Recognition: Plum or Carrot
March 8, 1991
It is hard to be a Negro, Colored Person, Black Man in Arkansas! The matter of skin and previous condition brands one for as long as he may live, barring some unforeseen happening that these feeble eyes and mind cannot imagine at this point in time. The wounds of past experiences run deep in the average person of color in Arkansas. Therefore, when word filtered down to our neck of the woods about the Caucasian Masons recognizing some Prince Hall Masons, the news was viewed with mixed emotions. Our Grand Lodge has been discussing the matter for some time now.
The Big Question: Why?
With Prince Hall Masonry being well over 200 years old in America, and over 118 years in Arkansas, one has to ask “Why?” Why at this point in time, when Reaganism is still the byword in social, economic and political areas, when trickle-down economic formulas still keep the average Black down several notches below their White counterparts? Why, at this point in time, when we, the Black people of America and especially in the South, still have to fight to get ahead, and even more so to retain what gains we have made in the past? Why, at this point in time, when on the social level, there is very little socialization witnessed between Blacks and Whites, and what little there is, is under the watchful eyes of law enforcement agencies, ready to pounce on the Black in many cases, if something goes wrong.
We recognize our White Brother Masons, whether we admit it or not, for we copy after them by identifying them as “Regular” while we, in order not to lose what little identity we have, call ourselves Prince Hall Masons, and get P.O.’d at even the hint of being called “Irregular or Clandestine, or Bogus” or whatever other name may be put upon us. To this writer, the term “Regular” should not be used by Prince Hall Masons in describing Caucasian Masons, but should use the terms “White or Caucasian Masons.” To imply that they are Regular means that somewhere, some group of Masons are Irregular, and that group is usually, “US!”
For years, we have asked, begged, and even slipped to be “recognized” by our White Brothers, but to no avail. Now, across the northern half of our great country, we see several Grand Lodges “recognizing” several Prince Hall Grand Lodges. Why? Is there something in the water they share, the wind? Has Freemasonry, with all its beautiful lessons of Brotherly Love, finally reached the hearts of those that now love those they formerly hated? Does Friendship, that highest of Loves found on earth, take a bow for having found a group of Black and White repositories to, at last, lodge in? Has Morality, the measure of a Mason’s worth, finally, lodged between the breast, nestling in the unseen ‘heart’ that we, mere mortals, call a soul? One, without thinking, would assume all of the above, but if one thinks, then the big question comes to for, “WHY?”
I think back on the last time, first time too, the Phylaxis Society met in Little Rock in its Executive Meeting. One of the things we were asked to do was to set up a visit to the local Scottish Rite Temple, which we sought to do. Needless to say, in Little Rock, Arkansas, that did not happen, for all of a sudden, as the date of visitation drew near, a lot of previously unscheduled events started to take place at the Temple. It did not surprise us, for we are used to discrimination and segregation, but others were surprised.
Word has come down that the entire thing about “recognition” has to do mainly with economics, loss of membership being the main factor for the economics, potential loss of non-profit status, and segregationist practices.
I am not here to debate the merits of those statements, but, “It makes sense to me.” The temples are larger, lodge halls are larger, financial picture is many times that of ours, and certainly, the loss of members is world wide, among White Masons as well as Prince Hall Masons. But, our temples are smaller, our lodges are smaller, and we don’t practice segregation and discrimination. Our non-profit status is pretty secure, mainly because we obeyed laws of the IRS.
In the South, you will find the bulk of the Prince Hall membership, and consequently, the largest membership losses, but because of our smaller temples and lodges, we do not feel the crunch as much as our White brothers. Then too, we have been experiencing losses longer, going from around one million members in the forties and fifties to less than three hundred thousand in 1991. World War Two took a great toll on our membership, as did the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts. Yet, the question still remains, “Why?”
If The Answer Is All Of The Above
If the answer is all of the above, then a new look needs to be had, so that both sides of the fence can be cognizant of what’s going on. Too often, the fate of Prince Hall Masons is attempted by some that are not qualified to do so, nor do they have the backing to adequately steer the course of Prince Hall Masons. It has been tried before, but with disastrous results, some by this society. It is one thing to write about what should be done, but it should be left to those in authority to work out the mechanics. I’m afraid that the book The Prince Hall Masonic Quiz Book has done a lot of harm to Prince Hall Masonry because of the item on “Provincial Grand Masters” under the wings of Caucasians. Then too, on an Organizational level, Grand Masters, in the Grand Masters Conference, should have debated the issue with all facts laid on the table.
This was not done, and individual Grand Lodges have gone ahead with recognition, and I say, more power to them, but in Arkansas, we have a few questions to ask:
- Why? If adequate answer is forthcoming. #2 is in order.
- Let a committee of Grand Masters from each conference meet to discuss the pros and cons of the matter, and there are some.
- Discussions then can be held in the two conferences on the following:
A. Will all Prince Hall Masons be recognized, or just particular jurisdictions?
B. Will the Appendant and Concordant Bodies be recognized?
C. Have recognition efforts gone out to any Grand Lodge in the South?
D. What about overseas Grand Lodges, for monkey see, monkey do; namely, when American Grand Lodges started calling us bogus, overseas Grand Lodges picked it up.
E. What about and who will handle Publicity on Recognition, for Prince Hall Masons should not be portrayed as “Hat in Hand Masons.”
- After discussions can be brought to a conclusion, every Grand Lodge involved should change their Constitution and Bylaws reflecting this recognition, for we consider anyone that is not a Prince Hall body, Non Prince Hall.
The Question Of Black Non Prince Hall Masons
This question has come up in many discussions in the Grand Masters Conference, and in the Phylaxis Society as well. This question is and should be answered by the Prince Hall Grand Masters in conference, as once again, a major step would be taking place, if recognition is going to be made with our Black Brothers on the other side of the Masonic Line.
This “recognition thing” could be a play to keep us from uniting with our Non Prince Hall brothers, for we would be a force to reckon with, politically as well as fraternally. To this writer, I would rather see us make friends with our Non Prince Hall brothers BEFORE we jump to the other side.
I recognize that there are some weird organizations calling themselves Masons, but, there are some that are quite progressive, and even use our name of Prince Hall when they can get away with it. Be that as it may, we do recognize that most of the Non Prince Hall Grand Lodges were started by a Prince Hall Mason, or they evolved from a Prince Hall Masonic Body in some manner. Think of the show of solidarity among Black Folks, if all the Grand Lodges of Color could come together in some kind of show of strength! Awesome, isn’t it?
If It Is An Act Of Brotherhood
If the above is true of this recognition thing, then Freemasonry has evolved into an organization that practices what it preaches. Is this a Utopian thought, or an unheard of hope on our part? Can we dare hope that Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth will at last be the watchword of all of Freemasonry? Can we at last witness the fulfillment of our desires of showing and receiving Friendship, Morality and Brotherly Love as Master Masons’ wages all over the world?
Some view the question of recognition as a “plum”; others as a carrot. One is used as refreshment while the other is used as an inducement. A plum can be a reward for some act performed, and I can see why some may view this as some great act. However, one must be ready and able to see both sides of the plum, as well as the carrot. I can see a great Masonic Revival, if the plum is there, and we will be recognized for our Masonic character, not acquiesced to because of our color. I can see a great revival of Freemasonry all over the world, as we face changing societal thought and social upheavals, in the free world as well as behind the Iron Curtain, which is coming down, or seems to. I can see others seeing America, that vestige of Freedom, in a new light, for the words of W.E.B. du Bois still ring clear, that the Black Man is the conscious of the world. Whatever happens to us, as Prince Hall Masons, will have a great deal of influence in what happens to the Black people of the world. I believe that!
Then too, if it is a plum that we see, think of the freedom Prince Hall Masons will have to explore more into Freemasonry itself, rather than having to defend the legality of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Think of the freedom that Caucasian Masons will have pursuing the truth, rewriting the books on us, sharing with us the multitude of sources of unavailable to us now. Think of how much we can help each other when those bonds of restrictions are lifted. Think of the image that would go out over the face of the earth if the plum is there. Freemasonry would grow in stature overnight, and we, the Prince Hall Masons, would have removed a stigma (Clandestine) from our name. What a day that would be!
On The Other Hand
If it is a carrot we face, then shame on us, shame on the future of Freemasonry. If what we see is a carrot, a vegetable placed before a Jackass to get him to pull the wagon, then we, the Prince Hall Masons, are in trouble, for this thing will divide us like nothing else in our turbulent history. Some of this was seen in the last Grand Masters Conference in Boston in 1990, when words were exchanged concerning “recognition.” If it is a carrot, we will continue to see “divide and conquer,” or the same old soup, warmed over.
The history of Prince Hall Masonry is replete with the experiences of the Black Man, and how he had to fight for every gain made, for every right experienced. In this history, we see White Masons taking part in righting wrongs that had been inflicted on us as a people, and as a fraternity. One would be crazy to say that all White people were against us. It would be ludicrous on our part to think that all Prince Hall Masons were for us. Yet, if a carrot is there, enticing us to pull someone else’s wagon, we’re in trouble. We could not rebuild all of what would be torn down, if the carrot is there. We could not recapture the lost members that would surely leave the fraternity, if the carrot is there.
I can see diabolical plots, if the carrot is there, and one must wonder about the Northern Jurisdiction of the Caucasian Supreme Council for such an eye-opening paper on Prince Hall Masons, and then back off into the mist of apathetic actions when the plans do hit the floor of the White Grand Masters Conference. And the brag of making the first Black a thirty-third degree Masons. How long will the Southern Grand Lodges of theirs hold out in opposition, and finally prevail as they did in former times? The wounds of the Civil War run deep on them, too!
Yet, I can be as optimistic as the next person, and I say that there is one thing that can be done that would make this recognition thing a lot easier to digest, and that is removing the words “clandestine, illegal, bogus, irregular Masons” from their constitutions, from their bylaws, from their hearts, from their lips, and from their writings, through retractions or whatever it takes to do this. Then, and only then, will we, as Prince Hall Grand Masters and Masons, agree to do this. Then, and only then, will we as Prince Hall Grand Masters and Masons, agree to this thing called recognition. I am a firm believer that when this happens, Nature will take her course and valleys will be exalted as mountains are leveled. This I believe, and as I have stated in such meetings as this one now, there are some things that should be recognized as being in the hands of a higher power than a historical research society like the Phylaxis Society. That higher power is called a Grand Lodge / Grand master, or a group thereof.
The printed word is like a two-edged sword; it cuts the just as well as the unjust, for writers get caught up in their writings sometimes and can cause more harm than good, all in the name of academic freedom. I would advise a slow approach on matters like the captioned subjects mentioned. I can see where individuals can see themselves as presenting the plan for Black and White Masons to come together, and personally, I hope that will happen, but please remember that each jurisdiction is made up of Masons that see things differently, and a Grand Master / Grand Lodge must make those decisions that will benefit all Master Masons under its authority.
Speaking for Arkansas, we have not heard one word from our counterparts, and we do not expect to in the near future. The South is different in its social acceptances, as we all well know, and changes come slow here. However, there is no progress without change, and we recognize that!