, which has become a little tradition that I am really enjoying with the J.D. after our meetings. All sorts of angles were covered outside and due to the cold, we decided to cut it short, so I went inside to lock up so we all could go home. Before I went inside I noticed a car pulling in to our parking lot, it kind of creeped in and parked near to where we were all standing. I thought maybe it was somebody from the church who owns our building and continued turning off the lights and when I heard a conversation going on outside, I came outside to check if it was indeed someone from the church needing to get in. It turned out to be a young man in search of some answers about Freemasonry so I went back in and finished locking up.
Now this is why I hate this post.
As you may or may not know, here in America there are two distinct bodies of Freemasons. Each has a tradition going back to the 1700's. Each operate in accordance with the ancient landmarks of our order. Each are proud to be called Freemasons and I see no difference between us as I have stated many times on my blog, but unfortunately due to the atrocities of history there evolved two distinct bodies of Freemasons, so called"mainstream" or regular Freemasons and Prince Hall Freemasons. We here in the state of Connecticut were the first in the nation to officially recognise each other and we continue to work together in harmony and brotherhood. It was my Grand Lodge that reached out and asked the Prince Hall Masons in our state for them to recognise us, not the other way around. It is a really incredible story that I have permanently added to my side bar and I think everyone should take the time to read just how hard it was to reach the point of recognition. Now to the crux of my post.
The young man asking us about how to join Freemasonry was African American, which makes no difference to me because I do not see people by their color, but I am in turmoil as to how to handle him. We all answered his questions about the fraternity and unfortunately due to the late hour and the cold ,we had to cut things a little short with him, but I gave him my card and told him to call me anytime and we could finish our Q&A session. During the conversation we explained to him that there were three lodges in our city that all operated the same way and he would be free to choose what ever lodge best suited his time schedule, as we all meet on different nights. Here lies my problem, while I whole heartily want to welcome this fine young man into my lodge and would gladly recommend him for the mysteries of Freemasonry, I don't know what to do about telling him about Prince Hall Freemasonry. I feel as if I were to say "one of the three lodges in our city is Prince Hall which is African American" would be like telling him we don't want him, which is not true. At the same time I feel as if I don't tell him about the P.H. lodge it would be like hiding something from him.
I hate that I am in this quandary. I hate the fact that after Prince Hall became a Master Mason and the Military Lodge that raised him left (which was Irish, I believe), he had no where to practice the lessons of Freemasonry. I love the fact that he did not let this stop him from forming his own lodge and extending the good work of Freemasonry to African Americans like himself. I love the fact that the lodge he formed spread and multiplied and became the foundation for the proud organization of Prince Hall Freemasonry. If my Grand Lodge allowed me, I would gladly affiliate myself with the Prince Hall lodge in my city as a dual member. I have worked with the Brothers from that lodge and marched with them in our Memorial Day parade together as Brothers. They are my brothers and I wish there were no line that separated us, but there is. If I were a Prince Hall Mason I would never want to relinquish the proud history of that organization and merge with a "regular" Grand Lodge, but it is that same pride that keeps us separate. We are a result of history and we cant change it. There are two bodies of men that practice the same tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth and unfortunately the thing that keeps one separate is the color of their skin. We can recognise each other and work together as Brethren but I don't foresee any change in the fact that there are two separate but equal forms of Freemasonry in America, which is sad.
What can we do?
What should I do?
There is much work to be done.


Traveling Man said...

I would inform him of the history of Prince Hall and explain to the prospective candidate that while, (in CT at least), he would be perfectly able to visit whatever PH or George Wasington Masonic Lodge he wishes.

Prince Hall masonry has an illustrious history, and no harm can be done in giving the prospective candidate the facts.

Remember, we have an obligation to Truth.

Be Well,

Traveling Man

Michael Shirley said...

Hand him a printout of what you just wrote.

A.C. said...

I agree with traveling man; it's an awkward subject, but it will only get less awkward in time if discussions about it are frank and forward-looking.

Why not take the approach of covering the history of Freemasonry in the united states starting back in colonial America, with the establishment of the G.L. of Massachusetts and how Prince Hall came to establish his own Grand Lodge?

I think it would be a much more graceful way to establish context for the peculiar situation that exists today than what I too often hear or read, which goes something like, "Well, there's the regular blue lodge, and then the York Rite, Scottish Rite, and the Shrine are separate bodies. Oh yeah, and then there are the Prince Hall lodges, which are for African-Americans."

I can't imagine trying to have this conversation in one of the few southern states where there is still, in 2008, no recognition.

Gingerman said...

While he may have read this, I think I'll forward this, with your permission to Bro. Rashied of the MWPHGL of NY for comment if he will. His input could be very helpful.

Rashied said...

I agree with Michael's very succinct but to-the-point response; give him a print-out of your heartfelt comments.

Now, for what it's worth, I just had a candidate approach me and found myself standing with the same dilemma.

I had the young man, who happens to be African American, meet me at a donut shop next door to the Grand Lodge of New York, and after we'd met, we took the tour of the bldg's 19 floors of extraordinary Lodge rooms, the Kane Lodge commemorative museum, depicting the life of the polar explorer for whom the Lodge is named, and wound things up chatting in the Wendell K. Walker Lounge, on the first floor before parting for the time being.

I told him that my Grand Lodge, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, is farther uptown, and while his general knowledge of it tells him that it is African American, that it is only historically and predominantly so, not exclusively.

I told him that I have known of, and met, Caucasian Prince Hall Masons, just as I know several Lodges in "mainstream" Masonry that are of mixed ethnicities, including some that are "all-white" and "all-black".

I explained some things to him about the reasons for the histories leading to both Grand Lodge systems in America, and invited him to take a tour of our Grand Lodge as well, before making his decision.

Within two days, before we could arrange the day and time for the PHA tour, he called back and asked me for a PHA petition. I insisted that he wait another few days, sleep on it, and be sure which he wanted - that I had plenty of very close Brothers in each, and he'd be well received in either place if the Fraternity accepted him.

He felt certain right there and then, and I didn't question his reasons. I sent him PDFs of two sets of questionnaires, one of 12 questions and the other of 25, that I give to all prospective candidates before I allow them to have a petition, and he is now an official candidate for my Lodge.

I always let the prospective candidate know that there are two choices, and that no matter which he chooses, it's the same Fraternity, especially where recognition has been achieved.

I apologize for the great lengthiness of my post. I don't know if this was at all helpful, but I hope so. Please feel free to reach out to me on-forum or back-channel, if you wish.


.·. Rashied ~

Rashied said...

Brother Blogger,

If I may, there was one other thing I wanted to comment on. It needn't be sad that there are two distinct systems of Masonry in America. Truth be told, there are quite a few more than that, just that you're speaking of ethnically divided systems. If we confine the distinction to that, then yes; there are two systems.

Nothing wrong with that. There may be something wrong that the development of American Masonry had its cornerstone set askew that way, but some of the things that were accomplished in terms of Masonry as a catalyst for social change could not have occurred without Prince Hall Masonry.

Did you know that Benjamin B. French, a prominent Wasington DC Mason, used to let Prince Hall Masons use his barn as a Lodge room at a time when black men could not congregate in groups of three or more, under color of law, or risk arrest and imprisonment? He was a Mason, and had there not been a Prince Hall Masonry, there might not have been a necessary element in moving for social change that allowed black people to achieve greater levels of social equity and equality.

We have to make lemonade out of this. The rind is bitter, but it has excellent medicinal uses. (smile)

I can't believe how long-winded I can be! I hadn't meant to be.


.·. Rashied ~

"Si Opus Quadratum vis, angulos praecidere noli..."
(If you want Square Work, you don't cut corners...)

Tom Accuosti said...

We have to make lemonade out of this. The rind is bitter, but it has excellent medicinal uses. (smile)

Well spoken, Bro. Rashied!

I have heard people voice concerns that black men were being "steered" to PH lodges, thereby keeping the AF&AM lodges more white.

I have also heard concerns that black men were not being steered to PH lodges, thereby depriving PH lodges from worthwhile members. Masonry having been on the decline for some time, PH lodges were in the same boat as AF&AM lodges - declining membership. And certainly nobody wants to see two centuries of tradition simply fizzle out.

Bro. MMM, you were in a version of the Kobayashi-Maru test: the point is not what you end up doing, it's how you handle it. As several other brothers have pointed out - it's all about the truth. You don't have to be embarrassed that there are parallel systems; it's not your fault. Instead, point out that there are the two systems (or more, if you feel so inclined) and give him the resources to let him choose which one he thinks will fit him the best.

br-pm said...

Dear Brother,
I appreciate your concerns and dilemma.
I participated in an investigation of a young man wishing to join our lodge, Cheyenne Lodge #1, and he happened to be African-American. I felt it my duty to tell him of the Prince Hall Lodge in our community, Western Star #6,because black history and heritage are an intregal part of this nation's strength. He had told me that his grandfather had been a Mason in North Carolina and he wanted to continue the family tradition. I asked him if his grandfather been a Prince Hall Mason, he didn't know.
I explained that in Wyoming, PH, F&A.M. was predominatley black and A.F.& A.M. predominatley white, but we totally recognize each other and sit in Lodge regularly together. I also gave a brief history of the two lodges across the nation and told him that unfortunately in some areas this segregration is still strong. I told him this was slowly changing for the better and that I personally wouldn't be part of any organization that would judge a man's worth by the color of his skin.
I'm proud to say LW joined Cheyenne Lodge #1 and has brought true honor to the fraternity. We have visited Western Star #6 on several occasions and they too are as proud of his accomplishments and work.
This has been an issue which I've felt strongly about for many years and will continue to try and move our society forward in a positive manner. We can't change the past, but we can influence the future. It's time we let go of the hate and anger and exercise that truly commendable virtue of Brotherly Love. br-pm

Shane Hale said...

Unfortunately, South Carolina does not recognize PH masonry. But any race is welcome to petition our lodges. There are Prince Hall Masons in the State but are suspect unless they were masons from a state that were acknowledged by the grand lodge. Personally, I do not see the need in PH masonry or make one total body. There were Antients and Free & Accepted in SC for awhile and it was agreed by both and the 2 Grand Lodges to be one body Ancient Free Masons AFM. Masons are a brotherhood not to be separated by other factions.