In 1866, one year after the Civil War, two African Methodist Episcopal (AME) ministers met at Helena Crossings on the banks of the Mississippi River. Both men were Prince Hall Masons.
They were not strangers as both were preachers working out of the Indiana Circuit of the AME Church, the Honorable Thomas A. Stringer & Rev. Moses Dickson. Stringer was also Past Grand Master of Ohio and would go down in Masonic history as the first Grand Master to serve two states, Ohio and Mississippi. The two ministers probably met at the annual conference of their churches. To go back in time a little bit, “Prince Hall Masonry”, having been organized in 1775 in Boston, Massachusetts, was populated with a great number of preachers and was organized in several states at the time.
The jurisdiction owes a lot to the AME Church in its establishment. Rev. Moses A. Dickinson was a circuit rider traveling the south, especially Arkansas, organizing churches and eventually masonic bodies. This was the beginning of Freemasonry among colored folks in Arkansas. Dickson met with Rev. William H. Grey, pastoring in Helena at the time, was sought out by Reverend Dickinson and probably showed him the locations of proposed churches, in eastern and central Arkansas.
James M. Alexander Lodge #4 was established in 1866 in Helena, Arkansas and named after its first Master. His son was the second black cadet ever & first black cadet from Arkansas to graduate from West Point.
Wesley Chapel AME Church and Alexander Lodge #4 are still in existence and thriving. From Helena, the pair went to Little Rock where Bethel AME was located and established Jeptha Lodge #10. Jeptha, like J.M. Alexander, was later renamed Richmond Lodge #10 in honor of its first Worshipful Master, Augustus L. Richmond. After the formation of the Grand Lodge, Richmond was renumbered to #2 and is still functioning. With Arkansas not gaining it’s statehood until 1873, it was technically open territory for Grand Lodges to establish subordinate lodges in the territory. Therefore, in Fort Smith, Arkansas across the river from Indian Territory, there was another lodge that had been formed. This was Widow’s Son #18 under the Most Worshipful King Solomon Grand Lodge of Kansas under the leadership of Grand Master William D. Matthews.
On June 24, 1847, a number of established Grand Lodges throughout the country decided to form a National Compact, bringing those Grand Lodges up under the leadership of a National Grand Master. Having great foresight & not wanting to get caught up in the irregularities of the National Compact, Past Master Henry C. George in 1872, called together a Masonic Convention to be held in the hall of Richmond Lodge #10.
On March 31, 1873, delegates from all 3 lodges met in session and the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Arkansas F&AM was to be organized. A committee was formed to select a slate of officers and confirm the actions that needed to be taken.
The committee made its report and the following officers were elected and installed:
Grand Master, William H. Grey; Deputy Grand Master, Henry C. George; Senior Grand Warden, Wesley F. Lewis; Junior Grand Warden, Arthur Armstead; Grand Treasurer, A. L. Richmond; Grand Secretary, J. C. Corbin; Grand Sr. Deacon, Moses A. Clark; Grand Junior Deacon, Jerome Lewis; Master of Ceremonies, J. M. Alexander; Grand Chaplain, N. Warren; Sword Bearer, Samuel Johnson; Grand Pursuant, Granville Ryles; Grand Sr. Sentinel, George Cragin; Jr. Sentinel, W. H. Rector; and Grand Tyler, S. McKenzie. Grand Master Grey was installed and in turn, installed the others. J.M. Alexander #4 was renumbered to #1, Richmond to #10 to #2 & Widow’s Son #18 to #3.
The Grand Lodge was incorporated on June 28, 1883 in Circuit Court,
Little Rock, Arkansas. It celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 1972. With many projects under the attentive eyes of GM M. J. Caruth, aka “Mr. Mason” in Arkansas at the time.
Almost every professional black man joined the Prince Hall Lodges in the state, but they remained primarily rural in membership due to the agricultural-minded people of southern and eastern Arkansas. Yet, the fraternity grew by leaps and bounds reaching a high of some 22,000 during the first 50 years.
Social: The social aspect involves the tithing of time, not just for the Mason but also for his immediate family. He also might consider social activities that include his children; are there social activities that include them as well? Do they have a good time in a safe environment?
Psychological: This is where growth comes in. Growth involves learning the lessons Masonry has for its votaries, so they can be wiser, better, and happier. A question more and more Masons ask themselves is; does my Lodge teach them to those who want to know? A motto, (or favorite saying) of Freemasonry is; ‘We take in good men and make them better.’
Spiritual: This involves being involved; being able to contribute our talents. Freemasons tend to be men who like meaningful participation; being able to use their talents in a way that will be helpful to the groups they are members of.