Two hundred thirty seven years ago today, on March 6, 1775, Prince Hall, Cryrus Jonbus, Buestop Slinger, Prince Rees, John Carter, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tiler, Cuff Bufform, Thomas Sanderson, Prince Taylor, Cato Spears, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Forten Howard and Richard Tilly were made Master Masons in a British Army Lodge of Irish register. The Lodge gave them the privilege of meeting, marching in procession, and burying their dead, but not conferring degrees. In March, 1784, Brother Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a charter which was issued September 29, 1784, but was not delivered until April 29, 1787, establishing African Lodge 459 on May 6, 1787. Four years later, on June 24, 1791, the African Grand Lodge was formed with Prince Hall as Grand Master. MWB Hall died December 7, 1807. Subsequently, in his honor, the Lodge became M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F&AM, of Massachusetts. Today, the great majority of US state Grand Lodges as well as the Grand Lodge of England and many international Grand Lodges recognize Prince Hall Lodges.
It may seem strange to some because of the fierce determination for the astute ,mason of darker persuasion to be identified, not just as a mason, but as a Prince Hall Mason. There is a difference in “masons.” Because of the trials and tribulations that we, as Prince Hall Masons have endured, it is with a great sense of pride to be privileged to wear the name. It is mute and vocal testimony to the fact that, “Prince Hall, we’re still here!”
A lot of things are not appreciated in life, sometimes because the method used in gaining the honor, the privilege, or the tangible product, is not one where it called for a sacrifice of some sort. Not so with Prince Hall Masons, for we have, “been up the creek, and down the river.” The Prince Hall Mason can truly say, “I have often been tried, but never denied…” The background, the legacies, the involvement of the Prince Hall Masons in the growth of the meaningful things that were gained in the Black Experience and the Black Church, speak louder than the negative reports that sometimes seep into our midst. Prince Hall Masons have many things to be proud of, because of the sacrifices made by those brothers and sisters in by-gone years. I for one do appreciate the many years of their sacrificial efforts.
Because of its beautiful history, Prince Hall Masons have come under attack, by word and deed. There have been court cases, negative media coverage, and by and large, an exclusion from the pages of history found in libraries or in private collections, sorry to say. However, little by little, the story is being told of the many worthwhile things that have been done in the name of human endeavors by those brethren of the craft. Because of its beautiful history, Prince Hall Masons have had to endure many groups professing to be “masons.” Some even carry the name, “Prince Hall Mason,” but the result is not the same. It is said that “Imitation is the highest form of flattery” or something to that order. However, when the term, “mason” is used, everyone should be aware that it does not always mean, “Prince Hall Mason” and there is a difference.
When one considers Prince Hall, one can readily understand why there would be attempts at duplicating the fraternity that bears his name. It is a proud name, one that can stand up to the criticisms that may come from opponents; one that can, because of the many brothers and sisters that wear the name, withstand the court cases and innuendos of smaller minds. Prince Hall was a man that American History can be proud of, even though some today may feel threatened by the love some members have for their order
Freemasonry is a system of morality, a system that is shared between members of the Masonic Family, and then is shared with the community at large. It is not a secret system, for the lessons come from the Holy Bible, the Holy Koran, the Vegas, and many other religious books found wherever there is a system of religious ideals. Because of the Judeao-Christian principles practiced by the bulk of the Prince Hall membership, it stands to reason the main teachings regarding Freemasonry would come from the Holy Bible.
Prince Hall may not have foreseen the results of his endeavor way back in 1775 when he and 14 other Blacks were initiated into the Masonic Order. He may not have foreseen the many hundreds of thousands of members world-wide that we see today. But Prince Hall did believe in a God that “sits high” and looks low.” That belief was fostered down through many generations of Afro-Americans, and now includes members of all racial persuasions. It is a dream come true for anyone that dared to dream in 1775. We cannot say that those members did dream in 1775, but I am sure that the same God that blessed their endeavors back then is still in the blessing business, for we are the recipients of His grace and goodness. Our very survival and presence bear witness to that.
It was not in man’s cards that we be here, for the mason of old had to “be tried, sometimes denied, but stood ready to be tried again.” Those days of physical opposition are gone now. The days of being in court, defending your right to be called Prince Hall Masons, are now history. The blood that was shed for the right that was taken for granted by all other Americans, shall not be in vain, and we revere our dead members, we celebrate the birth of our founder and benefactor, Prince Hall, the man, the mason, the patriot, the preacher! We’re still here, Prince Hall! (1)
(1) Prince Hall, We’re Still Here, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas - http://www.arkphagrandlodge.com/still_here.htm
The Bee Hive is indebted to Brother Antonio Caffey, PM St. Mark’s Lodge No. 7, Columbus, OH for an excellent video and for The Phylaxis Society and The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge Of Arkansas for text.