The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the January 2009 issue of The Connecticut Freemasons publication, which is running a series of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of our mutual recognition.
(Editor's note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M.,Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. Two decades later, almost 80% of United States Grand Lodges have formally recognized Prince Hall Masonry, including several south of the Mason-Dixon line. How did these Connecticut organizations bring together under the umbrella of recognition two old and proud bodies? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
"Is there anything further to come before
this Grand Lodge session?" The newly installed Grand Master
asked the question perfunctorily, almost as though it was a
necessary piece of the ritual.
The craft - more than 500 uncomfortable, tired brothers, seated in the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven that day in March 1989 - were sure they knew the answer to that question. They looked forward to the closing of what would surely be recalled as the most rancorous Grand Lodge session in decades, if not ever.
The heating and cooling systems of the era were often mutually exclusive, providing either heat or air conditioning, and not easily shifting from one to the other. Less than a week into spring, it was not expected that the outdoor temperature would rise to nearly 80? on March 29. In the ballroom, brothers' tempers would raise that figure significantly.
The year 1989 was already an historic year for Connecticut Masonry. The Grand Lodge had been chartered in 1789 and a New Haven brother installed as the first Grand Master. Thus, New Haven was an appropriate city to host the Grand Lodge kickoff of the bicentennial. Further, the Masonic Charity Foundation was celebrating its centennial, having been incorporated in 1889. There would be much to celebrate in the coming year.
To help Masonry grow into its third century, a 'task force' had been commissioned to learn what was good and what needed to be changed about the fraternity to make it more relevant, especially for young men who would be desirable prospective members. Consultant Dudley Davis, a non-Mason, was employed to survey Masons and non-Masons alike, distill their thoughts, and offer proposals for change in an organization not noted for embracing that concept.
Most Worshipful Grand Master John Gonsalves had the unenviable task of presiding over the session. The task force had presented five recommendations, three of which the voting delegates approved as a package, apparently unanimously, by voice vote. A controversial proposal to change the requirement to reject a candidate for Masonry from one black cube to three was also approved, but only by a one-vote majority. As a by-laws change needed a 2/3 majority, this proposal failed, but showed an amazing degree of open-mindedness among the craft.
The 'leadership' proposal was the most controversial, and the Grand Master announced that there would be two hours allotted for commentary from the craft before the vote would be taken. He then began calling upon appointed Grand Lodge line officers to read supportive speeches that had been prepared by the task force. The delegates, ready to have their say, remained respectful as RW Bro. Ken Hawkins read his tract. Then RW Bro. Sam Walker took the microphone.
By midpoint in the presentation the craft had had enough. They realized that someone had planned to use as much of the debate time as possible by having line officers read "their" remarks, thus allowing little or no time for the lodge delegates to express their positions. This these delegates would not allow.
Past Grand Master Herbert L. Emanuelson, Jr., who was shepherding the task force proposal, took the microphone in the Grand East. Acknowledging the obvious - that the craft would not be excluded from being heard - he asked that the floor be opened for comments. It was clear to even the most enthusiastic backer of the task force's work that the last proposal would not even reach the slim one vote victory.
The work of the day completed, it was time for the concluding events of every Grand Lodge session - the then private installation of the Grand Lodge officers, the roll call of lodges, and closing. For those who had been in the ballroom for more than eight hours, lunch excepted, closing could not come soon enough.
MW Past Grand Master Gail L. Smith, 1968, took the Grand East for the unique opportunity of installing his son, Gail N. Smith, as Grand Master for the Bicentennial year. The elder Smith installed his son and the corps of officers with dispatch. The usual presentations of jewels, past and present, followed. Departure would be soon for those occupying the delegate seats.
"Is there anything further to come before this Grand Lodge session?" Newly installed Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith paused, silence being the expected response for all but three brothers sitting in that session.
"Yes, Grand Master, there is!"
The growl thundered from the southeast corner of the all-but deserted dais in the Grand East. Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith stalked back to the podium, pulling a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket as he went. The exhausted brethren were all but beside themselves. What could he possibly need to do now, well past 5:30 p.m.?
Gail Linnell Smith needed to change the history of Freemasonry in Connecticut.
Brother Smith read a resolution proposing that, with the approval of both Grand Lodges, there be mutual Masonic recognition between the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, A.F. & A.M. and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, Inc.
by Carl G. Ek
(Author’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first installment, the stage was set as MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith rose to present a resolution proposing mutual recognition. What led MWPGM Smith to the belief that this was necessary and proper? And how would local lodge leaders react to such a proposal? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.
Closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session, approaching 6 PM, at the hot, un-air conditioned Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven; the business of the session – much highly contentious – had been accomplished, the new Grand Lodge officers elected and installed, and everyone anxious to close and go home.
There were three brothers in the room who had other plans.
“Is there anything further to come before this Grand Lodge session?” asked newly installed Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith of the silent gathering.
“Yes, Grand Master, there is!”
The growl seemed to resonate from the past. Gail Linnell Smith, 1968 Grand Master, father of the new Grand Master, strode from his seat in the corner of the Grand East dais. The crumpled paper he took from his pocket was placed on the podium. Father and son stood together as the elder Smith read a resolution he had hoped to offer for more than a decade.
“WHEREAS – Qualified Masonic scholars and several in-depth investigations have demonstrated conclusively that the Prince Hall body of Freemasonry is completely legitimate;
“WHEREAS – Eminent and distinguished members of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, A.F. & A.M. have, more than once, attested in the courts of the land to the legitimacy of the Prince Hall Masons in Connecticut;
“WHEREAS – The doctrine of exclusive jurisdiction is a myth, and a device formulated by American Grand Lodges without any basis in Masonic custom and usage and not universally practiced by the originators;
“WHEREAS – Division among Men and Masons claiming to practice the Brotherhood of all Man under the Fatherhood of one God is contrary to the basic and ancient tenets and teachings of Freemasonry;
“THEREFORE – Be it resolved that this Grand Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, request fraternal recognition from the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, Prince Hall Affiliation;
“And be it further resolved that the Grand Master is hereby authorized to appoint a special, temporary sub-committee to the Committee on Fraternal Relations for the sole purpose of contacting Connecticut Prince Hall Masons and advising the full Committee.
“I move that this resolution be accepted, printed in the proceedings and referred to the Committee on Fraternal Relations with instructions to present a report with a recommendation at the next communication of this Grand Lodge on October 14, 1989.”
Hundreds of brothers rose as one to enthusiastically, urgently “Second!” this motion. The Grand Lodge Proceedings reported the approval as unanimous. Moments earlier, a hot, tired, gloomy craft awaited the end of an unpleasant session. Suddenly, a sense of jubilation gripped the craft. The issues of earlier in the day were forgotten; all that was important was that we were recognizing Prince Hall Masonry! Brethren all but floated out of the Grand Ballroom after a closing that no one heard as they discussed among themselves what they had just occurred.
What brought the senior Brother Smith
to believe that this was a necessary and
proper course for Connecticut Freemasonry
PGM Gail Smith had done his research well. He knew that twice before, ‘white’ Grand Lodges had recognized their Prince Hall counterparts, only to withdraw that recognition in the face of protests from other Grand Lodges throughout the nation. What made him think that Connecticut could successfully pursue the recognition that had eluded the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1897 and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1947?
After Bro. Gail retired from the state police, he came to the Masonic Home and Hospital in Wallingford as director of admissions. He assumed that position only a few years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A part of the Act provided that recipients of Medicare and similar health care payments could not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color when providing those services. Those who did would lose their right to government payments.
The Masonic Home and Hospital was never segregated, but it was only open for Masons and their families. Connecticut lodges in the 1960’s likely had no black members. However, the Grand Lodge was well acquainted with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which it deemed the only legitimate – though not recognized – Masonic group for black men.
In 1960, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. had appeared in Superior Court to support the petition of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge against other black organizations trying to use the name “Masons” in public events and parades. Past Grand Masters and lawyers Frank L. Wilder and George R. Sturges, and future Grand Master Irving E. Partridge, then Deputy for Scottish Rite, appeared as ‘friends of the court’ to state unequivocally that Prince Hall Masonry was the only black group that had the right to use the term “Mason.” They pointed to the long history of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, including the chartering by the Grand Lodge of England of African Lodge No. 459 in 1774, as reasons to support the Prince Hall position. The court agreed, issuing the requested injunction.
In 1966, The Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. united with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and the statewide groups from the Knights of Columbus and B’nai Brith to form "Brotherhood in Action." The goal was to bring together fraternal organizations of men doing good work in their communities to multiply their successes. Local units were encouraged to follow suit, giving the ‘white’ and ‘black’ Grand Lodges a chance to work with their Roman Catholic and Jewish counterparts – and, perhaps most importantly, with each other.
Against that backdrop, Prince Hall brothers and their families were welcomed and encouraged to apply for residence at what is now called the Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford. Thus did PGM Smith meet MW Bro. John Rogers, a Prince Hall Past Grand Master who spent the last several years of his life as a guest in Wallingford. Bro. Rogers was a scholar and educator, and in their frequent talks, Bro. Smith became convinced that there was no good reason why the two Grand Lodges could not extend recognition to one another, visit each other’s meetings, and truly practice the Masonic brotherhood that we speak about. He set about doing the research necessary to have such a change – a monumental change – made.
"The large(r) question of… legitimacy…"
by Carl G. Ek
(Editor’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first two installments, the stage was set and MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition. Would local lodge leaders be knowledgeable enough to support this proposal? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
In the closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session, three brothers revealed their plan. New Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith, his father, Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith, and newly installed Grand Senior Deacon Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr., had agreed on the presentation of the Prince Hall recognition resolution, which was met with unrestrained positive response from the craft.
An observer would have believed that craft leadership present understood the complexities of the issue, knew that Prince Hall Masonry was as Masonically legitimate – and perhaps more so – than many or most North American lodges, and that there was no Masonic reason to oppose recognition. Perhaps they did, even though Bro. Smith’s resolution had included none of his research.
In large measure, most of the work necessary to establish the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry had been conducted by the Grand Lodge of Washington in their preparation to recognize Prince Hall Masonry in 1897. This work was updated by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts just after World War II and they recognized the descendants of African Lodge No. 459 in 1947. Regrettably, both Grand Lodges withdrew recognition soon after due to pressure from other continental Grand Lodges.
On this point, the trio behind Connecticut’s proposal was in agreement. There would only be one chance for recognition to be mutually approved, so the work done by the special committee authorized in the resolution would have to get it right. They also agreed that once recognition was approved – as they confidently expected – there would be no turning back.
MWGM Smith quickly appointed his special committee. RW Hawkins would chair, and six Worshipful Brothers who had supported Prince Hall recognition would make up the committee. They were: John H. Blennerhassett, Jr., Annawon No. 115, West Haven; William L. Greene, Uriel No. 24, Merrow; Robert L. Hodgson, Bay View No. 120, Niantic; Edward N. Jones, Wooster No. 10, Colchester; W. John Nissen, St. John’s No. 3, Trumbull; and John E. Suomala, Hiram No. 98, Bloomfield. Several would later wear ‘the purple of the fraternity,’ but the committee intentionally excluded permanent members of the Grand Lodge. Recognition, if it were to occur, would come as the desire of the craft, not as an imposition from the Grand Lodge. But what evidence could be offered as to the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry? PGM Smith had done his work well in mining a mountain of research from recognized Masonic authorities.
In 1897, the Grand Lodge of Washington received a report of the “Special Committee on Negro Masonry,” prepared by Deputy Grand Master William H. Upton and “most heartily concurred in” by the committee. With no Prince Hall lodges then in Washington state, Prince Hall brothers Gideon S. Bailey and Con A. Rideout – a justice of the peace and an attorney, both with impeccable Masonic credentials – requested that the Grand Lodge “devise some way whereby we [the writers of the letter] as true, tried and trusty Masons, having been regularly initiated, passed and raised, can be brought into communication with, and enjoy the fraternal confidence of the members of the Craft in this State.”
The committee recognized the larger issue than two transplanted Prince Hall Masons hoping to attend lodge; namely that “what they really seek is recognition of the right of the bodies in which they were initiated to make Masons. In other words, they raise the large question of the legitimacy of the so-called ‘Negro Masonry’ of the United States.”
“The question of the legitimacy of the Lodges existing among the colored men of the United States is no new one. It has been warmly and ably discussed from time to time: and was quite fully examined over twenty years ago, when a proposal in the (white) Grand Lodge of Ohio — recommended by the Grand Master and favorably reported by the committee to which it had been referred — to recognize as a lawful body the negro Grand Lodge which has existed in that State since 1849, was defeated by a very slender majority.”
The Washington State Grand Lodge committee recited the history of what is now known as Prince Hall Masonry:
“On March 6, 1775, an army Lodge, warranted by the Grand Lodge of England… initiated Prince Hall and fourteen other colored men of Boston into the mysteries of Freemasonry…. They applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant, March 2, 1784. It was issued to them, as ‘African Lodge No. 459,’ with Prince Hall as Master, September 29, 1784, but not received until May 2, 1787. The Lodge was organized under the warrant four days later.”
“Brother Prince Hall a man of exceptional ability, worked zealously in the cause of Masonry; and, from 1792 until his death in 1807, exercised all the functions of a Provincial Grand Master [licensing lodges in Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island]… In 1808 these three Lodges joined in forming the ‘African Grand Lodge’ of Boston — now the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts – and Masonry gradually spread over the land.”
To support these actions, the committee quoted Brother and General (and racist son of the slave-holding antebellum South) Albert Pike: “Prince Hall Lodge was as regular a Lodge as any Lodge created by competent authority, and had a perfect right (as other Lodges in Europe did) to establish other Lodges, and make itself a mother Lodge. That's the way the Berlin Lodges, Three Globes, and Royal York, became Grand Lodges.”
After several additional pages of supporting material, the committee set forth recommendations that were adopted:
“Resolved, That, in the opinion of this Grand Lodge, Masonry is universal; and, without doubt, neither race nor color are among the tests proper to be applied to determine the fitness of a candidate for the degrees of Masonry. Resolved, That in view of recognized laws of the Masonic Institution, and of facts of history apparently well authenticated and worthy of full credence, this Grand Lodge does not see its way clear to deny or question the right of its constituent Lodges, or of the members thereof, to recognize as brother Masons, negroes who have been initiated in Lodges which can trace their origin to prince hall Lodge, No. 459.”
A ‘white’ Grand Lodge had legitimized Prince Hall Freemasons for the first time.
20 Years of Mutual Recognition
(Editor’s note: in the span of
several months in mid-1989, the Grand
Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the
Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall
Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted
an agreement that changed how Masonry
operated, not just in Connecticut, but
worldwide. In our first three
installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith
presented the resolution proposing mutual
recognition and we learned that other
Grand Lodges had also done so in the past.
Would Connecticut Masons support this
proposal? A series of stories will appear
in Connecticut Freemasons this year to
celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual
In the closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution calling for the mutual recognition of Prince Hall Masonry immediately after installing his son, Gail Nelson Smith, as the new Grand Master. The craft would come to learn that this proposal had been made in at least three states previously, and that two had already passed – and then rescinded – recognition.
In the 1870’s, the question came before the Grand Lodge of Ohio, where it was ‘narrowly defeated.’ In 1897, the Grand Lodge of Washington was presented with the request of two transplanted Prince Hall Masons for the opportunity for fraternal interaction. The appointed committee, led by Deputy Grand Master William H. Upton, chose to examine “the large(r) question of… legitimacy” of lodges that were the ‘offspring’ of African Lodge No. 459 and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge that coalesced in 1808.
The result Bro. Upton’s committee’s work was simple: a ‘white’ Grand Lodge had legitimized Prince Hall Freemasons for the first time. Their report discussed the possible reaction from other Grand Lodges, but did not expect there to be significant problems. In that they were sadly surprised, and by the next Grand Lodge communication, it was necessary to rescind recognition of Prince Hall Masonry.
Now Past Grand Master Upton made his feelings clear: there was to be no monument, marker, or other identification on his grave that he was even a Mason until the Washington Grand Lodge again recognized their Prince Hall brothers.
A span of fifty years passed before another Grand Lodge would essay recognition. Much had changed in the world. Most Worshipful Past Grand Master of Missouri Harry S Truman had succeeded Bro. Franklin D. Roosevelt as President, and one of his executive orders provided for the desegregation of the United States military at all levels. Enlightened people questioned issues of race, and the civil rights movement was stirring.
In Massachusetts, the home of African Lodge No. 459, the Grand Lodge agreed with the conclusions reached a half-century earlier by a Grand Lodge a continent away. Grand Master Melvin M. Johnson was a strong proponent for recognition, which was passed in March 1947. Again, sadly, this was short-lived as Grand Lodges around the nation brought fraternal pressure to bear. Two years later, recognition was rescinded.
These activities at Connecticut’s northern border caught the attention of Bro. Raymond H. Dragat, a member of Level Lodge No. 137 and Philosophic Lodge of Research (PLR). Bro. Ray had been raised in Cosmopolitan Lodge No. 125 in New Haven while attending Yale Law School. Returning to his native Hartford, he changed his affiliation to a lodge that was initially built on the premise of alternating Christian and Jewish Worshipful Masters year by year.
The secretary of Level Lodge and PLR for more than 50 years aggregated, Ray ascended to the Oriental Chair in Philosophic Lodge in 1959. In that year he presented his paper, Prince Hall Masonry in the United States of America. This well-researched paper earned Ray the lifelong respect and numerous honors from Prince Hall Masonry.
Then Grand Lecturer and eventual Prince Hall Grand Master John E. Rogers ¬– and friend of Gail L. Smith at the Masonic Home – wrote to Bro. Dragat, “I cannot find the proper words to type my appreciation of your interest and inspiration. But I will give you this promise in return; I will ever in my lectures and future instructions to my younger brothers stress love and tolerance so that the spirit of Dragat, Upton and Melvin Johnson will always be reflected by those Prince Hall men with whom I come in contact.”
Bro. Dragat’s paper caused a stir at the time of its publication, especially when it noted that “the procedure of forming African Grand Lodge in 1791 was more properly accomplished than was the formation of white Grand Lodges in Massachusetts and other states.” He concluded, as had many before him, that there was no Masonic reason not to recognize Prince Hall Masonry.
Within a few years, though, it was generally forgotten. Ray updated the work in 1978 to reflect several court cases where ‘white’ Grand Lodges had supported Prince Hall Masons’ efforts to suppress clandestine black groups claiming the name of ‘Masons.’ One court expressed amazement that there was no record ever of any adversarial court action between Prince Hall Grand Lodges and their AF & AM counterparts!
Ray’s paper may have remained ‘forgotten’ had not Philosophic Lodge of Research begun a program to bring more Masonic light to the craft. Under the leadership of WM Frank H. Icaza in 1984, the lodge began selling 10 different papers from its archives. Bro. Dragat’s Prince Hall paper, the most expensive simply due to reproduction costs, was by far the best seller of the group.
Papers were available at Committee on Masonic Information officer seminars through the late 1980’s, and many brothers who owned the paper were voting delegates at the 1989 Grand Lodge session. Craft leadership was thus aware that Prince Hall Masonry was Masonically legitimate. They had every reason to support recognition.
A strong case can be made that when Gail Linnell Smith “… request(ed) fraternal recognition from the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, Prince Hall Affiliation;” and those hundreds of brothers rose as one to enthusiastically, urgently “Second!” this motion, they were expressing their understanding of a paper written 30 years earlier by a brother who would receive his 80-year pin at the age of 102. Fortunately, Brother Ray Dragat lived to see the premise of his paper accepted and recognition accomplished, the greatest honor he could have ever received.
A Cautiously Positive Reaction
by Carl G. Ek
(Editor’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first four installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition; based on a paper written for Philosophic Lodge of Research by WB Raymond H. Dragat, Connecticut Masons understood why they should support this proposal. A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
In the closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution calling for the mutual recognition of Prince Hall Masonry immediately after installing his son, Gail Nelson Smith, as the new Grand Master. New Grand Master Smith appointed the subcommittee on Prince Hall recognition provided for in the motion; RW Grand Junior Warden Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr. headed this group.
How did the Prince Hall Grand Lodge react as the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge moved forward?
The year was 1978. Bro. Preston L. Pope, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and a friend of WB Ray Dragat, took an unprecedented action: he wrote to another friend, MW James M. Desmond, Grand Master of the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge, requesting dialog leading to mutual recognition between the two Grand Lodges.
Bro. Desmond – the first son of a Grand Master to become Grand Master in Connecticut – was surprised by this request, and unsure of how to proceed. He asked the Past Grand Masters for their counsel on such a momentous matter. The PGMs of that era overwhelmingly recommended that he do nothing! Sadly, many of these good brothers were from an era where ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was the answer to questions of race relations.
The Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. followed the suggestion of the ‘Pasts’ and never responded to the letter. MW Bro. Pope asked MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith to intercede on behalf of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. This he did, urging a response to the Prince Hall letter, if only out of brotherly courtesy. Regrettably, this did not happen. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge was understandable disturbed by the lack of even a negative reply.
Fortunately, this missed opportunity only cost a decade.
Prince Hall Freemasonry had come to Connecticut in 1849 with the chartering of Widow’s Son Lodge No. 1 at New Haven. In 1873, four local Prince Hall lodges formed what is now the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Connecticut, Inc. Despite broader Masonic issues of jurisdictional sovereignty, the Prince Hall and A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodges were well known to one another. Relations, at the state level, were friendly and generally respectful.
In 1960, the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge supported the Prince Hall Grand Lodge’s challenge to other organizations of black men claiming use of the name of ‘Masons.’ Two A.F. & A.M. Past Grand Masters testified “to the recognized legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.” The court found the Prince Hall Grand Lodge to be legitimate and enjoined the non-Prince Hall groups. The establishment of the “Brotherhood-In-Action" program in 1966 united members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Masons, Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. Masons, B'nai B'rith, and the Knights of Columbus. In 1967, decisions made by the Masonic Charity Foundation of Connecticut opened the Masonic Home and Hospital to qualified Master Masons, their wives and widows, of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.
Yet the Prince Hall Grand Lodge had no immediate response to the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge motion of March 29, 1989. Why? It was not informed of the motion until May because MW Bro. Smith wanted to be sure that everything was in place on his end before contacting his Prince Hall counterpart.
Bro. Lewis Myrick, Sr., was coming to the end of first year as Grand Master of Prince Hall Masons, and planned to seek election to a second year in the Grand East. (This is common in the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.) MW Bro. Myrick was personally in favor of recognition, but Prince Hall Masons did not universally share this sentiment. When MW Bro. Smith contacted Bro. Myrick about the resolution seeking mutual recognition, he was congratulated on the courageous step his Grand Lodge had taken but told that Prince Hall leadership needed to discuss the issue before any decision could be made.
Subcommittee chairman Ken Hawkins went to New Haven in May to introduce himself to Bro. Myrick, who was participating in the city’s annual Freddy Fixer Parade. Bro. Myrick was appreciative of the meeting, but Bro. Hawkins came away with the impression that the Grand Master’s opinion of this new initiative was best described as “here we go again.”
A lengthy discussion regarding mutual recognition among Prince Hall Grand Master Myrick, Deputy Grand Master Thaddeus Holman, Senior Grand Warden Michael S. Bivans, and Junior Grand Warden Robert Williamson led to consensus to proceed toward recognition. Grand Master Myrick appointed an A.F. & A.M. Committee, Prince Hall, to meet with Bro. Smith’s Prince Hall Recognition Committee. The Prince Hall chairman was MWPGM Preston L. Pope.
Bro. Pope and his committee would meet separately and with Bro. Hawkins and his committee throughout the summer to work out an agreement in principle satisfactory to both Grand Lodges. There was urgency in their work; a report was due to the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge special communication on October 14 – the same date as the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Annual Communication. Could these brothers, in less than five months, craft a lasting agreement? The Masonic world was watching….
on Recognition, 20 Years Later
A Cautiously Positive Reaction
by Carl G. Ek
(Editor’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first five installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition and Connecticut Masons enthusiastically supported this proposal. But what of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
In the closing moments
of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session
Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith
presented the resolution calling for the
mutual recognition of Prince Hall Masonry
immediately after installing his son, Gail
Nelson Smith, as the new Grand Master. New
Grand Master Smith appointed the
subcommittee on Prince Hall recognition
provided for in the motion; RW Grand
Junior Warden Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr.
headed this group.
The ball, as the saying goes, was now in the court of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.
Above Photo From: Prince Hall Recognition
For some, undoubtedly, the term ‘recognition’ would serve only as a precursor to the eventual merger of the two Grand Lodges. The idea of merging – losing individual identities through combining or being absorbed – was understandably unacceptable to Prince Hall Masonry. The history of Brother Prince Hall and his efforts to obtain a charter for free black Masons in Boston before the independence of the United States is a source of pride among brothers of Prince Hall Affiliation.
Further, innumerable Masonic authorities have examined the now unquestioned regularity of the charter of African Lodge No. 459 across the centuries. As Bro. Myrick asked, “How many ‘Regular Grand Lodges’ could withstand the scrutiny that Prince Hall has been subjected to? According to Masonic history, not very many would be considered ‘Regular’ if the same rules were applied as used against Prince Hall.”
No, ‘merger’ was neither the object, nor an acceptable outcome.
However, what about such Masonic courtesies as demitting and dual membership? The Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. (Caucasian) had, in 1989, approximately ten times the membership of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. A scenario could be envisioned where demits by A.F. & A.M. members could dilute or change the character of Prince Hall lodges.
The question of dual
membership was easily
resolved: the Prince
Hall Grand Lodge did not
then permit dual
membership, and this
would not change under
discussion, it was
agreed that initially,
at least, demission
between the two Grand
Lodges would not be
allowed. This would,
after the votes were
taken, lead some to say
that the two Grand
Lodges had only achieved
but all appropriately
opted for caution as the
Grand Lodges explored
It will be recalled that the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1897 and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1947 did not feel that there would be any backlash from other Grand Lodges when they extended recognition to Prince Hall Masonry. In both cases, they severely underestimated the wrath prompted by their actions. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge was concerned about similar reactions from their sister Grand Lodges.
Not every state has a Prince Hall Grand Lodge, but across the states that do, there were strong feelings – mostly negative – about the recognition of ‘Regular Grand Lodges’ by other Prince Hall Lodges. Much discussion and soul-searching was expended on this topic. Among the questions that had to be answered by Connecticut’s Prince Hall Masons: were we willing to be outcasts? Would we be able to accept criticism for taking this step? Were we willing to accept the possibility of some Prince Hall Grand Lodges withdrawing recognition of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut?
After debate and deliberation, Connecticut’s Prince Hall brothers moved forward with what was thought to be best for Connecticut. Under Bro. Myrick’s leadership, Connecticut Prince Hall Masonry decided that it was willing to accept criticism and the possible withdrawal of recognition from sister grand jurisdictions in order to practice the true meanings of Freemasonry.
These feelings were communicated to Bro. Pope’s committee as the basis for its discussions with the A.F. & A.M. committee chaired by Bro. Hawkins.
The summer of 1989 saw the two recognition committees meeting separately and jointly. The first joint meetings allowed brothers to get to know one another, and to begin to feel comfortable speaking frankly about things that they liked and disliked, things that were acceptable and unacceptable to their respective Grand Lodges.
It was at a late summer joint meeting in the conference room of the old Grand Lodge office in Wallingford that the final wording of resolutions to be circulated among voting members of both Grand Lodges was signed off on by the committee members and Grand Masters Smith and Myrick. On October 14, the resolution would come before the Prince Hall Grand Lodge at its annual communication in Cromwell; on the same day, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. would hold a special communication in Wallingford to take up the identical resolution.
As October 14 approached, Connecticut Freemasons and the Masonic world watched and waited.
Would both Grand Lodges approve mutual recognition? What if one voted in the negative – would the process proceed? All sides had agreed that there would be but one chance to secure recognition – what if the vote failed?
by Carl G. Ek
(Editor’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first six installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition and Connecticut Masons and Prince Hall Grand Lodge leaders enthusiastically supported this proposal. How would the craft vote? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)
Dateline: Cromwell, Connecticut, October 14, 1989. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge met in annual communication, and voted on the recognition resolution first. In the parlance of sports, the vote was a slamdunk, with only one member voting in the negative.
That brother later approached then Prince Hall Grand Master Lewis Myrick, Sr., asking to change his vote. "Hell no!" replied the Grand Master. "That's how you voted, and that's how it stays."
With the requirement of 'all or nothing,' it was Prince Hall's turn to wait to see if the A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge would likewise approve mutual recognition at their special communication, being held at Sheehan High School in Wallingford.
As it became clear that the special Prince Hall Recognition Committee chaired by Grand Senior Deacon Kenneth B. Hawkins, Sr., would report favorably on the plan, brothers who may not have been in favor carefully attempted to have influence on the decision.
A Past Grand Master approached MW Gail N. Smith to suggest that given the magnitude of the proposed change, some brothers might desire a written, private ballot to express their feelings. Bro. Smith agreed that he was correct – thinking that some would use 'privacy' as an excuse to retain the status quo while not appearing to be racially motivated. Still, Grand Master Smith directed Grand Secretary and MWPGM R. Stanley Harrison to prepare paper ballots for the recognition vote – knowing that they would never be used.
As some in Prince Hall Masonry feared being overwhelmed by the much larger A.F. & A.M. Grand Lodge, so some A.F. & A.M. Masons expressed a concern that their meetings might be visited by large groups of Prince Hall Masons. Why, others asked, would that be a problem? Lodges that 'blitz' might arrive unannounced at a visited lodge with 10, 20, even 30 members (and, politely, with a large quantity of refreshments). Why would a visit from a Prince Hall delegation make any difference to the visited lodge? Unless, of course, there were other, unspoken, considerations….
Then Senior Grand Warden of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Michael Bivans focused on some of those concerns while speaking to Compass Lodge No. 9, Wallingford in the weeks leading up to the votes. RW Mike had been invited by Compass WM Charles Rogers to speak to his lodge to give a history of Prince Hall Masonry. After his formal presentation, Mike responded to a question about visitation between jurisdictions.
"Do all of your (A.F.& A.M.) members show up at your meetings? Of course not," Mike answered his own question, looking at vacant seats in the nearly full lodge room. "And do all of my (P.H.A.) members show up at all of our meetings? Same thing. So what makes anybody think that when we approve mutual recognition, all of 'your' members are going to start going to 'our' meetings, and all of 'our' members are going to going to start to 'your' meetings? Won't happen," he concluded. History has proven him correct.
|From Prince Hall Recognition|
Image: MW Lew Myrick and RW Carl G. Ek, Worshipful Master. Unity Lodge No. 148, New Britain, at the Recognition Table Lodge. MW Myrick was protagonist for recognition twenty year ago, and RW Ek is the author of this series.
Dateline: Wallingford, Connecticut, October 14, 1989. The Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. special communication being held at Sheehan High School had several items on the agenda, most of which were disposed of as preludes to what everyone understood to be the main topic of business. Brothers learned about plans for the next inspection cycle and filled out a questionnaire concerning the then-Grand Lodge quarterly publication, Connecticut Square and Compasses.
The questionnaires filled out and collected, Grand Master Gail Nelson Smith announced, "We will now take up the Prince Hall Recognition…" and stated that there could be no amendments to the resolution since it was the same resolution being acted upon – at the same time – by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. After opening remarks, Bro. Smith asked subcommittee chairman Hawkins to read the recommendations of his group.
Issues of Masonic legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, the 'sovereignty issue' of only one Grand Lodge per jurisdiction, and the potential for other Grand Lodges to withdraw Masonic recognition from Connecticut should the vote be in the affirmative were discussed. The first two were simple to resolve; as to the last, the report stated, "… we have no control over their actions, and our vote must not be influenced by what might happen, but rather what is prudent in this Grand Jurisdiction."
Past Grand Master Morris I. Budkofsky, chairman of the Fraternal Relations Committee, reported complete satisfaction with the legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge and recommended that approval of "Fraternal Recognition, including rights of visitation, be granted…" The original motion was reread and opportunities for remarks allowed.
Grand Master Smith then asked those in favor of the resolution to stand, be counted, and those opposed to stand. The final tally was not recorded in the Grand Lodge Proceedings except to say that "a large majority" had approved the resolution at the historic communication of the Grand Lodge.
Bro. Smith then reported – to great applause – the Prince Hall Grand Lodge's vote of approval and concluded the agenda of his own session. Thereafter, Bros. Smith and Hawkins made a short drive to close a centuries-old gap in Masonic brotherhood, becoming the first A.F.& A.M. Masons to be formally received into the tiled Prince Hall Grand Lodge session.
Joint news releases would spread word of the good work publicly, but the pre-Internet Masonic grapevine spread the word faster, that recognition was reality. Response would be rapid….