Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What is Black Freemasonry?

From the perspective of Freemasons who are part of regular bodies which are historically not focused within African-American communities, Black Freemasonry is simply Freemasonry as practiced by Black men or within Black communities.  I want to invite my brethren to dig a little deeper however.  A better understanding of masonry as practiced in Black Communities will enhance all of our experiences traveling and sharing with each other throughout the fraternity.

Outside of what I will call the Black tradition, many Masons are vaguely familiar with the personage of Prince Hall.  You may be familiar that he was made a Mason in Massachusetts before the Revolutionary War, and that most African-American Masons trace their masonic heritage to this founder, and you would be correct.
What you may not be as familiar with, is the fact that Black Freemasons at some point recognized that the Masonic lineage of Prince Hall was so clear and legitimate, that all regularity of Black Masonic growth in America would be established upon the foundation of the Masonic events in Massachusetts in the 1780s.
As schisms, disagreements, arguments, splits, spurious groups, irregular bodies, and clandestine organizations have popped up throughout the history of Freemasonry in this Country, so they have arisen within African-American communities.  In order to preserve the legitimacy and credibility of regular Freemasonry as practiced in African-American communities, the moniker of "Prince Hall Affiliation" or "Prince Hall Affiliate" or "PHA" was adopted by regular freemasonry to distinguish it from what at the time would have been called "spurious", "clandestine", and "irregular" bodies.

For many Non-PHA Regular Masons, "PHA" is synonymous with "Black Freemasonry".  This is wholly appropriate and correct.  However, a mason may in his travels come across an African-American man, wearing a Square and Compasses, and identify him to be a Mason by the light he is displaying.  This man may, when challenged, display a profound and complete knowledge of freemasonry, its rituals, and modes of recognition.  You may accept him as a Brother Mason, and be surprised to learn that he is part of an African-American tradition, but it is not Prince Hall Affiliation.

You're not in a Lodge meeting, and you're not co-signing a loan, so you may not be greatly concerned about this detail.  But do be aware, this person may not be a part of a regular part of freemasonry.
This is a difficult thing for a Non-PHA regular Mason.  We are in an age when, between races and cultures, we are all trying to reach into communities where we may be less familiar.  If you are not as familiar with the nature of the Black community, challenging the regularity of a man wearing the Square and Compasses may not be how you want to spend your afternoon.  And I would not expect you to.

In fact, we are all trying to figure out how to deal with each other.  Masonry teaches us that men, not just Masons, should approach each other in friendship and fellowship, and promote peaceful relationships.  If the wearing of "light" can make that happen, we should not be stopping this.

What Prince Hall Masons want non-PHA Regular Masons to understand is just a little more about the nature of "Black Masonry".  All Masons should try to raise their awareness of the nature of the community of our fraternity.  We don't want to shun or disdain each other in the street.  We want to engage and discuss.  Just let us educate ourselves a little further.

Prince Hall Masons are likely proud to be Masons who are also Black.  We are proud to be "Black Masons".  But we are more likely to refer to ourselves as Masons first, and of Prince Hall Affiliation second.  The first, being a Mason, acknowledges that ours is a global fraternity, which is not restricted to our own community, although it is where we may live and work.  We are proud to be able to travel to other jurisdictions where we are recognized and in amity.  Ours is a regular tradition of Freemasonry, not an offshoot.  The second term, that of being of Prince Hall Affiliation, is all that needs to be said about our Black or African-American heritage.  By this, you should be able to know that we are a regular body, wholly legitimate, recognized by nearly all Mainstream Masonic bodies in the United States, and our international recognitions closely mirror those of Mainstream jurisdictions, and for the same reasons.
By the phrase, Prince Hall Affiliation, you know you are talking to someone with an African-American tradition he is proud of.  There are members of PHA bodies of all races.  And we recognize that we are welcome to join Mainstream lodges.

So, Brethren, please consider digging a little deeper as you become more familiar with "Black Masonry".


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