Separate but Equal Brotherhood
I'm not sure if you are, or ever were, a member of a fraternity or sorority, or not. Nevertheless, I am sure you would agree that, by the very definition of the term, the idea of a racially segregated fraternity or sorority is an oxymoron. If you don't already know about it, let me bring to your attention such a phenomenon, which has existed in the U.S. for more than two and a half centuries; and continues to exist in America to this very day.
Most people have heard of the Masonic Order (i.e. Freemasonry, Masons or at times described as the Lodge), but I suspect most people are unaware of its racial dichotomy. For those who are not aware of it, and to fully understand how it happened and why it continues today, allow me to provide a little background. Before doing so, let me state upfront that I speak from firsthand experience, as a former Mason of Prince Hall affiliation (Black Freemasonry in America). I am no longer an active Mason; having resigned primarily because its religious teachings conflict with biblical Christianity. However the racism in Freemasonry is also another significant reason why I left the fraternity.
Freemasonry arrived in America by way of British Colonialism, in the 18th century, during a time when slavery was legal and racial attitudes were clearly not what they are today. One of the requirements to join a Masonic Lodge is to be "free-born" (i.e. not a slave or the descendent of slaves). For this reason, although some slaves at the time earned their freedom, they were not welcomed to be a part of the fraternity. While brotherly love, relief and truth are supposed to be three key tenets on which the Lodge was founded, Masons were as hypocritical to the Masonic Order of that day, as were the drafters of our Declaration of Independence - some of whom were Masons themselves.
Even though this declaration was based upon certain "truths" that all men are created equal and are entitled to certain "unalienable rights" that the government should never take away, history tells us that this obviously didn't apply to slaves. These rights included "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but as we know, not for the black man. Herein lays the irony on which our country was founded, and the hypocrisy of the Masonic worldview of the "Brotherhood of Man."
Interestingly though, while there were no men of color among the Freemasons prior to 1775, on March 6 of that year, fifteen African-Americans (free men, not slaves) were initiated into Freemasonry by Sergeant John Batt of the Irish Military Lodge No. 441, attached to the 38th Foot of the British Army, one year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Among them was a man who would become their first Master (Masonically speaking, of course, no pun intended) and is now immortalized by African-American Masons. His name was Prince Hall, and this group of African-American Masons, located in Boston, began meeting as a lodge; and were formally chartered by England in 1784 as African Lodge No. 459.
Since then, due to slavery and racial segregation, the descendants of African Lodge were left with no other choice but to develop a separate Grand Lodge system, known today as Prince Hall Masonry. Unfortunately, racial feelings of the era caused Freemasonry for African-American men to develop independently. While there are those among the rank and file of "White" Masons who would deny the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry, Prince Hall Grand Lodges have the exact same beliefs, follow the same rituals, and contain the same tenets and teachings of all "regular" Freemasonry throughout the world.
In fact, the United Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.), generally recognized as the Mother of all Masonry, saw fit in September of 1784 to grant Prince Hall Masonry a warrant, or charter of dispensation, allowing them to officially operate in America. Yet, there are lodges in this country that refuse, to this day, to accept the U.G.L.E. acknowledgment that Prince Hall Masons are legitimate, and still continued to bar black men and black Masons from entering their lodge rooms.
In discussing the reasons for the racial dichotomy of Freemasonry in greater detail, we would like to approach it from the standpoint of five essential doctrines of the Masonic faith, Landmarks 4, 14, 16, 18, and 22:
"THE GOVERNMENT OF THE FRATERNITY BY A PRESIDING OFFICER called a Grand Master, who is elected from the body of the Craft, is a Fourth Landmark of the Order."
Because there is two Grand Lodge systems, this presents the question as to which one really has the power, or authority, over any given state or jurisdiction. In fact, if both sides decided that they should unite and become more like modern-day society and move toward integration, rather than segregation, which Grand Masters are going to be willing to relinquish their gavel of authority?
Given the fact that there are a total of more than 100 Grand Masters, within both sides combined, you can see how this could be an enormous political dilemma for the fraternity. Therefore, it is highly more likely that they will remain permanently separate.
Adding to this dilemma is the fact that Masons on both sides will argue that there is a lot of rich "tradition" that could possibly be destroyed should they merge. As you will soon see, the only real tradition being preserved by Freemasonry is that of "separate drinking fountains."
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"THE RIGHT OF EVERY MASON TO VISIT and sit in every "regular" Lodge is an unquestionable Landmark of the Order. This is called "the right of visitation."
This brings to mind a time, in 1982, when I first became active as a Prince Hall Mason. After learning about this critically important Landmark, I wanted to see for myself how it worked within my own jurisdiction of the state of North Carolina. There was no problem with my visiting other Prince Hall Lodges within my state, or in the world for that matter, but after being warned not to play with fire, I wanted to see if the principle of brotherly love would be honored by a (white) Non-Prince Hall lodge in my jurisdiction.
So, one night I set out to visit such a lodge, and to my great disappointment, I was denied visitation. Testing the fraternity's concept of the "Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man" left me with far more than a burning blister on my mind; at the time it felt more like a dagger in my heart.
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"No Lodge can interfere in the business of another Lodge, nor give degrees to brethren who are members of other Lodges."
This Landmark has many of the same implications discussed regarding Landmark number four. Prince Hall Lodges are not going to interfere with the business of Non-Prince Hall lodges and vice versa. As for conferring degrees to members of other lodges, this can take place provided the member demits, or resigns, from his current lodge.
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"Certain qualifications of candidates for initiation are derived from a Landmark of the Order. These qualifications are that he shall be a man (discrimination against women), shall be unmutilated (discrimination against the handicap), free born (used to discriminate against slaves in the past, and in some lodges today against - African Americans - since they are the descendants of slaves), and of mature or lawful age." (Emphasis added)
Again, this speaks more to the hypocrisy of the Masonic Order. On the one hand they claim to be founded on the principle of brotherly love, yet on the other hand they discriminate when it comes to actual membership. To accommodate women, Freemasonry has for them the Order of Eastern Star, and other female appending bodies. As for the handicap, there is no accommodation, unless of course the physical handicap resulted after becoming a Mason.
And of course, as we have mentioned, to accommodate blacks there's the "separate drinking fountain" of Prince Hall Masonry. Also, it makes you wonder, if in some lodges, being a descendant of slaves disqualifies one from Freemasonry, how is it that there are so many Masons who are Jewish?
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"THE EQUALITY OF ALL MASONS is another Landmark of the Order."
Here you have Grand Lodges like the state of Nevada making such claims as they do in a booklet they issue titled, Freemasonry - A Way Of Life:
"The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man are two of the fundamental truths upon which our civilization is built. Freemasonry encompasses both but emphasizes the brotherhood of man through the practice of brotherly love, relief, and truth. Brotherly love, in the Masonic sense, is more than the congenial bond of good will and understanding that exists between close friends. It is, rather, genuine tolerance and charity toward all men which affords a basis for mutual respect between men in spite of the diverse backgrounds, creeds, ideals, and code of conduct."
One would think that this is consistent with the following statement made by Joel Springer, President of the Masonic Philalethes Society:
"We have all been taught that Freemasonry regards no man because of his worldly honors... Nor does Freemasonry regard men because of their race, color, religion, ethnic origins, or their sexual orientation - it is only essential that a man be good and true. To be a good Mason, it simply does not matter if a man is Black or White, Hispanic or Asian, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, or Hindu, Gay or Straight." (The Philalethes, June 2002)
However, both statements are arguably more consistent with the Masonic worldview of Morality:
"Masonry teaches the practice of all good morals, leaving the interpretation of right and wrong to the individual conscience." (Lodge System of Masonic Education, Book 1, page 7)
Yet, this also brings to mind, while practicing Freemasonry, when I had sat in lodge meetings with several 'white' Masons who shared that, because of the racism within their respective jurisdictions; they decided to demit from their lodge to become members of Prince Hall Masonry. They argued that only Prince Hall Masonry fully honored this principle of brotherly love. Whenever a Mason demits from a regular Non-Prince Hall lodge to become a member of Prince Hall Masonry, he is usually given a small ceremony where he reaffirms the oath of a Master Mason; this ceremony is called a Masonic Healing.
However, Prince Hall or Non-Prince Hall, there are some Masons who would argue, "There are black men in some lodges, therefore there is no racism in Masonry." Such logic lends itself more to tokenism rather than fact. Conversely, no one can say "There are no black men in some lodges, therefore all Masonry is segregated."
If active Masons would be honest, they would affirm that both of these statements are untrue. Yet, even if they are not honest, we know they are not true based on the personal testimony of men who have left Freemasonry. Earlier, an example of Masonic racism was given based on my personal experience as a ‘black' Mason. Here is another former Mason (though not a member of O.F.F.) speaking about his experience as a 'white' Mason practicing in the state of Oklahoma:
The Truth About Freemasonry, by Chuck Easttom 32°
"Racism is rampant here. Over half the members I have met openly announce that they will resign the day that a 'nigger' sets in an Oklahoma Lodge. Racist jokes are common place just before or after a Masonic function. One of our past grand masters even made racists jokes at a District meeting."
"We are not even a little bit selective about the white people we let into lodge. In Oklahoma if you are white and are not on America's Most Wanted, then some lodge will let you in. I personally know of a lodge Jr. Warden who was renown in his town as an alcoholic and wife beater. He was widely known as such when initiated, passed, raised, and when elected to office. And this is not at all an exception in Oklahoma. In fact the bulk of attending Masons (those that show up) are usually from the lower end of society."
"They are the poorly educated, bigoted, and often ignorant. I know of Past Masters that won't keep a job, Past Masters that are renowned for their belligerent attitude, etc. They seem perplexed that the few members in the lodge that have some community standing (be they a teacher, doctor, etc.) don't show up for meetings. Well it's because they are embarrassed to be seen with their lodge brothers. I am also not talking about 1 or 2 incidents. In my entire district there are maybe 6 to 8 Masons that I would not be ashamed to have showed up at my job. I had one Past Master show up at my office on one occasion having worn the same clothes for several days. When I joined not one person that signed my petition even knew me at all. I asked friends and coworkers, none had ever had any inquiries about my character. Frankly, none in the lodge cared as long as I was willing to pay the dues. But maybe it's different elsewhere."
"We lead a man to believe that he will learn great philosophical truths. This is what originally attracted me to Masonry as I have always been a student of philosophy. Yet the 'teachings' of Masonry are the most mundane and common place lessons that virtually all men have already heard elsewhere. When we charge a man for degrees in which he learns 'lessons' that he already knows, we are in effect defrauding him."
"Few Oklahoman Masons take it seriously. Even those who memorize the degree work frequently don't even know the meanings of the words they memorize much less the meanings (you would be amazed how many think the word 'allusion' is 'illusion.' "
"Frankly, Masonry is not evil; it's not a conspiracy, etc. It is simply (at least in Oklahoma) a club for old men and rednecks to go to and give each other important sounding titles."
What about Freemasonry's connection with the KKK
"A former Confederate general and Freemason, Nathan Bedford Forrest, founded the Ku Klux Klan and served as its first Imperial Wizard. Albert Pike 33°, held the office of Chief Justice of the Ku Klux Klan while he was simultaneously Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction. Pike's racism was well known. He expressed his concept of Masonic brotherhood succinctly: 'I took my obligation to White men, not to Negroes. When I have to accept Negroes as brothers or leave Masonry, I shall leave it.' Some believe Pike concocted the ritual for the original KKK."
Source: Christianity and American Freemasonry, by William J Whalen: (pages 17-18)
The rolls of Prince Hall Masonry include a number of distinguished African-Americans such as former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Julian Bond National Chairman of the NAACP, Former Mayor of Atlanta and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Medgar Wiley Evers, just to name a few. Each of these men contributed significantly to the success of the Civil Rights Movement in America of the 1960's. As a result, they helped to make this country what it is today in terms of the progress of racial harmony. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (though he was not a Mason) they helped, "to build a greater nation." However, can the same be said of their 'white' Masonic counterparts? Believe it of not, none of these black Masons I mentioned would be allowed to visit any White Masonic lodge in this country then, nor many today. But didn't the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Dr. King championed, abolish "separate, but equal" segregation from institutions in our country? Why hasn't it been abolished in the institution of Freemasonry? Why is it still having this battle after more that 40 years later?
One theory is the infiltration of, and the influence that the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has had on Freemasonry after it became more secluded. Subsequently, Klan membership has ebbed and flowed, rising and falling over the years, but has managed to raise its ugly head from time to time ever since its inception. The fact that some of the founders, revivers and current members of the Klan were, or are, also Freemasons cannot be denied. Many of its earlier leaders were also high ranking officers in the Confederate Army of the U.S. Civil War.
Whether the Southern Confederacy influenced Freemasonry, or Freemasonry influenced Southern Confederacy is difficult to conclude. One thing is certain, during the civil-rights conflict of the 1960s, knowledgeable Prince Hall Masons knew that many of the leaders of the segregationists' movement, such as Governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi, Orval Faubus of Arkansas, and George Wallace of Alabama were all active Masons. It is difficult to look back at news footage from the civil rights era, and as a former Prince Hall Mason, it is particularly painful to see images of Thurgood Marshall facing the bigotry and hatred of former Governor of Alabama George Wallace, knowing they were both members of the same fraternity. Likewise, it is difficult to accept the fact that a 'white' Mason would assassinate his 'black' Masonic brother. But its true, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was gunned down, shot in the back and murdered in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 12, 1963, by Klansman, Freemason and Shriner Byron De La Beckwith. As if refusing to acknowledge members of the same fraternity as fellow "frat" brothers isn't bad enough. But, I'm sure everyone would agree that, it's just a crying shame for racism within a fraternity to cause one brother to kill another.
A key measure of the lingering racism within the fraternity is the slow, and gradual, recognition of Prince Hall Masonry by White-American Grand Lodges. This did not begin until 1989, when the Grand Lodge of Connecticut finally passed the first resolution for Prince Hall recognition in America. That's over 200 years after the UGLE granted Prince Hall the warrant to officially operate in this country. What's worse is the fact that it wasn't until July 14, 2001 that the 'white' Shriners finally recognized Prince Hall Shriners, despite the landmark US Supreme Court case of August 1929, which declared Prince Hall Masonry and its Shriners as legitimate. In the state of North Carolina, where I was made a Prince Hall Mason, it did not finally occur until September 2008, 20 years after Connecticut's proposal. Dr. King once challenged America to avoid the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism" when it comes to correcting racial injustice. In the case of Freemasonry, it appears that my former fraternity seems to have overdosed on this socially lethal drug.
While progress has been made to bridge the gap between Prince Hall and Non-Prince Hall Masonry in terms of recognition, there is no evidence, in the foreseeable future, to suggestion that there will ever be one Grand Lodge System in the United States.
According to Masonic research authority, Paul M. Bessel, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Leadership Center, 41 out of 51 (80%) White-American Grand Lodges have adopted resolutions that say Prince Hall Masonry is "regular" (orthodox, legitimate or "duly constituted" Masonry). Almost all of these, roughly 39 of the 41, have adopted "full recognition," in the same way they recognize any other Grand Lodge, others have granted recognition only to the extent of permitting intervisitation rights, but not dual membership. "Recognition" is the acknowledgement from one Grand Lodge of the "regularity" of another Grand Lodge - hence the phraseology of White-American Grand Lodge recognition of the regularity of Black-American (Prince Hall) Grand Lodges.
41 US Grand Lodges (including Alaska, Hawaii, & D.C.) -80% - have voted in favor of Prince hall Masonry Recognition
map based on information available to Paul M. Bessel as of September 19, 2006
States in the Confederate States of America 1861-1865
||Claimed CSA State
||Claimed CSA Territory
Paul M. Bessel, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Leadership Center
Bessel also notes that several "predominately white" U.S. Grand Lodges have adopted "blanket" recognition resolutions, saying they automatically recognize every Prince Hall Grand Lodge that has or will be recognized by any of the other "mainstream" (predominately white) U.S. Grand Lodges [sic]. Some "White" Masons will say that the lack of Prince Hall Masonry recognition is a "jurisdictional issue." While this may be true to a certain extent, I believe some of them use this excuse as a racist smokescreen. From its inception, and even after it was granted its original charter from the UGLE, Prince Hall Masonry has requested to be recognized and included among all other U.S. Grand Lodges. Yet, time and time again the answer has been a resounding NO! Now that it's been kept separated for so long, Prince Hall Masons have been forced to form their own Grand Lodges. As a result, the excuse among White-American Grand Lodges that still refuse recognition (mostly those in the Southern states) is, if only Prince Hall Masonry was not a separate Grand Lodge system we would recognize them. Again, this is just another racist smokescreen.
Keep in mind, that whatever resolutions that have been passed over time, be it "Full Recognition," "Visitation Only," or "Recognition without Visitation," this is almost always done with mutual agreement by the Prince Hall Grand Lodges involved. The point is this, while the segregation of the fraternity was never a desire of Prince Hall Masonry at its inception, it has evolved to be one of mutual consent, for what I believe is not only due to racism on the part of "White" Masons at the start, but another key reason - political power over the respective jurisdictions on both sides as it exist today.
Since there has been this racial divide in American Masonry from the very beginning, each state within the United States (plus DC) now has two Grand Lodges; one black and one white. Each Grand Lodge is led by a Grand Master who controls the "gavel of authority" and ultimately rules over all subordinate lodges within their respective jurisdictions. With nearly 2 million Masons in the U.S., and about a third of which are Prince Hall affiliated, coupled with the rich history and traditions of both sides, you can imagine why neither Grand Master is going to easily be willing to relinquish his gavel of authority in order to form one Grand Lodge within any particular state in the country, or in the nation as a whole, as is in the United Kingdom.
Any attempt to solve this dilemma is met with resistance, because as separate authoritative Masonic bodies, one Grand Lodge cannot tell another Grand Lodge what to do, or how to operate. And, no higher Masonic Body will ever be created to control them all. Even as they draft resolutions for mutual recognition, the language always includes words to the effect, that they "will remain autonomous within their respective jurisdictions and will operate hereafter as heretofore with their own Grand Master and other Grand Lodge Officers, Constitution, Bylaws, Ritual, Rules and Regulations and will retain its absolute and supreme sovereignty over its own Subordinate Lodges and Membership."
As a result, Freemasonry is seemingly forever trapped in this paradoxical, oxymoronic, catch-22 of remaining the oldest, largest, and only segregated fraternity in the world. What a sad commentary at a time when the results of the 2008 national presidential election has turned the pages of American history to a new chapter on how we, as Americans, will view race from now on.
In summary, its own history shows us that racial segregation has existed in the Lodge for centuries. And, it's been shown that; while progress has been made toward recognition and acknowledgement of black Masons, those that do recognize each other remain perpetually "separate, but equal." And, there still remains several Grand Lodges today that seemingly will never admit Prince Hall Masons or any other black man for that matter, into their membership. Unfortunately, recognition of black Masons into traditional Freemasonry is just a recent phenomenon, as it slowly adapts to the ever-increasing racial harmony that has prevailed in America over the past few decades.
However, since the fraternity's claim to fame has always been that they "make good men better," shouldn't the Masonic Lodge have been the vanguard of this change from the very beginning; when George Washington was not only our first President (and a slave owner), but also the first Grand Master in American Masonry? Shouldn't this "time honored" fraternity have a history of priding itself on setting the example of racial harmony in pace with America as a whole, or better yet, well ahead of it? Since it has not, why would any American Black, White, Asian, and Latino, etc. ever want to join the Lodge, or even remain a Mason, and be part of such hypocrisy?
The irony is that, in today's politically correct climate, the biblical perspective about man's relationship to God is often ignored or drowned out by the voices of the secular worldview that "we are all God's children." This view stems largely from the premise that since God is the Creator of mankind, He is therefore, the father of all mankind. Meanwhile, evangelical Christians who counter this falsehood with biblical truth are often dismissed as narrow-minded, bigoted and uninformed.
The truth of the matter is that God wants everyone on this planet to be adopted into His family through faith in His son, Jesus Christ our Lord. His Word declares this in the following passages of Scripture:
"Our fraternal Order of Christian brotherhood united under the blood of the risen Savior Jesus Christ cannot be compared to the man-made, discriminatory, self-glorifying, works-based religious fraternity from whence we came."
Dr. Randall C. Pendland, an Ex-Mason for Jesus and a proud member of the Order of Former Freemasons
As a monolithic global fraternity, when Freemasonry final stops pretending to be what it is not, maybe it will then, and only then, begin to fulfill its promise to be an agency of change and a catalyst for continued social development in America and around the world. Until then, this regrettably "separate, but equal" fraternity is destined to be the world's poorest example of brotherhood that ever existed.
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