HS 129, Summer 1 2009
While reading the chapters for this week’s assignment, I discovered that the Prince Hall Masons and African Methodist Episcopal Church significantly influenced the lives of African Americans prior to, during, and after the antebellum era. The topic immediately peaked my interest because my father is a Prince Hall Mason and a Steward at Galbraith AME Zion Church in Northwest Washington D.C. However, because I lacked knowledge in freemasonry, I sought mainly to focus on Prince Hall Masonry as it pertains to this era.
Yesterday, Saturday, June 13, 2009, I went to the Masonic Temple located at 1000 U St. Northwest, Washington D.C. but it was closed. This did not faze me because I’ve been inside several times for annual scholarship ceremonies and breakfasts and found nothing that was worthy of note anyway. Other than the pictures hung up of current and past grandmasters there was no way you could tell you were in a Masonic temple- it looked like the inside of any other regular building.
As I was leaving I was drawn to a corner stone placed alongside the building, which displayed the year in which the Masonic Temple was built. An illustrated, well-known symbol of the Prince Hall Masons composed its center; above it, contained an image of a group of Prince Hall Masons. Since the engraving was difficult to read, with my father’s directions, I went to the temple of Most Wishful King Soloman, located on 2245 Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast Washington D.C. to get a better look. The symbol, which features the letter “G” in the center, represents God and Geometry for all mankind; a compass and square, which represents the rules and guides for life, surrounds the “G.” Its design paired with its covert meaning made the symbol all the more unique and appealing.
Intrigued by the emergence of black freemasons in northern cities, discussed in the book: The African-American Odyssey, Vol. One: to 1877, by Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine, and Stanley Harrold, I was propelled to interview my father- a 4 year mason invited to join in masonry by the present worshipful master and past grandmaster. I questioned him about the current purposes, practices, and accomplishments of Prince Hall Masons. Considered to be the oldest black fraternity, the Prince Hall Mason’s primary goal is to “take good men and make them better men” (as stated in their motto). They are community-oriented, usually doing charity work, adopting schools, and giving scholarships.
To become a mason, one must first be recommended and eventually initiated. Because of the secretive nature of Masonic practices and rituals, most topics were briefly discussed during the interview. Nevertheless, I learned that the Prince Hall Masons are separated by lodges, degrees, and house colors. The number of the lodge distinguishes each group of Prince Hall Masons from one another; the degree depicts the level of each mason; and the various house colors study different Masonic information. The Worshipful Grandmaster is the highest authority over the Grand Lodge and every lodge and chapter there under. The Masonic attire, described in the book as “fancy regalia,” continues to compose the Masonic dress of and unify the lodges of Prince Hall Masons. The fact that these men are continuing the traditions of past Prince Hall Masons shows the common element of past and current Prince Hall Masons.
It amazes me that an organization that began centuries ago still exists, with many aspects still intact. Future historians should know that African Americans Masons were ready to help each other regardless of the situation, with a cheerful heart and a giving spirit. Such organizations give people the opportunity to interact with people beyond their family. Providing structure, offering a greater sense of purpose, teaching history, and encouraging one to become a more critical thinker, there is no doubt that Prince Hall Masonry should be continued by future generations of all mankind.