Questions and Answers about Prince Hall Masonry
Facts rather than Rumors
What is Prince Hall Masonry?
It is a system of Freemasonry whose history goes back to 1775, and that includes Craft (Blue) Lodges, Royal Arch Chapters, Commanderies, Scottish Rite, Eastern Star, and others. It consists primarily, but not exclusively, of blacks, or African American men. It has a longer history and traditions than most of the “white” Grand Lodges.
Why don’t we recognize Prince Hall Masonry now? Would it cause any harm?
Until 1989 no U.S. Grand Lodges recognized Prince Hall Masonry for long, because other Grand Lodges brought pressure on any that talked about doing that. Since then, the majority of U.S. Grand Lodges have recognized Prince Hall Masonry, and they have not reported any problems.
How many other Grand Lodges recognize Prince Hall Masonry?
The United Grand Lodge of England (mother lodge of the world) and 31 of the 51 Grand Lodges in the United States that we recognize, plus almost every Canadian Grand Lodge, and about a dozen other Grand Lodges in Europe recognize Prince Hall Masonry and its Grand Lodges.
Is Prince Hall Masonry regular?
Prince Hall Masonry — its Grand Lodges, Lodges, and Members — is regular Masonry, just as regular as any other Grand Lodges. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) said in 1994, “the philosophy and practice of Prince Hall Masonry today are of exemplary regularity.” The UGLE has recognized the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, which is the original Prince Hall Grand Lodge, and every other Prince Hall Grand Lodge that has been recognized by its U.S. counterpart Grand Lodge. Prince Hall Masonry follows the same Masonic landmarks that we do, and the way they practice Masonry is almost identical to our way.
Isn’t there a rule that there can only be one Grand Lodge in each state or country?
This is called the “Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction,” but it does not prevent our Grand Lodge from recognizing the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Virginia. There can be, and often are, two or more regular and recognized Grand Lodges in the same State or country. From 1989 through 2000, Grand Lodges in 31 of the 51 U.S. jurisdictions recognized Prince Hall Grand Lodges. Some amended their Grand Lodge Codes or Constitutions to clarify that the “doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction” does not prevent them from recognizing Prince Hall Grand Lodges, some rejected any use of this “doctrine,” and some ignored it. Experts on the subject of Masonic recognitions are unanimous in saying that the “doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction” is not, and never has been, violated when Grand Lodges operating in the same State or country mutually agree to recognize each other, as has now happened in most of the States of our country with Prince Hall recognitions. Our Methodical Digest says that our Grand Lodge already shares concurrent jurisdiction with other Grand Lodges, and can add the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Virginia to that list.
Doesn’t Prince Hall Masonry have to ask to be recognized? Aren’t they younger than us?
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge has asked to be recognized, even though that was not necessary for recognition to take place. And, there is no need for a “younger” Grand Lodge to request recognition from an “older” one. No such rules appear in the Methodical Digest or any resolution adopted by our Grand Lodge. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Virginia has made it clear that they do request recognition by our Grand Lodge. Even if they had not, several other Grand Lodges have recognized Prince Hall Grand Lodges that did not request recognition, and that were older than the ones being recognized. These include the Grand Lodges of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nebraska, Hawaii, and others. Our Grand Lodge has the authority to recognize any Grand Lodge we wish to recognize, if we find that to be in the best interests of the Craft.
If there are some differences between Prince Hall and us, should we still recognize them?
The Masonic ritual, rules, and practices of Prince Hall Masonry are compatible with ours. Masonic officials in U.S. Grand Lodges that have recognized Prince Hall Grand Lodges and observed their ritual and Masonic practices tell us that Prince Hall Masonic ritual, rules, and practices are very similar to ours. They report that Prince Hall Masons are even more concerned with ritual excellence than many of those who are already recognized, and even some in our own Grand Lodge. There are no more differences between Masonic practices in our Grand Lodge and in Prince Hall Masonry than there are between our Grand Lodge and any of the other 50 U.S. Grand Lodges, and all the foreign ones, that we already recognize. Masons from the jurisdictions that we have long recognized, and that now recognize Prince Hall Masonry, report that Prince Hall Masonry and its Grand Lodges and Lodges are just as free from partisan politics and sectarian religion as are our Grand Lodge and the other U.S. Grand Lodges that we recognize.
Isn’t there more than one Prince Hall, or Black, Grand Lodge in each state? Which should be recognized?
There is only one recognized and official Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Virginia and each other State. Even though many States and Commonwealths, including Virginia, have more than one predominately black Masonic Grand Lodge, there is a Conference of Prince Hall Grand Masters that investigates and determines which is the official and regular Prince Hall “Affiliation” Grand Lodge in each State. There is only one such Prince Hall Grand Lodge in each State. There are many predominately Black Grand Lodges in almost all the 31 States where Prince Hall Masonry has already been recognized by our sister Grand Lodges, and they have not had any difficulty recognizing the one official Prince Hall Grand Lodge in their States. As we have recently found even in our own jurisdiction, there sometimes is more than one “white” Grand Lodge in a jurisdiction, and that does not prevent all other Grand Lodges from recognizing ours as the one that is official.
Doesn’t Prince Hall have different rules about membership in more than one lodge?
Prince Hall Masonry’s rules against dual or plural membership are not different from those of some Grand Lodges that we have long recognized. For example, the Grand Lodge of West Virginia requires that its members belong to only one Lodge, so even though we recognize that Grand Lodge, its members cannot affiliate with any Lodge in Virginia. The same would be true of Prince Hall Masons if we recognize their Grand Lodge in the same manner that we currently recognize the Grand Lodge of West Virginia. As long as the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Virginia maintains its policy against dual or plural membership, and that is likely to remain in force, it will not be possible for any of its members to petition for membership in any of our Lodges, just as a West Virginia Mason cannot do that either. Visitations could take place, and there might be joint meetings, but there would not be dual or plural memberships.
If we recognize Prince Hall, who will speak for Masonry in Virginia? Will there be other changes in our Grand Lodge and our lodges?
Our Grand Lodge will speak for our lodges and members, and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge will speak for its lodges and members, just as we both have done for centuries. Almost nothing will change, except that Masons in our lodges who wish to visit a Prince Hall lodge will be permitted to do so, and vice versa. Even then, it is likely that as a matter of courtesy visitors will make advance arrangements to insure that everyone is comfortable with such visits. Otherwise, our Grand Lodge and lodges will continue to operate without any change that will be noticed by anyone.
Are there other reasons not to recognize Prince Hall Masonry? Are there reasons to do it?
There are no other valid arguments not to recognize the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Virginia, and there are good reasons to do so. Since the reasons that have in the past been raised against recognition of Prince Hall Masonry (such as questions about regularity and exclusive territorial jurisdiction) have been shown to be invalid, it is difficult to imagine any valid Masonic reasons — compatible with Masonry’s teachings of the brotherhood of all men under the fatherhood of God — that might be raised against recognition of Prince Hall Masonry. On the other hand, if our Grand Lodge does recognize Prince Hall Masonry, that will bring us in line with the majority of U.S. Grand Lodges, the United Grand Lodge of England, and many other Grand Lodges in the world. It will extend the hand of fraternal fellowship to Brother Masons who practice Masonry as we do, and whose history and traditions are as long and honorable as our own. Most importantly, if our Grand Lodge recognizes Prince Hall Masonry, it will prove to all, non-Masons as well as our Brethren, that we truly believe what we say in our ritual, that Masonry looks at the internal characters of men, not the external characteristics such as color, and that Freemasonry is a force for Brotherhood in the world.
Why should I believe any of this? Where can the facts be checked?
There are books, Masonic magazine articles, and other places where you can check all these facts, and not just believe what others tell you. The other “white” Grand Lodges that have investigated Prince Hall Masonry have written reports, in their Proceedings, and you can read these reports in the library of the Grand Lodge of Virginia in Richmond, or the library of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. These libraries also have books and research articles that give all the facts about Prince Hall Masonry and all the other subjects mentioned above. You are welcome, and encouraged, to read and research this subject yourself.