Prince Hall Masons: A Historic Legacy of Making Good Men Better

In researching a "secret society" such as the Masons, one
must be aware that information on the subject may well be hard to come by. While at various times in our research we came across a number of gentlemen who were of considerable value to ourselves and our efforts, even they were restricted in what they could say on the matter. The Prince Hall Masons, or the Black Freemasons, are no different from any other such fraternal society in this respect.

The Prince Hall Masons have a proud and storied history which is, in characteristic Mason fashion, extremely well documented. In 1775 Prince Hall, a free black man of east Indian extraction, along with fifteen other black men, was inducted into a lodge in Boston. The lodge consisted primarily of members of the British Army who were stationed in Boston. These soldiers were attached to the British Army as part of the 38th Regiment of Foot; and attached to the Grand Masonic Lodge as Lodge No. 441 Irish Constitution. The name given to these freemen's lodge after the departure of the British in 1776 was the African Lodge No. 1. The new society there established was one of as stringent moral value and exclusivity of character of any other white lodge of the day. Lodge 441, prior to departure granted African Lodge No.1 the right to meet and observe Masonic code under dispensation. Seeking full recognition as a viable and legitimate lodge, Prince Hall applied to the Grand Lodge of England itself on March 2, 1784. Mr.Hall was forced to resort to appealing to a foreign lodge for a charter in much the same way as did the largely Semitic lodges in Germany. After repeated applications to domestic lodges, these freemen and Jews were forced by necessity to seek recognition from a higher, and possibly more egalitarian Grand Lodge. The petition was granted on September 29, 1784. It was delivered to Boston on April 29, 1787 by James Scott, John Hancock's brother-in-law and thus African Lodge No. 459 was formally organized one week following on May 6th 1787. (Below: The original charter; a photo and a restored versions, as well as Prince Hall himself)gfhfd

In spite of all the historical evidence to the contrary, white Masons often persist in disrespecting the dignity and legitimacy of Prince Hall Masons, according to William A. Muraskin, author of Middle Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America (U.Cal 1975) "The psychological benefits that Masonry has offered the black Mason have been severely threatened by the refusal of white Masons to recognize their black counterparts as legitimate... When a black Mason in 1876 proclaimed that ‘the mission of American Masonry is to oppress the oppressed, to keep a struggling people down, to yet continue to trample underfoot a people who have already been most fearfully wronged, outraged beyond conceptions,' his view, while more alienated than most , was still indicative of a constant undercurrent of thought among black Masons. White Masonic hostility and discrimination have seemed small reward for the black men who have been promised the Kingdom of God on Earth" (201). With the exception of Alpha Lodge 116 in New Jersey Prince Hall Masons are not allowed into white lodges. The white organization remains 99.4 percent white. Many lodges have responded by starting each year's proceedings with a restatement of the original charter of Prince Hall accompanied by a chronological review of significant events in Masonic history from that date to the present; thus staking their claim as historical and legitimate. Masons today, we found in both Birmingham and Pittsburgh, are still very active. They offer men of all nationalities the opportunity to fulfill the requirements of the order and become a part of the society. Today the Prince Hall fraternity has over 4,500 lodges worldwide, forming forty five independent jurisdictions with a membership of over 300,000 masons. The proceedings of Masonic meetings are private, and many members choose to extend that secrecy to all matters concerning the brotherhood. Masonic Temples are often landmarks in the community and very often bear witness to the financial integrity and aesthetic sensibility of the local black community. Freemasons are educated, God-fearing men often of the middle-class or higher status who take an earnest interest in their communities. The order is often involved in making anonymous donations to worthy charities at work in their area, and in providing and invaluable forum for social networking between one generation and the next. Very often the Masonic rites are passed from one generation to the next. Many Masonic temples have not seen the drop in membership that other fraternal orders have, and it seems unlikely that the Prince Hall Masons will ever relinquish their role in the African-American community. (Above right: Interior Grand Lodge, Boston MA.)

Below: Images, seals, and symbols from various Prince Hall Lodges across the nation.


Society Home

Birmingham-Pittsburgh Traveler