as delivered to Potomac Lodge No. 5, FAAM, D.C. on the Rev, Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. Federal Holiday, January 19,2004.
Within the beloved brotherhood of Freemasonry we
are taught that we should invoke the aid of deity before any great or important
undertaking. With that I would ask
the WM to request a prayer from the chaplain.
Thank you Brother Chaplain for your warm and
Officially this talk comes as a result of the
invitation from Worshipful Master Young to Social Lodge No. 1.
Worshipful Master Young wanted to have a discussion
of Prince Hall Freemasonry on the Reverend Dr. King's federal holiday.
The fact that he wanted me to do it is humbling. I
also appreciate that my Worshipful Master has given me the opportunity to
Now I don't fancy myself much of a scholar. Yet I
like many people in this room care a great deal about Freemasonry, the
principles it espouses, how we relate to each other as brothers and how the
fraternity relates to the community in which we live.
So the principal challenge given to me had been
what to write about Masonically-speaking. Moreover,
how do you tie such a challenge to the life of a non-Freemason? The formula that
I wound up with, in which we will experiment. is to see if there was something
in the late Rev, Dr. King's writings that tie thematically into what Freemasonry
often inspires; a challenge to the individual and collective conscience. I also
wanted to write about something that has not been written about before to deal
with the challenge theme.
The discovery process yielded a syntheses of
selected Dr.King's writings, key historical events and brief glimpses at the
lives of both Prince Hall and selected founders of Social Lodge No. 1.
Since we are celebrating the federal holiday of the
late Rev. Dr. King today, allow me to draw upon his speeches 'Where Do We Go
From Here?' and 'I see the Promised Land.'
'Here' and 'Promised Land' were written in 1967 and
68 respectively. Now you notice
that I did not draw heavily upon the 'I have a dream speech.' I will not go into a lengthy dissertation, but suffice it to
say that the 'Dream' speech has been analyzed into the ground.
The 'Here' and 'Land' speeches mark Dr. King at the height of conscience
and controversy, not just against racists, but the White House, the press and
so-called mainstream African-American leaders.
By the time of 'Here' and 'Land,' King had
denounced Vietnam on several occasions, called for full employment, a guaranteed
national income and a radical societal reconstruction combining capitalism and
communism (he called both corrupt). April
4th, 1968, a day after Dr. King delivered the 'Land' sermon it was painfully
clear that the country was not ready for these philosophical challenges to its
conscience. If these themes sound
familiar, they're coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire quite a bit. Like before, the sitting President has told those opposing
the war that they're on the wrong side of history--just like former President
Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Its the challenge to conscience which is the road
that we go down this evening through the eyes of history.
Perhaps we can see if we as a society and specifically Freemasonry as a
fraternity has learned anything from what, in this case, some of the founders of
Social Lodge No. 1 experienced not simply in their Masonic lives which will be
perfunctorally reviewed, but their actual private lives. As we take the long
view of history and the brief view of their lives, I believe that you'll
discover that, unlike the fictitious movie that starred Sean Connery, Social's
founders are the true league of extraordinary gentlemen. They are in a long
tradition of people who called consciences on the carpet and paid very dearly
Allow me first to set up the framework of history
before and at the time of Social Lodge's beginnings.
Slavery at the time, was one of the great issues of
the day. What began as indentured
servitude for Europeans who couldn't afford to pay for passage on the ships
settling the new world became an enterprise of greed.
The combination of inter and intra-national war within Africa where
slaves were often a prize and an unholy alliance with the Portuguese and others
who looked for 'cheap labor' in the colonies quickly became a runaway train that
overran much of the continent. The practice formally emerged in the colonies in
1619 at Jamestown Virginia as the horror show that became the holocaust of the
As slavery in the colonies grew, there were free
black men at the time either born, escaped or released.
Colonists and some of the free black men as the
colonies sought independence were drawn to organizations that espoused the best
in humankind. Freemasonry, whose
modern(European) incarnation came about in 1646 according to several sources,
was one of those brotherhoods. Some
of the nation's founding fathers would as we know join the fraternity--notably
for the purposes of tonight's address MWBro. George Washington whose gavel is in
the custody of Potomac 5.
Among those free black men attracted to Freemasonry
was a free black man named Prince Hall. There
are many theories of Prince Hall's life and birth. When you examine works by Brothers Charles Wesley and Joseph
Walkes, the cold truth is that Prince Hall's birth circumstances are not known
nor are aspects of his early life. What
we definitely know is that he sought to join the fraternity.
He was rebuffed until Hall and fourteen other free Black men were
initiated into Lodge No. 441, Irish Constitution, attached to the 38th Regiment
of Foot, British Army Garrisoned at Castle William Island (now Fort
Independence) Boston Harbor on March 6th, 1775. The Master of the Lodge was
Sergeant John Batt.
Hall seized the moment and quickly sought
certification and growth of what would forever be known as African Lodge No.
459. He got it from the Grand Lodge
of England, took his bonafide charter and quickly emerged as an abolitionist and
curiously enough an advocate for repatration of Africans in a speech he gave
called the Boston Plan in 1787. Hall's
thinking had been in line with some white philanthropists who would form the
American Colonization Society(ACS) devoted to African repatriation.
The society's efforts would lead to the creation of Liberia.
Those who did not like Hall for defying the
opponents of blacks in Freemasonry eventually tried to burned down the African
Grand Lodge building but not before one of Hall's successors ran into the
burning building and saved the charter from destruction.
There were those in the fraternity, notably James
Forten, Richard Allen and Absolom Jones in Philadelphia who formed the African
Methodist Church(A.M.E.) after being denied full rights in the white-run
Methodist church who railed against the ACS.
They weren't the only ones. A
couple of hundred miles south in a sleepy midatlantic city called Washington,
D.C. that, in 1800 would become the nation's capital, there was a man named John
W. Prout who sided with Forten and Jones whom we will talk about momentarily.
These brothers would build a parallel alliance
between the A.M.E. Church and black Freemasons.
They would assist in the underground railroad, a part of the abolition
movement that would help slaves escape to freedom. Brother George Washington
once decried the railroad when one of his slaves escaped via its kind offices.
To speak of Washington, not the man but of the
place in a book titled,"Washington: Village and Capital," in a chapter
entitled 'Disillusionment and Readjustments,' spoke to the ACS' desired to
encourage general emancipation in D.C. because 'wholesale emancipation might
endanger the 'tranquility' of the south. D.C.
responded in kind having placed restrictions such as heavy fines for
subjectively 'disturbing the peace', strict curfews and even a $500.00 bond that
had to be bought by white families and held by every black family as a 'good
In fact, Congress instructed the commissioner of
public buildings to bar blacks from the U.S. Capitol except on business(which
meant menial labor). African-Americans
still emigrated to D.C. in spite of these conditions and the ACS' African
resettlement advocacy. This commissioner was none other than Massachusettes
native Charles Bulfinch. Bulfinch,
a former Architect of the Capitol who built the Capitol's central
section(including the original dome and rotunda).
Bulfinch is more commonly known as the namesake of Boston's Bulfinch Pub
the location for the TV show Cheers.
Opportunities for societal advancement were
limited. One avenue of advancement
allowed to a small extent had been education.
Schools had been erected by free African-Americans along with
well-meaning if not condescending intent, white philanthropists and religious
institutions who often helped fund such institutions.
The second such institution of advancement had been
religion. Henry Foxhall among other
philanthropists helped Afircan-Americans establish methodism in D.C.
at first subject to the parent church later declaring its independence
erecting churches on such places as South Capitol Street.
Now to refocus on the life of Bro. John Prout who,
raised in Philadelphia's Union Lodge (Prince Hall), January 4th, 1816, prior to
Social's founding, both out of his own pocket, and again with the help of white
philathropists, took over the running of a school for black children on 14th and
H, N.W. Before Brother Prout's
takeover, it had been known as the Resolute Beneficial Society's school, now the
site of the New York Presbyterian Church. Who succeeded Prout but John F. Cook,
another Prince Hall Mason. Bro.
Cook, leading what was built by both as one of the largest schools for
African-American children, had to close the school and flee for his life in 1835
during a massive white mob action in D.C that began in the fall of 1834.
Brother Cook returned in 1836, reopened the school and became D.C.'s
first black presbyterian minister in 1843.
Prout had been among those 'Philadelphia blacks'
that rejected ACS thought at an AME gathering he presided over in 1831 arguing
for free blacks to assert their 'intent to stay in the U.S. and specifically in
Washington, D.C. saying, "The soil that gave us birth is our true and
Prout besides all of the aforementioned, called 27
other men to his Washington home on November 22nd, 1822, most of whom had
already been raised as Freemasons to organize what would become Social Lodge No.
1. He would be deputized by the
African Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania as its first Worshipful Master. He served as Master for 12 years(1825-37).
Another Social leader in both education and
business was Brother William Costin. Brother
Costin had been a trusted and reputable messenger at the Bank of Washington one
former building of which Stands on 14th street between F and G northwest in
between what is now the Red Sage restaurant and the former 14th and G Hahn's
Costin, like Prout had a school for
African-American children. But in Costin's case started it himself and let his
daughter Louisa Parke run it.
Again to cite "Washington, Village and
Capitol," and "City of Magnificent Intentions,"they say that
Costin had been a member of a distinguished Virginia family.
Costin's mother was the granddaughter of a Cherokee Indian Chief and the
child of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington.
Custis Washington being kin to Bro. George Washington .
Brother Costin, because of his Indian heritage, was
a freeman by Virginia Law and bought his wife's freedom.
He was also called a 'race man,' known to be provocative and passionate
about equality for African-Americans. Costin
moreover passed his racial passion along to his daughter.
According to the "Freedman's Book," Costin also adopted four
orphan children and upon his death, the Bank of Washington's Board of directors
passed a resolution of appreciation for his Service.
He reportedly had a huge funeral procession in 1842. Former President
John Quincy Adams remarked on The floor of the U.S. House of Representatives
about Costin's death, "The late William Costin though he was not white was
as much respected as any man in the District and the large concourse of citizens
that attended his remains to the grave—as well white as black—was an
evidence of the manner in which he was estimated by the citizens of Washington.
Now, why should such a man that be excluded from the elective franchise,
when you admit the vilest individuals of the white Race to exercise it?' Bro.
Costin served as Social Lodge's fourth Master for two terms(1840-42).
To continue our biographical sketches, page 205
of,'The History of the Negro Race in America,' cites Brother William Wormley as
another free African-American educator who faced dangerous circumstances.
Brother Wormley built at Vermont and I, N.W,a school house for his sister
Mary. A restaurant owned by his
brother later joined it on the property. He
even put his sister through school at the 'Colored Female Seminary' in
Philadelphia. He got wealthy owning
a one of the 'largest and best' livery stables in the city.
Wormley also backed the 'Liberator,' newspaper for D.C.
Multiple tragedies unfortunately befell Brother
Wormley. Just two years after
opening the school, his sister became ill and died.
The fall of 1834 a famed white mob called 'the snow Mob' sacked and then
partially burned down the school house. Wormley
along with a friend of his William Thomas Lee had to flee D.C. for a few days.
They returned but were immediately, repeatedly and brutally assaulted. Wormley Watched his tattered business fall apart.
Wormley became depressed and died with barely a roof over his head and
penniless. Through it all Wormley
managed to serve as Social's fifth master(1843).
Now when you combine the circumstances of just
Prout, Costin and Wormley alone, one might wonder what they had to put up with.
Funny you might think that. Barely
a year after Social Lodge was chartered, a furor arose over the alleged murder
of William Morgan, who was believed to have revealed Masonic
"secrets," and the subsequent investigative stonewalling by New York
politicos ensured anti-Masonic hysteria leading to the birth of the Anti-Masonic
party. Ironically the controversy
had the reverse effect upon Masonry, the craft tripled in membership to nearly
200,000 brothers leading up to the Civil War according to Formisano's book on
Why is Anti-Masonry, Slavery, the War of 1812 and
every event at the turn of the 19th Century significant? The men of Social, free black men, managed to face these
obstacles organize and promulgate a lodge and eventually a jurisdiction against
Social brethern met on the banks of the Potomac
River, in the barn loft of Past Grand Master Benjamin B. French, in a small room
on Clark's Row between G and H on 13th Streets, N.W. They put up with being constantly hauled before magistrates,
beat up and risked at all times during slavery being captured and placed into
Through civil war, reconstruction, and the many
years that followed gave rise to the growth and splintering of the fraternity
not just Prince Hall Freemasonry and George Washington or Henry Price if you're
from Massachusettes styled-Freemasonry, but a number of groups without the
legitimate lineage porfolio(mainly expelled Freemasons), or irregular Freemasons
who for a variety of reasons sprang up all over the planet and called themselves
The growth has caused a complex dilemma that haunts
the craft as a whole to this very day. The
craft is faced with the question of whether the weight and legacy of history
should maintain a separate but equal existence in the craft.
Regular Freemasonry (meaning grand lodges aligned with the Conference of
Grand Masters of North America, the United Grand Lodge of England and the Prince
Hall Conference of Grand Masters) have partially addressed the question by doing
what nation's do when they want to see if a working relationship is possible and
establish diplomatic relations, or recognition. But to establish diplomatic
relations, all sides must adhere to the ultimate checklist of what the
fraternity stands for, or, regularity. Recognition
has occurred in a 30-odd states and the District of Columbia.
However the question of how to address either
establishing relationships with everybody or absorbing (read healing) so-called
irregular Freemasons is a very hard task to say the least.
People have assumed tenure, title and as far as
those of us in the regular community believe, an inaccurate intrepretation of
history and the power of lineage.
Why is discussing the issue of inter and
intraracial reconciliation in the fraternity important and what relevance does
it have to the challenge to conscience raised by Dr. King?
Well Prince Hall and Social's founders stood on
principle to establish their branch of regular Freemasonry and went through hell
doing it. Through it all they
stressed the need for unity, dignity and societal progress.
Furthermore, to work towards the beloved community
with moral authority and racial reconciliation that Dr. King often spoke to we
(the fraternity) are faced with the public perception, regardless of how many
dollars have been spent in charitable efforts that we have rogue elements and
more often than not lack a united front on issues that the fraternity deems
appropriate to address.
The irregular examples of Dr. York and the nuwapian
cult in Atlanta with a child molestation trial
and the so-called irregular 'Grand Lodges of the Confederate States' led
by a former Grand Lodge of Alabama F&AM Past Grand Masater calling all PHA
Freemasons clandestine should alone put us on notice that there are those who
hijack our beloved square and compasses and pervert them for evil purposes.
Some of these groups are not malicious but got off on the wrong
historical foot (as I discovered with family members in the nice but irregular
category). We're charged to look past the fact that many of our neighbors and in
some cases friends and even family are parts of these ill-started groups, and
struggle to create a focused, mature Masonic family devoid of illegitimacy.
That said, I don't claim to have the answers on how
to achieve at least getting down to just two camps (racially-speaking).
But there are lots of people who rely on Freemasonry's benevolence who
cannot afford the luxury of intramural squabbles.
Therefore, we must be very careful how we treat one
another for when your average joe or jane acts not too many people notice.
When Freemasons act, everybody notices.
So, as King put it, "We've got to stay
together. We've got to stay
together and maintain unity...Let us develop a kind of dangerous
unselfishness." We also must
be mindful in our zeal to maintain decency and order that we don't lose sight of
those whom we serve.
Sometimes we in Freemasonry might have to examine
our laws and as King said in of all places his interview with Playboy
that," a man-made code that is inharmonious with the moral law is an unjust
law. And and unjust law, as St. Augustine said, is no law at all..and must be
defied until it is legally null and void as well."
For, everything Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' he said.
What would have happened if we had seen the horror of the holocaust
earlier and done something? This is not to say we as brothers must me
anarchists, but to stay focused on what is truly important, self-improvement and
service. Any misuse of lawful
processes or hijacking of our fraternity must be rebuffed.
We cannot be afraid to be troublemakers like Hall, Prout, Washington and
We must always keep in mind that fighting
homelessness, inadequate education, unaffordable housing, racial, gender and
ethnic strife no matter how subtle are inheritently part of the legacies left to
us by the Washingtons, Halls, Prouts, Wormleys and Costins. They all charged the conscience of the nation to correct such
ills. We as Freemasons must not
drop the torch that has been passed to us and make sure that the check that
society has written to the craft is not returned insufficient funds.
Village and Capital, 1800-1878: Constance McLaughlin Green(1962)
of Magnificent Intentions(1983)
Freedmen's Book, L. Maria Child(1866)
Stars in All Ages of the World, W.H. Quick, Esq(1890)
Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, Etc.:
Narrating the Hardships, Hair-Breadth Escapes and Death Struggles of the Slaves
in Their Efforts
Freedom, As Related by Themselves and Others, Or Witnessed by the Author:
Sketches of Some of the Largest Stockholders and Most Liberal Aiders
and-Advisers of the Railroad, William Still-Philadelphia Branch of the
of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880 Negroes As Slaves As Soldiers
As Citizens Together with A Preliminary Consideration of the Unity of the Human
A Historical Sketch of Africa, and an account of the Negro Governments of
Leone and Liberia, George Williams-First Black Member of the Ohio
Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bishop R.R.
Biographical Dictionaries 1790-1950(1987)
Twentieth Century Union League Directory, Historical, Biographical and
Statistical Study of Colored Washington at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century adn
After a Generation
Freedom, The Union League, Andrew Hilyer(1901)
Muraskin, Middle Class in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry
America(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975)
P. Formisano,"AntiMasonry and Masonry: The Genesis of Protest,
1826-1827," American Quarterly, 1977, 29(2): 139-165
Quartro Centennial and Sesquincentennial Yearbooks of Social Lodge No. 1,
F&A.M., PHA, D.C., 1950 and 1994: Grafton Daniels(1950 Editor), Marco
Square and Compass: Joseph A. Walkes, Jr., 1979
BOSTON PLAN TEXT
or our ancestors have been taken from our dear connections, and brought from
Africa and put into a state of slavery in this country; from which unhappy
situation we have been lately in some measure delivered by the new constitution
which has been adopted by this state, or by a free act of our former masters.
But we yet to find ourselves, in many respects, in very disagreeable and
disadvantageous circumstances; most of which must attend us, so long as we and
out children live in America.
and other considerations, which we need not here particularly mention, induce us
earnestly to desire to return to Africa, our native country, which warm climate
is much more natural and agreeable to us; and, for which the god of nature has
formed us; and, where we shall live among our equals, and be more comfortable
and happy, that we can be in our present situation; and, at the same time, may
have the prospect of usefulness to our brethren there.
leads us humbly to propose the following plan to the consideration of this
horourable Court. The soil of the native country is good, and produces the
necessities of life in great abundance. There are large tracts of uncultivated
lands, which, if proper application were made for them, it is presumed, might be
obtained, and would be freely given for those to settle upon, who shall be
disposed to return to them. When this shall be effected by a number of Blacks,
sent there for this purpose, who shall be thought most capable of making such an
application, , and transacting business; then they who are disposed to go and
settle there shall form themselves into a civil society, united by a political
constitution, in which they shall agree. And those who are disposed, and shall
be thought qualified, shall unite, and be formed into a religious society, or
Christian church; and have one or more blacks ordained as their pastor or
Bishops: And being formed, shall remove to Africa, and settle on said lands.
must be furnished with necessary provisions for the voyage; and with farming
utensils necessary to cultivate the land; and with the materials which cannot at
present be obtained there, and which will be needed to build houses and mills.
execution of this plan will, we hope, be the means of enlightening and
civilizing those nations, who are now sunk in ignorance and barbarity; and may
give opportunity to those who shall be disposed, and engaged to promote the
salvation of their heathen brethren, to spread the knowledge of Christianity
among them, and persuade them to embrace it. And schools may be formed to
instruct their youth and children, and Christian knowledge be spread through
many nations who now are in gross darkness; and Christian nations churches be
formed, and the only true God and Savior be worshipped and honoured through that
vast extent of country, where are now the habitations of cruelty under the reign
of the prince of darkness.
may also lay a happy foundation for a friendly and lasting connection between
that country and the united States of America, by a mutual intercourse and
profitable commerce which ,ay much more than overbalance all the expense which
is now necessary in order to carry this plan into effect.
leads us to observe, that we are poor and utterly unable to prosecute this
scheme or to return to Africa, without assistance. Money is wanted to ewenable
those who shall be appointed, to go to Africa, and procure lands to settle upon;
and to obtain a passage for us and our families; and to furnish us with the
necessary provisions and the utensils and articles that have been mentioned.
therefore humbly and earnestly apply to this honorable Court, hoping and praying
that in your wisdom and goodness, you concert and prosecute the best method to
relieve and assist us either by granting a brief for a collection in all the
congregations in this state, or in any other way, which shall to your wisdom
appear most expedient.