“IS THERE NO HELP FOR THE POOR WIDOW'S SON” by Fahim A. Knight
There is still no brotherhood amongst black Freemasons and white Freemasons in the United States of America. The majority of the “Old South” Confederate States; twelve to be exact (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia , Tennessee, Arkansas. Kentucky, Florida, etc) have not saw fit to end two hundred--thirty-four years (234) of segregation and racism within the Masonic Order. There are perhaps thirty-eight (38) states with white Grand Lodges that have extended formal fraternal recognition to African-American Masons, as a gesture of being polite and perhaps out of being politically correct, but beneath the so-called olive branch still lays suspicion and racism that is cloaked in white American style elitism and institutionalize white supremacy.
It was even more insulting when this writer discovered that white Masons referred to the black Masonic order of Prince Hall as "clandestine" and "irregular". This is interpreted to mean that the black Masonic Order of Prince Hall is not considered an official and recognized body of Freemasons under the white Masonic umbrella. (Reference: Paul M. Bessel and Alton G. Roundtree, “Out of the Shadows: The Emergency of Prince Hall Freemasonry in America).
The subject of Freemasonry evokes many different emotions and there exist various opinions and schools of thoughts on this vast subject of complexity. Thus, some make claim that Freemasonry is anti-Christian, devil worship, cult, secret society, anarchist, etc. This writer researched the volumes of literature and the writings on the subject of Freemasonry, exploring the views of its apologist and its pundits in order to determine what was true and what was false. The Masonic scholars defined Freemasonry as a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols and at the basis of the Masonic philosophy are brotherly love, relief and truth.
The majority of white Masons in the United States classify themselves as Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (AF&AM) and/or some derivative; moreover, the system of Speculative Masonry (philosophical Masonry), developed from Operative Masonry (Stone Masons and Guild workers) which was completed when four lodges of London assembled in St. Paul Church yard June 24, 1717 and organized the first Grand Lodge of England. Nevertheless, one should not mistake the date of 1717, as being the historical origin of Masonry; it has been proven that black people in ancient Egypt, Africa had developed a sophiscated system of initiation called the Egyptian Mystery System. (Reference: Fahim A. Knight article titled, “Freemasonry and Islam: What do They Share?”
It is also believed that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras, the philosophical fathers of masonry were educated in astronomy, music, geometry, arithmetic, logic, rhetoric and grammar in Egypt at the helm of African wise men. It is a hypocritical and contradictory for white Masons to deny black Masons their right to legitimacy and at the same time have borrowed their own Masonic rituals, philosophy and regalia from black Egyptian and Arabic culture. (Reference: George G.M. James, “Stolen Legacy”)
Some Freemasons outside of the United States will perhaps find this appalling, shocking, insulting and very much un-Masonic conduct and most inconsistent with the tenets of Freemasonry because it stands as a contradiction to the principles of Freemasonry, which according to my study as stated above are rooted in “Morality, Friendship and Brotherly Love”. Wm. H. Grimshaw who authored the book titled, “Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People in North America”, Some would consider Grinshaw work which was originally published in 1902 as one of the first scholarly recordings written by a black scholar on Prince Hall Masonry.
He Stated, “The Study of Masonry leads man to the correct knowledge of God; the correct knowledge of God leads to true worship of Him, and the true worship of Him places man in harmony with all that is true and good, enlarging his powers for usefulness in every vocation, station, position, or condition in life, thereby fitting him for citizenship, in whom we find a true neighbor, a generous friend, and a clear-cut and well defined power of circumscribing his desires and keeping passions in due bounds.”
Albert Pike is considered one of the greatest Masonic Scholars of all times, he authored the book titled, “Morals and Dogma” and in a chapter titled, “The Master”, he stated, “Hypocrisy is the homage the vice and wrong pay to virtue and justice. It is Satan attempting to clothe himself in the angelic vesture of light. It is equally detestable in morals, politics, and religion; in the man and in the nation. To do injustice under the pretence of equity and fairness; to reprove vice in public and commit it in private; to pretend to charitable opinion and censoriously condemn; to profess the principles of Masonic beneficence, and close the ear to the wail of distress and cry of suffering; to eulogize the intelligence of the of the people, and plot to deceive and betray them by means of their ignorance”.
This writer pulled out a copy of the “Journal of Negro History” (a scholarly journal originally founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History Week which is now Black History Month) Fall issue of 1982, it was giving to me by one of my college professors named Dr. Earlie Thorpe and mentor over twenty-five years ago, but this writer remembered there was an article written by Samuel Banks titled, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Remembered the Fractured Dream” and Banks quoted King’s most famous “I Have a Dream” Speech”.
This writer found the quote fitting for this article on black and white Freemasonry; Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One Hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro still languishes in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. . . I have a dream one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
Masons take obligations (they are not comfortable with those vows being characterized and described as oaths) for the most part in the United States on the Bible, but in other nations the holy book on the alter could vary. For example, in Islamic countries, it would probably be the Holy Quran on the alter representing the “GREAT LIGHT”; in the United States, the Holy Bible in Masonic liturgy is considered the GREAT LIGHT, “it is giving to you as the rule and guide of our faith and practice, the square and the compass to circumscribe our desires and keep our desires in due bounds with all mankind, especially the brethren,”. And on every Masonic Lodge alter there it sits, as the Masonic Compass and Square and guide, which to serve as the utmost Geometric tool that has been tried and test for generations. But the wisdom contained within is rooted in ethical and moral lessons for those who entered into Speculative Freemasonry. Thus, after going through elaborate rituals and receiving the sublime degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason) and hearing lectures of ancient wisdom that centered on character building and self improvement. How could one walk away being intolerant and ignore the pledges impressed in these so-called sublime degrees?
The TROWEL is an instrument made use by Operative Masons to spread the cement which unites a building INTO ONE COMMON MASS; but we as free and accepted Masons are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection; that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of friends and brothers, among no contention should ever exist, emulation, of who best can work and best agree (Reference: Duncan Rituals of Freemasonry). Yet, white Masons have negated all the moral and ethical insight espoused in Masonic teachings and is outright hypocritical to still be practicing discrimination and bigotry.
Allen Roberts perhaps is one of best modern day Freemasonry scholars and Masonic intellectual who authored the book titled, “The Craft and its Symbols: Opening the Door of Masonic Symbolism” stated, “In actuality, you have also told your brethren that they can count on you to stretch forth your hand to keep them from falling. You have offered them your strength, your ability, your knowledge when they need it. There are no reservations. It matters not whether the aid they need is mental, physical, or monetary. Your promise contains no ‘buts’. When a brother is in danger of any kind, it is your duty to advise him of his impending peril. In doing so, you must remember that it is not your ‘plumb line’ that judge him, but by his. And it is his Square and his Level, not yours, by which you are to determine his actions. His opinions may differ from yours politically and religiously, but they are his tools, not yours. WHEN HE GOES ASTRAY FROM THE PRINICPLES, THEN AND THEN ONLY, SHOULD YOU QUITELY REMIND THAT HE IS IN ERROR. THEN SHOULD ASSIST HIM TO FIND THE RIGHT TRACK FOR HIM TO FOLLOW.”
White Freemasonry has not only gone astray, it is in violation of the principled language that defines brotherhood. Webster’s Dictionary defines brother as being “One closely united with another or others by religious, political, or family bond”. What happen to the belief in the Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice? Perhaps in the dynamics of race these words have very little meaning to the white Masonic body when it comes to their dark skinned Masonic Brothers. This argument is not about Prince Hall Masons being classified by Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as “irregular” or “clandestine”, it is convenient to hide behind such accusations, but what truly drives this fraternal division more than anything else is racism. Masons are taught how to communicate with a fellow Mason in darkness and light based on the language of symbolism---a word (the being able to verbalize the passwords), sign (give the due guard), token (being able to give the grip) let me stop right there; IS THERE NO HELP FOR THE POOR WIDOW'S SON.
But this social phenomenal and antagonistic contradiction between black Masons and white Masons is steeped in a perhaps much larger historical debate of race in America and the culture that evolved out of Chattel Slavery (1555-1865) impacting the political, economic and social reality of race relations and affected how institutions were originated, as well as the formulation of group dynamics ideology. Dr. Asa Hilliard who authored book titled, “Reawakening of the African Mind” stated, “mental bondage is invisible violence. Formal physical slavery has ended in the United States. Mental slavery continues to this present day. This slavery affects the minds of all people and, in one way, it is worst than physical slavery alone. That is, the person who is in mental bondage will self-contained. Not only will that person fail to challenge beliefs and patterns of thought which control him, he will defend and protect those beliefs and patterns of thought virtually with his last dying effort.”
Sherrod N. Gresham in his book titled, “Prominent Prince Hall Masons on the Philatelic Materials: Stamps, First Day Covers, and Post Cards” stated, “On March 2, 1784, African Lodge #1 petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, the Premier or Mother Grand Lodge of the world, for a warrant (ort character), to organize a regular Masonic lodge, with all the rights and privileges thereunto prescribed. The Grand Lodge of England issued a character on September 29, 1784, to African Lodge # 459, the first lodge of blacks in America.” Black Masonry, for the most part, has accepted the racist practices of white masons in a passive manner. But black Freemasonry as an institution, will be called upon to be more vocal outwardly in the black community and move away from a tradition of apolitical and a non-engagement stance while the social issues are mounting in the black community and in reality there is no room for silence.
Prince Hall, a free black man of Boston, Massachusetts was initiated and raised as a master mason by a traveling British Military lodge in 1775 along with fifteen other free black men. In addition, Prince Hall received an official and legitimate Masonic Charter from the Grand lodge of England on September 29, 1784, which led to the establishing of African lodge Number 459. The United States Supreme Court on June 23, 1929 handed down a decision, which guaranteed that Prince Hall Masons and Shriners had all the rights as a fraternity to appear in public, and in private to practice the time honored traditions of Masonry.
The “News Quarterly”, which is the official publication of the United Supreme Council 33 Degree Prince Hall Affiliated, its Editor-in-Chief Joseph Walkes stated, “prior to 1914 and even up to 1918, both white and black fraternities had established local lodges and local Shrine Temples in several cities and states. In some instances they were established in the same cities, namely Dallas, El-Paso, and Houston. In 1914, White Masons in five Southern States; Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, attempted to stop the practice of masonry by Prince Hall Masons and Prince Hall Shriners, as legitimate fraternal bodies in the United States. The White group appeared in a Texas court and entered a lawsuit against blacks, charging that they had no legitimate right to display Masonic or Shrine emblems in private or public, or call themselves Prince Hall Masons, Shriners, or anything else”
The above historical facts should serve as evidence which to dismantle the question of whether or not Prince Hall Freemasonry should be designated and viewed by white Masons as “irregular”; thus, there is enough historical documentation that suggest that these African-American Masons did received a legitimate and authentic charter from the Grand Lodge of England. Now! I am quite sure this argument has been presented over and over again, to the white Grand Lodges of the United States, but to little or no avail. Racism is a mindset that considers black people as a group as being inferior to whites because of physical (‘genotypical’ and ‘phenotypical’) traits. The racist further believes that these physical traits are detriments of social behavior and moral or intellectual qualities, and ultimately presumes that this inferiority is a legitimate basis for inferior social treatment of black people in society.
Prince Hall has some distinguish and prominent members such as: Thurgood Marshall(Former Supreme Court Justice), A. Phillip Randolph, Booker T. Washington, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, W. C. Handy, Eubie Blake, Whitney Young, Jesse Jackson, Elijah Muhammad, Al Sharpton, Mathew Henson, Charles Barkley, Alex Haley, Andrew Young, Sugar Ray Robinson, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, John H. Johnson, Lionel Hampton, Scottie Pippen, Benjamin Mays, Benjamin Hooks, Thomas Bradley, Richard Allen, etc., But many of these prominent African America Masons were not able to desegregate one of the last standing symbols that represent the values, culture, folkway, mores, etc,. of a nation divided on racial lines which is the collective institution of Freemasonry
The entire system of Masonry is a dying one because individuals who sought it out were not serious about what the craft offered. They got stuck at the first three symbolic degrees (Blue Lodge) and failed to captivate the moral lessons in which the Order was pointing. The traveling journey is a continuation of lessons and directions that are valuable to up-lifting humanity.
The Plessy versus Ferguson decision, which the United States Supreme Court in 1896, ruled and passed legislation declaring "separate but equal" as being constitutional and the law of the land. This legal decision ushered in segregation, institutionalize racism, and pervasive Jim Crow laws that lasted over fifty-eight years. Jim Crow Laws and segregation became to exemplify a nation divided on the lines of race. It was eventually overturned with the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education decision of Topeka, Kansas, which the United States Supreme Court declared "separate but equal" as being unconstitutional and it would be this high court's rendering that marshaled in the modern day Civil Rights era. (Reference: Andrew Hacker “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal)
This legal decision stood for fifth-eight (58) years and represented a turbulent era in United States History. Blacks began to socially and politically agitate the United States Government in their demand and quest for justice and inclusion that led to Civil Rights Movement.
Blacks in the United States led the fight for Civil Rights in the 1950’s and the 1960’s WHICH TO ERADICATE INSTITUTIONALIZE RACISM. Many Blacks lost their lives in this fight for freedom, justice and equality. Their social protest and agitation led to a sizable amount of public accommodation legislation being passed. For example, the passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, two huge pieces of legislation gained by the unswerving demand for total equality.
Blacks in the 1960’s fought (Bull Connors, Governor George Wallace, Senator Strum Thurmond, Senator Jesse Helms, etc., symbols of white manifest destiny) for inclusion and brought an end to racist segregation that had unjustly discriminated against blacks for so long. This writer wonders, where were the white Masons when the United States Supreme Court in 1954 with Brown versus Board of Education decision Topeka, Kansas, which overturned Plessy versus Ferguson (1896) and declared “separate but equal” as being un-Constitutional? (Reference: John Hope Franklin, “From Slavery Too Freedom: Since 1865)
Black Freemasonry historians for the most part are passive parrots who offer no real dialogue to Freemasonry as a philosophy. Joseph Walkes is considered a Masonic Scholar Emeritus in the body of Prince Hall intellectualism; he authored one the most definitive books on Prince Hall Freemasonry titled “200 Years of Prince Hall Freemasonry Black Compass and Square”. But after reading Walkes work it was evident that he had some serious problems with how white Masons have historically treated Prince Hall and the black Masonic craft in general.
But like most African American historians they shy away from tempered discussions and Walkes was no different---intellectual cowardice is the best way this writer can describe those who take the easy way out and remain silent to injustices in order to appear non-emotional and scholarly based on the rules the dominant culture has set-up for them to follow.
The majority of the Prince Hall writers do not provide the readers with substantive information other than dates and events. If they truly believe that there is no secret to Freemasonry, then why do they not offer light (truth) because only truth can rescue a collapsing social order? Walkes stated, “In my diary is a notation and reminder to myself, not to be too critical of Caucasian Masonry.” He attempted to justify his silence in the name of observing empirical research methods. He was not ignorant to the racist and social contradictions being advocated by white Masons in the name of Masonry. Joseph Walkes, the Prince Hall Historian should not have being an apologists for a racist institution they call 'regular' Freemasonry, but many of them do not have the courage nor the heart to challenge and condemn their white brethren. If that is the case stand back and allow me to speak TRUTH TO POWER. True Freemasonry must be rescued from the gamut of lies, misconceptions, racism, hypocrisy, duality, etc.
The white Freemasons in the United States are still practicing racism and discrimination in 2007 against Black Masons, this is not only shameful, it is reprehensible. In the State of North Carolina, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge is located in city where this writer resides--Durham, North Carolina and this writer has had the pleasure to meet and talk with the black Most Worshipful Grand Master Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina Jurisdictions. His name is Milton “Toby” Fitch; thus, he was a former State Representative of North Carolina and now holds a seat on the North Carolina Superior Court. The Grand Master struck me to be highly educated and equally intelligent, and wore the highest Masonic honor--- the title Grand Master.
But with all his academic learning and Masonic decorations and accolades he would not be accepted into the white Ancient Free and Accepted Masonic (AF&AM) family in North Carolina because of his skin color. Grand Master Finch even at the annual Prince Hall Grand Lodge sessions in September 2003 in Winston Salem, North Carolina; Finch invited the white Ancient Free and Accepted Grand Master Leonard Y. Safrit, Jr., (AF&AM) and put a resolution on the Masonic floor recognizing and accepting AF&AM, as well as extending full Prince Hall Masonic brotherhood to its white counterparts. But only to witness the white AF&AM not return the favor and voted to continue their racist and segregated practice against their Black Masonic Brothers of Prince Hall Masonry.
This writer applauds Grand Master Fitch’s humanity, but questions his motives to integrate; perhaps subconsciously they question their own legitimacy by still seeking to compromise their independence and sovereignty, by always being in quest of the organizational approval of their white brethren.
This writer knows throughout both orders' histories, there have been appeals to resolve the social antagonism between black and white Masons with little positive results. Black Freemasonry claims a philanthropic posture throughout the Black community and this is undeniable. However, the majority of the Black communities throughout the United States know very little about what Prince Hall Masonry truly stands for. This is why the social and political struggles of the order has fallen on deaf ears, as far as receiving assistance from the non-Masonic Black population who has not been raised by lodge ritualism. Joseph Walkes Prince Hall Historian should not have be an apologists for a racist institution they call 'regular' Freemasonry. True Freemasonry must be rescued from the gamut of lies and ritual justification of such lies.
Naim Akbar in his book titled “Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery” stated, “ Slavery was legally ended in excess of 100 years ago, but the brutality and the unnaturalness constituted a sever psychological and social shock to the minds of African Americans. This shock was so destructive to the natural life processes that the current generation of African Americans though we are 5-6 generations removed from the actual experience of slavery, still carry the scars in both our social and mental lives”
Freemasonry in general gives the impression of representing the highest aspirations of universalism and yet right here in America, white Mason and black Mason brothers have little dialogue because they can not see further than race and skin color. What happen to the biblical lesson of the 133 Psalms represented in the Entered Apprentice, the first Degree and the foundation of Masonry? “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments. As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
Lastly, there is no doubt in my mind that Prince Hall Masonry will survive the onslaught of negative propaganda coming from their so-called white Masonic brothers. But will it be an affective institution in the Black community, as we slowly move further into the 21st Century? I am also equally disappointed that Prince Hall Masonry who has millions of black members throughout the United States and world, but are still seeking the fraternal recognition from white Masonic Grand Lodges, as opposed to cherishing their independence and sovereignty and continue to declare themselves legitimate, with or without the approval of their white Masonic brothers.
We have found that true masonry is an expression of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude and at the basis of these virtues lay friendship and brotherly love. We who believe in social justice must challenge white Masons in the United States to abolish their racist and segregationist views about black Masonry and to subdue their passions and improve themselves in Masonry. Let God shine his light on us all.
Fahim A. Knight Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of good will of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolisms and reinterpret the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlighten world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight can be reached at email@example.com.
STAY AWAKE UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN,
Fahim A. Knight