REPORT ON NEGRO FREEMASONRY IN MASSACHUSETTS
The following unanimous report of a Committee appointed by the Grand Master on March 22, 1946, was read by the Grand Master. Action upon the acceptance of this report and its recommendations will be taken at the March, 1947, Communication.
To the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts:
The Committee appointed by you to consider and report upon the subject of Negro Freemasonry in Massachusetts, begs leave to submit the following report:
It has been a full half century since our Grand Lodge has considered the subject of Negro Freemasonry. Then, and in all previous studies of the subject, attention was directed primarily, if not solely, to the question of the technical regularity of the origins and early history of Negro Freemasonry. In the light of the evidence then available, it was believed it could not, according to Masonic law, be regarded an legitimate Freemasonry. On the same evidence, the same conclusions would presumably have been reached - and perhaps even more emphatically - if the individuals and Lodges in question had been white instead of colored.
In the intervening half century, Masonic historical research has made much progress, and the emphasis has changed considerably in Masonic thinking with respect to some of the factors involved in any such inquiry. The legality and regularity of each organizational act is now tested according to the law and customs of its date rather than by those of the present.
Your Committee finds that according to the then prevailing Masonic law and custom, the origin, early procedures and subsequent development of the so-called Prince Hall (Negro) Freemasonry in this Commonwealth have been, and are, regular and legitimate. Moreover, there is reliable and uncontradicted documentary evidence, dated June 30, 1784, that African Lodge, of which Prince Hall was Master, was, in 1776, granted a "Permet" by John Rowe of Boston (then Provincial Grand Master over North America where no other Provincial was appointed), "to walk on St. John's day and Bury our dead in form," etc. Rowe succeeded Henry Price in 1768. Thus for 170 years African Lodge and its successors have been functioning in Massachusetts in good faith and with the justifiable belief that their origin and procedure were as regular and legitimate as we have thought ours to be. Obviously, we do not presume to pass upon conditions prevailing in any other jurisdictions.
It is understood that there are other groups of Negroes who claim to be Masons, but we have found no evidence in support of such claims, and our conclusion thus far is that the so-called Prince Hall (Negro) Freemasonry is, alone, entitled to any claim of legitimacy among Negroes in this Commonwealth.
Members of this Committee have inspected the original charter of African Lodge, No. 459, granted by authority of H.R.H. the Duke of Cumberland, Grand Master of our own Mother Grand Lodge of England, dated 29th September, 1784, appointing Prince Hall (a Negro resident of Boston) to be its Master. This is the source of all "duly constituted" Prince Hall Freemasonry, and is now in the possession of the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., of Massachusetts. Our Grand Lodge traces its history as a "duly constituted" organization 1733, and Prince Hall (Negro) Freemasonry to 1787 when African Lodge began to function under its charter. Thus for more than a century and a half, these two branches of Freemasonry have existed side by side in this Commonwealth, each by its own preference adhering strictly to its own racial sphere of activity and without intervisitation.
There is need for unifying and strengthening all influences for the improvement and uplifting of mankind. Freemasonry seeks to build character and promote brotherhood among all men. These objectives have nothing to do with race or color or economic status. In this country, the welfare and the future of the white and colored people are interdependent and largely identical. Each has its own schools and colleges and churches and societies, but both have the same ultimate aspirations; both make common sacrifices in defense of their single country; both read the same periodicals, hear the same radio programs, and enjoy or suffer together the triumphs or failures of our national well being; and each is affected by the spiritual welfare of the other.
In conclusion, your Committee believes that in view of the existing social conditions in our country, it is advisable for the official and organized activities of white and colored Freemasons to proceed in parallel lines, but organically separate and without mutually embarrassing demands or commitments. However, your Committee believes that, within these limitations, informal cooperation and mutual helpfulness between the two groups upon appropriate occasions are desirable.
Your Committee makes no recommendation except that this report be accepted, approved and recorded.
This declaration, with accompanying documentation, was read and approved at the March 12, 1947 communication of the Grand Lodge.
Direction given by the Grand Master in March, 1949; Page 1949-41.
"The Grand Master stated that in view of the misinterpretations by some Grand Lodges of the action taken by this Grand Lodge in March, 1947, he had referred this matter back to the original committee of Past Grand Masters for further clarification and for recommendations as to further action. This Committee, to which M.W. Samuel H. Wragg was added, is requested to report to Grand Lodge at the Quarterly Communication of June 9, 1949."
On June 8, 1949, the following report was submitted and approved; Page 1949-99.
"To the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts:
"As requested by you on March 9th, your Committee has reconsidered the subject of Negro Freemasonry. It has given careful and sympathetic attention to the various comments of certain other Grand Lodges relative to its earlier report of November 25, 1946, as approved by the Grand Lodge on March 12, 1947, and has re-examined the original source material on which its earlier report was based, but we believe it will serve no good purpose to re-open the discussion.
"Misunderstandings and statements which we feel to be erroneous have produced unfortunate events. The net result is producing disharmony in American Freemasonry, whereas unity is what we need more than anything else. Unity and harmony are vastly more important to the Fraternity than debates about Negro Freemasonry.
"Therefore, in the interest of Masonic harmony, we recommend that the vote of the Grand Lodge on March 12, 1947, whereby our earlier report was approved, should be rescinded."
Relations with Negro Masonic organizations remained essentially a dead letter until the revival of interest in the 1990s. This report was in response to adverse reactions from other Grand Lodges.