Mt. Horeb / Mt. Sinai
Two Names- One Mountain
Mr. Chairman, distinguished brethren of the Ancient and Honorable Instituion of Ancient Craft Masonry, Masons all:
My name is Howard L. Woods, and I come from natural steps, Arkansas, about 300 yards from a community cemetery. We have a saying there, "that if you can't STEP natural, we'll fix it where you can LAY natural!"
We are here to debate a very sensitive issue, a very controversial issue, an issue that will not die, and God knows that is has been shot at, stabbed in the back, whispered about, but never seriously talked about: written about, but never debated in its entirety. That issue is, "the recognition of Prince Hall Masons!" Hopefully, today, those of you that do not really know Prince Hall Masons; those of you that THINK they know about Prince Hall Masons, will learn a little more than you did when you came here within these hallowed walls.
When you debate any issue, several things come to fore:
What you want to hear.
What you want to say.
What you decide is true.
Many men before you have attempted to discuss this issue, but were hampered by the most basic of hindrances, IGNORANCE. It's like being hoodwinked all over again, except, you are now a Mason of supposedly, the highest order, and yet, you are still in the dark when it comes to Prince Hall Masons. Because of ignorance, you most likely accepted whatever the Master or Grand Master told you about Prince Hall Masons. Now, you are an adept, and the questions abound in your individual minds as to the whereas' and the wherefores' of this thing that exists among people of various colors, now called African Americans. Yet, in the infinite wisdom of God, the Prince Hall Fraternity is not fully peopled by men of African Heritage, for it its midst, we find people of many persuasions, from the Caucasian to the Asian, the European to the Balkan. If the truth is to be told, we are a rainbow of colors, a regular United Nations, if you please.
Yet, Prince Hall Masonry should not be judged by the membership rolls, but rather by the content of the character of those members ON the rolls. The fraternity should not be judged by the legalistic arguments that bring no firm conclusion, but by the living-up-to the obligations by its adherents. Prince Hall Masonry is not to be judged by territorial disputes, for freemasonry has taught us that it crosses all manner of lines, whether governmental, religious or racial! Whoa now! Strike that, because it is a racial and social thing that will give the die-hard segregationist an out, so be honest with yourselves, and debate the issue on its merits as one set of Masons meet another.
And what is Freemasonry? I know what the time-honored answer is, "a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Let's look at that a little deeper. "It is a study of God and the relationship that exist, or should exist between God and man, as seen through the relationship between man and man." (My words) Therefore, debate the issue on the merits of Freemasonry, either explanation, yours or mine. If, in your heart, if in your deliberations, you find that YOUR Freemasonry cannot live comfortable with Prince Hall Masons, keep things as they were. I can live with it. Just do one thing for me, and that is stop saying that WE are clandestine! I do not believe you have the right to declare me clandestine UNTIL you have proved me to be so, and that is BY DUE TRIAL, STRICT EXAMINATION, OR LAWFUL INFORMATION! I take my Freemasonry serious, and if I am to prove to you that I am a Mason, then let's do it by the book that declares who is and who is not a Mason, not the prejudiced minds from yesteryear that should be lost in antiquity, but is not. Use the old charges relating to God and man to try my morals, my dignity, my integrity.
There are some things I will NOT be tried by, for I stand before you a very proud Prince Hall Mason, and that is trial by hearsay evidence. Tell me what you know, not what you heard. Tell me what you feel as a Mason, not what you read from a book that is his-story, not true history.
LEGITIMACY: Do not look in your court records to try me, for Freemasonry is not found in the court rooms of our great country.
EMBLEMS: Don not try me by the emblems of the order, for Freemasonry is not found in the useless baubles that shows more than the wearer knows.
TEMPLES: Do not try me by the size of the temple we meet in, or the ones you meet in. They are all basically empty now with the loss of membership on both sides.
RITUALS: Do not try by the written word of ritualists, for they could not agree on which one was more acceptable.
GOD'S WORD: This is the only yardstick that can be used on any Mason, for it is the Masons discharge of his obligation that makes him a Mason, or it will expose him as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Joe Walkes, in the most recent issue of the Phylaxis Magazine, wrote about the 9th and 10th Cavalries, groups that probably gave us, the Prince Hall Masons, the first military Lodges. You will not read too much about them in history books, for there is a great cry about the teaching of African American History, for it OFFENDS some people. Besides, we all know that there were no black cowboys, let alone black cavalrymen. There are no black heroes, period, if we depended on his-stories. Joe is doing a great job on Prince Hall Masons, and I hope he continues in that vein.
If we depended on the written word of man, there would be no black people found in God's Word, yet there is. Just as Moses was chided for marrying an Ethiopian by his brother and sister, so are we, the Prince Hall Masons, along with other African Americans, segregated and discriminated by those that are ignorant of God's love and His desire for us all to get along. God's Word, as found in BIBILOS, is bubbling over with plans for brotherhood, witness David's 133rd number of Psalms and Amos 7:7,8 or Ecclesiastes 12th chapter. Those scriptures were not taken from the air, or pulled out of a hat like a rabbit. They are there as a master plan, a plan that surpasses Pythagoras' theory, or Pike's ramblings, and yet, we, the Prince Hall Masons are judged by what was written in the nineteenth century, rather than what is found in the heart of man in his time.
Consider the subject matter, Mt. Horeb / Mt. Sinai, two names, one mountain. Gentlemen, we are climbing the same mountain, you and I, trying to reach the same goal, ultimate truth. Because of circumstance beyond our control, we are on different sides of that mountain, traveling under two different names, regular and Prince Hall, but the mountain is the same, that of Freemasonry. We each have our crosses to bear up that mountain, but I believe that the task is surmountable, with or without each other's help. We have co-existed lo, these many years, without a major battle, excusing 1916-1929. Let us find solutions in our debates today and in the future. If we can, let us cast aside our social and legal differences and concentrate on our Masonic parallels. If it is possible, let's make a start here today, to resist discriminating statements, whether by law or circumstance, whether regular or Prince Hall, and seek the relationship that best suits the fraternity, not the individual.
Manly P. Hall, that great writer, in his lectures on ancient philosophy page 278, states, "let the contemplations of divine natures, therefore be approached in the spirit of reasonableness, bereft of that awe and diffidence which has marked such contemplation in the past." I submit to you, my brethren, that the same applies today when considering the subject of Prince Hall Masons. One divine nature that was given to man is love. Freemasonry extended to us a clearer picture by calling its principle theme, "brotherly love and affection." John, in his 1st epistle, chapter 3, verse 11, "for this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another."
As we travel up the Holy Mountain, regardless of the name, let us keep on traveling, always remembering that to reach the top is the goal, not who else is traveling. Two men climbed Mt. Everest, and the two had knapsacks, and the two reached the top. One asked the other, "what do you have in your knapsack?" He replied, "a brick." "Why?" was the question. "Because, as hard a time as I had climbing this mountain, if I see another having an easier of it, I'll take this brick and knock him back down. What do you have?" The other fellow said, "I have a rope." "Why?" was the question. "So that if I see a fellow climber having as much or more trouble than I did, I'll let down this rope to help him up."
Frankly, my brethren, I did not come here to ask for recognition, for in the south, especially in Arkansas, brotherhood seems to have taken a back seat to prejudice, discrimination, and sometimes, downright hatred. In the south, we have fought to attain the right to drive a garbage truck, or vote, or take a drink of water, or to relieve ourselves of that water, so we will NOT fight for brotherly love, relief and truth, except by moral living and actions as preached to our members. We will not beg to be recognized by you, but rather we seek recognition by our people, hopefully to regain the stature we once knew.
I did not come here to call you racist, but I do ask you to NOT call me illegal, clandestine or bogus. Don't call me anything, if you can't call me BROTHER. Let time and eternity decide whether we are worthy to be called MASON. In this room, I imagine there are many men of righteous being, but are you in authority to make a difference? Will your deliberations be heard in the several Grand Lodges around the world, pricking the minds of those that are in authority? Remove the stigma first, then let time and nature take their courses.
This meeting is further progress in the relationship between white and Prince Hall Masons. Send the word back to my part of the country, where the wounds of adversity run deep. Send the message down south, north, west and east where men of supposedly good will sit in judgment on who is and who is not a Mason. In the meantime, as you debate, ask yourself this question: "If all Freemasons were like me, what kind of Masons would those Masons be?"