A Look From Within: A Look at Prince Hall Freemasonry
by Reverend Jan L. Beaderstadt, E.P., P.C., P.M.
This paper was presented to the Michigan Lodge of Research and Information No. 1 on Saturday September 16, 5995 A.L. and was published from Point-to-Pointe, the official publication of the Grand Lodge of Michigan.
It was a beautiful sunny morning when I pulled up and parked next to the Detroit Masonic Temple. The sounds of the city filled the air, and people were walking about. It might be only 9:30 in the morning, but everything was alive.
I've certainly traveled to Detroit for Masonic business before, but this time I wasn't at 500 Temple Avenue. Instead, I was at the main Temple on 3100 Gratiot Avenue.
Who meets here, you may ask?: About nineteen Lodges, plus the Eastern Star, York Rite, Scottish Rite, and more.
It also holds the offices of the Grand Lodge--The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Michigan.
I was there that day to interview their Grand Master Ozzie L. Gardner to learn who exactly are the Prince Hall Masons.
Hang around any Mason, and in the course of Masonic conversation will come questions about Prince Hall. I've been a Mason for eighteen years now, and I remember hearing about them way up in L'Anse, which is hundreds of miles from the nearest Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Start surfing through the various Masonic computer bulletin boards, and there are all kinds of articles about Prince Hall.
There's a problem, however, with all of this "information." It comes from Masons who are in no way connected with Prince Hall Masonry. And sadly, much like the anti-Masonic material in circulation today, much of what is said isn't true, but it keeps being repeated in word and print.
That's why, with the permission of Grand Master Dale Edwards, I made the journey to their Grand Master to get the facts straight from the source.
What do you ask of a Grand Master who is currently considered the head of a "clandestine" Grand Lodge (even though 13 American Grand Lodges, plus four Canadian Grand Lodges and the Grand Lodge of England recognize them)? After some thought, I decided anything goes.
I got there early for the interview, so I walked into the office, where the secretary showed me into the Grand Master's office. Grand Master Gardner hadn't yet arrived, but in the short while I was there, I carefully looked around the office. It didn't look any different than one you'd find in many a Michigan Masonic Temple. The books on the shelves were Masonic books from Macoy and other sources that would have easily held a prominent spot in any Lodge library. Nothing seemed out of order.
At about 10:00, Grand Master Ozzie L. Gardner arrived along with Past Grand Master Clem Dawson. Both are 33ø Masons in the Prince Hall of the Scottish Rite. Both are York Rite Masons of the Prince Hall. And for the next 2l/2 hours, we discussed Prince Hall Masonry.
The name Prince Hall comes from the founder of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, a freed slave named Prince Hall, who was made a Mason along with fourteen other former slaves by an Irish Military Lodge in 1775. In 1784, the Grand Lodge of England chartered African Lodge No. 459 in Boston with Prince Hall as its first Worshipful Master.
It is after this date that its history gets a bit fuzzy, even for Prince Hall Masonic scholars. The Grand Lodge of England didn't receive annual returns for a number of years, so the Lodge was dropped. Rather than going out of business, Prince Hall and his Lodge continued and began to charter other Lodges. As a result, Prince Hall Masonry has grown to become a worldwide organization.
Prince Hall Masonry came to Michigan twice. The first time was during the middle of the Civil War when Grand Master James Hinton of the Grand Lodge of Prince Hall of Indiana chartered a Lodge in Niles. In 1864, dispensations were given by Indiana to three Michban Lodges, and on April 25, 1865, the four Lodges met in Niles to organize the Grand Lodge of Prince Hall of Michigan. They held their first meeting in December of 1866.
Prince Hall Masonry was able to pull off what caucasian Masonry had been unable to do: a national Grand Lodge. Called the National Compact, it was organized in 1848, and the newly organized Michigan Prince Hall Grand Lodge was to become a part of it.
Not everyone was happy with the National Compact, according to P.G.M. Dawson. The Grand Lodge of Prince Hall in Ohio was unhappy, was seeking a way out, and needed allies. With this agenda, Ohio chartered four Lodges in Michigan in 1872: Battle Creek, Detroit, Pontiac, and Grand Rapids. This initiated a split in the Compact, leading to its eventual demise.
Looklng for Recognltlon
As this new Prince Hall Grand Lodge was coming into existence, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan sought and received from the Michigan State Legislature articles of incorporation under the laws of Michigan. That was in 1873, the same year Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of Michigan for recognition.
According to Dawson, they never received a reply, either positive or negative.
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Michigan in 1874 show that the matter did come before the delegates. On January 27, 1874, W. Brother L. T. Griffin "presented a petition from persons styling themselves as Masons, and a committee of the 'M.W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons for the State of Michigan, holding authority from the M.W. National Grand Lodge of the United States of America' asking for Masonic recognition by this Grand Lodge."
W. Brother Griffins offered the following resolution:
"Resolved. That the petition herewith presented be referred to a special committee (sic) of five with instructions to investigate the subject matter therein contained in such manner as they may deem advisable, and report to this Grand Lodge at its next annual Communication, what measures, if any, can be expediently devised to place under the jurisdiction of this Most Worshipful Grand Lodge the so- called colored Masons of the State, now organized into Lodges, and thereby secure to them the benefit of its fellowship and affiliation."
On motion the petition was received and laid upon the table for such conslderation. A motion was then made to reconsider the previous action, but it failed.
The next day, W. Brother M. M. Atwood presented a petition for persons claiming to be Masons, (colored) and moved that it be referred to a Special Committee of five for examination and report." The petitions were received and laid on the table. A motion was then made to reconsider this vote, but it lost.
The matter then disappears from Grand Lodge records. A perusal of Grand Lodge proceedings for 1875 makes no mention of "colored Masonry."
Prince Hall Masonry Today
Prince Hall Masonry looks like our Masonry. It would be very hard to distinguish the Prince Hall Grand Lodge from the Grand Lodge of Michigan. Prince Hall Grand Lodge is independent of all other Grand Lodges, and there is no longer a national Grand Lodge.
Each Lodge must be chartered by its Grand Lodge, and in Michigan there are forty-nine Lodges with approximately 3,000 members. The most northern Lodge in the state is Andrew W. Dungey No. 52 in Idlewild near Baldwin. There are no Prince Hall Lodges in the Upper Peninsula, although the Michigan Prince Hall jurisdiction covers both peninsulas, according to Grand Master Gardner.
Each Lodge confers three degrees. While we did not discuss any Masonic secrets, this writer did learn that their ritual is the "Ecci Orienti," or the three-letter key many Michban Masons carry with them.
I had a tour of the Gratiot Avenue Temple, and their Lodge rooms look a lot like ours. On the altar, located in the center of the Lodge room, are the Great Lights of Masonry. One variation is that the Master sits under a canopy supported by two columns in the East.
Michigan Masons who complain about our dues wouldn't like the dues structure in Prince Hall Masonry. Dues average around $10--a month. A Brother is declared delinquent at six months. According to Grand Master Gardner, if a Brother is expelled for nonpayment of dues, his sponsor in Masonry isn't expelled along with the delinquent brother, as some report.
Prince Hall Masonry insists on a strict dress code: dark suits, black socks, dark shoes, white shirts and dark ties. According to G.M. Gardner, this dress code is strictly enforced.
When a man petitions a Prince Hall Lodge, the Lodge appoints an investigating committee, and there must be thirty days between degrees. Stories that it takes one year between degrees and that the entire Lodge is the investigating committee are untrue, according to Gardner.
Each candidates does have a catechism to learn, like that formerly required in the Grand Lodge of Michigan.
Lodges meet twice a month, once for ritual work and again for regular communication. Lodges meet for regular communication each month but can suspend work during the months of December, July, and August.
Refreshments follow the meeting, except at the time of a Master Mason Degree, when there is usually a dinner wah speeches. A third degree is a festive occasbn.
White Prince Hall Masons
Grand Master Gardner noted that they have a number of white Masons, shattering the idea that Prince Hall is simply black Masons. There have been several white men who have served a Prince Hall Lodge as Worshipful Master, and in the book Black Square and Compass's, the author noted that there was a Prince Hall Lodge in New Jersey where every member but the Secretary was white.
Structure of the Grand Lodge
There are forty-four Prince Hall Grand Lodges located around the world. Each one is independent, but they recognize each other. The newest Prince Hall Grand Lodge is the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Caribbean.
The Michigan Prince Hall Grand Lodge meets in April for two days, and new offcers are elected. The Grand Master is elected yearly for a one-year term. If the Grand Master decides to run for a fourth term, he must receive two-thirds of the vote of the delegates.
The moving grand line begins at Grand Junior Deacon. The non-moving, elected line includes the Grand Treasurer, Grand Secretary, Grand Lecturer, Grand Marshal and three Grand Trustees.
Appointed Grand Lodge officers include a Senior Grand Steward, a Junior Grand Steward, two assistant Grand Secretaries, a Grand Chaplain, four assistant Grand Chaplains, a Grand Tyler, an assistant Grand Tiler, three assistant Grand Marshals, a Grand Attorney, five assistant Grand Attorneys, a Grand Pursuivant, a Grand Organist, a Grand Pianist, a Grand Custodian, and a Grand Standard Bearer.
Grand Master Gardner said that in the workings of their Grand Lodge, business is completed at regular cabinet meetings of the elected Grand Lodge officers. The Worshipful Masters of the subordinate Blue Lodges are invited and encouraged to attend.
Appendant Prince Hall Bodles
Once a man becomes a Master Mason, he and his wife are eligible to join the Order of the Eastern Star. He can petition either the York Rite or Scottish Rite, even become a Shriner. All of the bodies resemble and parallel our own Masonic bodies.
They have no DeMolay, Rainbow, or Job's Daughters, but their Shrine sponsors youth groups of their own: the Order of Eyes for Boys and the Iserettes for girls.
Other "Black" Masonic Grand Lodges
Prince Hall Masonry is not the only 'black" Masonic organization, aithough it is the largest of the groups and has respect amongst the black community. Grand Master Gardner and P.G.M. Dawson noted that there were other "clandestine~ Masonic bodies that have broken off from their organization over the years. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan does not maintain any communication with these groups, nor do they have a list of them. Two such bodies they were familiar with included the Intemational Masons and the Fitzpatrick Grand Lodge. A trip down Gratiot Avenue will reveal a sign proclaiming the Grand Lodge of Enoch, another pseudo-Masonk organization.
P.G.M. Dawson noted that they did not rscognize these bodies because none of the Lodges ever obtained a charter from the Grand Lodge of England. In their criteria for Masonic recognition, a Lodge or Grand Lodge must have been originally chartered by the Grand Lodge of England or be able to trace its legality through the mother Grand Lodge.
Dawson noted that these other bdges are "clandestine" and not "irregular."
For this writer, the interview contained many surprises. I had heard much about Prince Hall Masonry, much of it not true. The time spent with their Grand Lodge officers revealed new light on a subject that has long been clouded with darkness. Prince Hall Masonry is like a parallel universe, proclaiming similar landmarks, ritual and organization. And its Brethren are tied to a mystic bond that is highly respected in their communities.
Famous Black Freemasons
A look at who's who of Prince Hall Masonry reads much like traditional Masonry in the great men that have or currently occupy the role of membership.
In the book, Great Black Men of Masonry, by Joseph Mason Andrew Cox, Ph.D, P.G.M. of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, are listed 269 black men, of which the vast majority are Prince Hall Masons.
The list includes statesmen, actors, musicians, writers, athletes and more.
Some great men on the list include Ralph Albernathy, 33ø; William "Count" Basie; Alex Haley, 33ø; Thurgood Marshall, 33ø; Edward "Duke" Ellington; Reverend Adam Clayton Powell; Richard Pryor; Sugar Ray Robinson; Booker T. Washington; and Andrew Young. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, 33ø, is also a Shriner. Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young is a 33ø Mason, and current Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer has been elected to receive the 33ø.
The Reverend and Sir Knight Jan L. Beaderstadt is a Past Commander of Lake Superior Commandery No. 30, Marquetle, Michigan, and is Prelate of Alpena Commandery No. 34, Lincoln, Michigan. His mailing address is P.O. Box 137, Sterling, Ml 48659.