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Alton G. Roundtree
Freemasonry fascinates me. I've been studying it off and on for nearly 35 years, and I still find it interesting. It is a microcosm of society at large, but with unique features and traditions. One of the things that makes it interesting to me is that many of its details have not yet been discovered.There's plenty of room for research and discovery.
Among the topics needing more research is that of the prominent Revolutionary Freemason, Prince Hall of Boston. He is a man who overcame incredible obstacles to achieve substantial success. He is particularly of interest to Freemasons because of his membersbip in, devotion to, and support of our fraternity. It was through his efforts that African Lodge No.459 received its charter from thepremier Grand Lodge in London and subsequently thrived. African-American Masons can proudly point to Prince Hall as the source of their Masonic traditions, and any Mason can take satisfaction in a Brother who so exemplified and lived the teachings of our Craft.
One of the issues that has swirled around Prince Hall and African Lodge is the question of "regularity." This is a rather technical concept in Freemasonry, but one that goes to the heart ofjust who is and isn't a Mason. It is sad to say, but most of the past questions about the regularity of Prince Hall and bis descendents have been motivated by racism. However, the history of African Lodge is unprecedented and the records sparse enough that there are indeed legitimate questions about just exactly what happened. It is also sad to say, that raising these questions can result in unjustified charges of racism. The question of regularity has been properly settled, and bistorians are now "tidying up" the details before moving on to other aspects of the fraternity.
Alton G Roundtree and Paul M. Bessel have taken on the task of "tidying up" the regularity question, and they have done a great job. Here are the definitions, the issues, and the actions, all detailed as an invaluable resource for future researchers. One of the maddening things for the student of Prince Hall Masonry is the uneven availability of primary documents. Out of the Shadows provides detailed references, so that when a question arises of when or where something was said about Prince Hall regularity, scholars will refer to "Roundtree and Bessel."
One of the very exciting products of this book is its excellent treatment of the National Compact Grand Lodge. For so many years the "party line" was that it went out of existence in 1879 and that "states rights" Prince Hall Grand Lodges resumed the independent existence. While the National Compact Grand Lodge hasn't thrived like the state grand lodges, the report of its death is exaggerated. This raises the interesting issue -perhaps the next round in the "regularity debate" -of the National Compact, directly descended from African Lodge No.459, practicing regular Masonry, and shunned as irregular.
I am very pleased to add this book to my reference volumes. It will be used regularly.
S. Brent Morris
The book is a thoroughly-researched reference work on the emergence of Prince Hall Masonry in relation to the rest of U.S. Freemasonry, as well as the society in which both forms of Freemasonry evolved. It is a valuable information resource for interested Masons, Masonic Researchers, and recognition policy makers.
This tome is well-bound, solid, and a joy to use. Its almost 500 pages are densely packed with data in 15 chapters and 16 appendices. There is a seven-page table of contents, a glossary, a short index, and a 17-page bibliography of 300 sources. The authors provide comparatively little commentary, and what there is, is neutral and tactful. The timelines, the lists, the quoted documents, all speak for themselves, clearly, consistently, and forcefully.
(Such a substantial work could be refined with further research, co- ordinating, editing, proof-reading, and updating. But clearly a good book today is better than a perfect one in two years. Many knowledgeable researchers will happily contribute improvements for the second edition.)
Upon opening the book, the reader notices a striking illustration: a map, showing the 38 U.S. States whose mainstream Grand Lodges have voted in favour of Prince Hall Masonry Recognition. The missing region is all below the Mason-Dixon Line, which is also where most Prince Hall Masons live. (Since publication, 2 recognitions have been added: Delaware and Texas.)
In the Introduction we read "from 1775 to 1989, Prince Hall Freemasonry, previously until 1944 called Colored, Negro or Black Freemasonry, was denied recognition by mainstream or predominantly White Freemasonry in America and Canada", and that the term Prince Hall Freemasonry has come to mean Prince Hall Affiliation (PHA). There are today 47 PHA Grand Lodges which comprise the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters. They have 150,000 members in 3,500 lodges.
We read that Recognition was accomplished in Washington State in 1898 and Massachusetts in 1947, but both were forced to rescind because of reprisals by the other predominantly White Grand Lodges. The words of censure used by Masonic leaders ranged from undisguised race-based opinions to "Violation of Exclusive Jurisdiction". One Northern Grand Lodge summed up the prevailing sentiment in 1899: "Therefore, to have lodges exclusively of Negroes, would be dangerous to the high character of our Order. And to associate them in lodges with White brethren, would be impossible." In 1965 a Grand Master introduced a constitutional amendment that read: "No Negro or other person of African descent shall ever be admitted to membership in any Lodge. ..."
In Chapter 2 we read that White Masons from the states of Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas attempted to use the courts to outlaw Prince Hall Masonry. In 1929 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of PHA Grand Lodges to practice Freemasonry. (The Act of Incorporation of the Grand Lodge of Florida stipulates: "Consisting of Masons exclusively of the White race", thus elucidating the meaning of Exclusive Jurisdiction).
One concern to Prince Hall Masonry is the operation of over 245 predominantly Black (not Prince Hall) Grand Lodges in the United States that cannot prove their lineage to African Lodge No.459. This compares with over 70 predominantly White Grand lodges that are irregular, unrecognized, or clandestine. No one seems to have even a rough estimate of their total number of members. It might range from 10,000 to 100,000. (One may wonder to what extent the denial of recognition of Prince Hall Freemasonry by the "mainstream", has empowered opportunists with plenty of material to show to prospective members that PHA is "no good".)
Chapter 4, as well as 7 of the 16 Appendices deal with The National Grand Lodge (NGL), also known as The National Compact. In 1847 the then existing "Negro" Grand Lodges formed the NGL. By 1878, "Independent" State (Grand) Lodges had left the NGL, or formed separately, leaving behind a much reduced NGL. The book gives a detailed account of the history of the NGL, concluding that the NGL was never dissolved, and that its 27 State Grand Lodges, designated "Prince Hall Origin" (PHO), are therefore regular. They have 300 lodges with about 5000 members.
Chapters 5 through 15 cover various aspects of recognition: Objections, Blackball, Writers, Attempts and Repercussions, Influences, Sovereignty, the 1990's, Status Summary by State, and Demographics. 200 pages, packed with events, agreements, regulations, declarations, arguments, statistics, approaches, and analysis. The following issues are addressed:
While some mainstream Grand Lodges have only ever recognized their local PHA Grand Lodge, many others now unilaterally and automatically recognize all Prince Hall Grand Lodges that their local Prince Hall Grand Lodge recognizes.
The American Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction effectively deprives the majority of Prince Hall Masons of their fraternal relations with perhaps 150 regular Grand Lodges that would welcome them. Thus, the United Grand Lodge of England, which applies this doctrine, will not recognize the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia, which unilaterally recognizes the Grand Lodge of Georgia, because of the latter's continued refusal to recognize the former. Other Grand Lodges, such as the Grand Lodge of Tasmania, disregard this doctrine.
Visitation is much more controlled within the Prince Hall world. There are (almost) no Dual Memberships. Prince Hall Masons seek recognition as a matter of principle, not because they want to visit predominantly White lodges.
U.S. law denies tax-exempt status to social clubs that discriminate by race, sex, and religion. (The book does not address how old Masons, young Masons, foreign Masons, potential Masons, the public, the media, and the courts, today and tomorrow struggle with this issue that so greatly affects the integrity and reputation of Freemasonry. Also not addressed is the widespread lack of complete PHA recognition world-wide, Australia being one notable exception.)
One common thread throughout the book is that for over 200 years Prince Hall Masons have sought to be recognized as genuine, regular Masons. Denial of recognition to regular Masons can only harm the dignity, integrity, and esteem of the entire Masonic Order.
This reviewer finds this the single most significant book on the subject of Prince Hall Masonry and its relation to "mainstream" Masonry, available today. Without a doubt, if all those who make recognition decisions were to read this book, Freemasonry in North America would benefit greatly and quickly. The documented facts are as inescapably compelling as the commentary is tactfully restrained.
Alton G. Roundtree is Editor of the Masonic Globe Magazine, Editor of the award-winning Prince Hall Masonic Digest, and Vice-President of KLR Publishing, LLC. He is a Past Master, a 33rd Degree Mason, and Vice-Chairman of the Recognition Committee of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, D.C.
Paul M. Bessel is a Fellow of the Scottish Rite Research Society, a Fellow of the Philalethes Society, and Past President of the Masonic Library & Museum Association. He is a Past Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C. Paul Bessel is well known and highly respected globally for his vast web site of accurate factual information on numerous topics in Freemasonry, including in particular, the subject of Prince Hall recognition.