[Square & Compasses] Disgrace in Alabama

Web-master's Note: I was astonished (at least) to receive the attached message in the mail. Maybe it's good that this issue is going to be out in the open, where some light can shine on it. The following introduction is my personal opinion on the matter below, and should not be taken as the policy or expression of any lodge or grand lodge.

This is without a doubt the most controversial page I have ever posted at this web-site. That it will arouse contention within the Craft is my regret. But that contention is already present, and no sweet words can plaster over such ill-formed stones. These courses must be corrected, or our House will fall.

Introduction
-- by Gary L. Dryfoos

THERE WAS CERTAINLY an era when individual U.S. grand lodges could debate the rightness of mutual recognition of the Prince Hall branch of Freemasonry without thereby deserving any accusation of racism. There were such questions as the regularity of descent of the Prince Hall bodies and the problem of the pan-U.S. doctrine of "exclusive jurisdiction" (one grand lodge per geographic area), not to mention the difficulty created by various schisms within Prince Hall itself, creating rival claims to regularity in some states. To a non-Mason, those matters may be obscure, but as long as Masonry is to continue to be governed by a "grand lodge system", those questions had to be settled.

That era ended most decisively a few years ago with the announcement of mutual recognition between United Grand Lodge of England and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (the closest descendent of England's original chartered body, African Lodge No 459), a milestone in the modern history of Freemasonry, which was followed as if a dam had broken by mutual recognitions in many of the U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

My affection for Masonry, and the gentle lessons I have tried to learn within its walls, incline me to believe that there are still men of good will within our beloved Craft who have no feelings of race hate or race fear; or who, having recognized such feelings within their hearts, have worked to chip those rough edges off from their ashlar, and yet who still genuinely and sincerely believe that formal matters of "irregularity" must rule out recognition of the Prince Hall bodies.

To such as these I extend my sincerest fraternal affection, even as I implore you to return to your Masonic inquiries, to improve yourself in knowledge of the histories and constitutions and landmarks of our noble and excellent Institution and then to ask yourself:

"If so many grand lodges around the world have found our Prince Hall brethren to be regular, what special facts do I hold that would disprove that conclusion?"

However, as the following letter makes clear, not all the good will in the world can blind a generous Mason to the clear and certain knowledge that not all opponents of mutual recognition are so well-intentioned or honorably moved. That such remarks as our Brother Harris reports can be heard on the lips of men who profess Universal Brotherhood is a disgrace that cannot fail to move any honest Mason.

It is not many years since my own grand lodge was threatened with widespread loss of recognition for declaring an intention simply to investigate what mutual claims of brotherhood it might owe to its sister Prince Hall grand lodge. That threat is gone. That tide has turned.

No. May the Great Architect grant that this is not simply a tide, doomed to wash forward and back across the same unhallowed ground between sea and shore. May this be a shifting of the ground itself. If Freemasonry is going to survive and flourish, then its promise of Universality must continue to move towards fulfillment.

So mote it be.

-- Gary L. Dryfoos
Web-master of "A Page About Freemasonry"


Here is the letter from Bro. Alex Harris

Subj:    PSOC: Prince Hall Vote in Alabama
Date:   11/17/1999 2:31:31 PM Central Standard Time
From:   <Alex.Harris@tbe.com> (Harris, Alex)

Brethren,

I just came from the Grand Lodge meeting in Alabama. The proposed resolution of intent to recognize Prince Hall Masonry in this state failed by and overwhelming margin. In all honesty, I only saw two votes cast in favor of the resolution.

I attempted to give an address on the issue and two sentences into it the brethren became unruly. The Grand Master asked how much more time I needed. I said a couple of more minutes. The Grand Master asked the brethren to behave like Masons and I continued. Then, about a third of the way into the speech the brethren became so unruly that the Grand Master asked how much more time I needed. I responded that I had about a page and a half more and the brethren literally erupted. At that time I informed the Grand Master that I understood the position he was in and would take my seat. It was obvious that the Grand Master did not wish to gavel me down but if I had not stopped the meeting would have become more unruly.

The Chairman of the Jurisprudence Committee claimed that this resolution would grant recognition to Prince Hall Masonry even though the resolution clearly states that it is a resolution of "intent to accomplish the following". It did not appear to go over well when I pointed this out. He also seemed to think the resolution should have gone through his committee even though it does not change anything in the Constitution or Edicts. Also, he seemed (by his tone of voice) to take issue with the fact that the resolution refers to our Grand Lodge as the Grand Lodge of Alabama, F&AM and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge as the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Alabama, F&AM. I guess he did not know that those are the proper names each Grand Lodge goes by (at least in their publications).

All of this transpired in front of the Grand Masters, Grand Lodge officers or Grand Lodge dignitaries of several other jurisdictions, some of which recognize Prince Hall Masonry. It was a sad day in this state to say the least.

I want to stress that I believe all of the Grand Line officers from the Grand Lodge of Alabama handled themselves with decorum and honor befitting their position. The rest of the brethren...well I think that is clear.

I may get in quite a bit of trouble for telling this story but to be honest, I am now beyond caring. The truth must be told.

The text of the speech I was delivering is below.

S&F,
Alex Harris


Address to the Grand Lodge of Alabama

by Bro. Alex Harris

Most Worshipful Grand Master, Right Worshipful Grand Wardens, Brethren,

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to say to you today. There are so many issues that could be addressed regarding recognition of Prince Hall Masonry. Eventually though, the argument always comes back to race. So I decided to acknowledge that fact and to stop trying so hard to avoid it. Some may be offended by the observations I am about to make. Some because they have watched quietly as their beloved Masonry has been used as a front for something they would never be a part of. Others because they will realize I am describing them and they have spent their lives convincing themselves they do not hold those views. And still others, who do not hide the fact they are racist, will be very upset because these statements will threaten the existence of our lodges as "whites only".

Many Masons have told me they could not support this resolution because their lodge will not support it. Others believe in recognition but are honest enough to admit they do not have the courage to stand up in lodge and say so. And still others believe in recognition but they will not support it because they feel Alabama is not ready for it.

Since when are we concerned about whether the population is "ready" to give up something that is blatantly wrong? Is not part of being a Mason having the courage to stand up for what is just and right, regardless of the consequences? Didn't we learn that from the Masonic founding fathers of our country? Of course, Alabama has been desegregated for over thirty years. We're ready. Brethren, this is 1999. The country has been integrated for a generation. The world has been integrated a lot longer than that.

Masons in the rest of the world, and the United States for that matter, can't fathom our refusal to accept Prince Hall Masons. The issue is gaining momentum. So far recognition has been granted, or is being negotiated, in thirty US Jurisdictions, seven Canadian jurisdictions and nine other foreign jurisdictions. The United Grand Lodge of England has recognized Prince Hall Masonry in eighteen jurisdictions. This means that every possible argument against recognition has already been debated and refuted in other jurisdictions and there is not a legitimate Masonic reason to deny recognition to Prince Hall Masonry.

My fear is that one day other jurisdictions will withdraw recognition from Alabama because they believe us to be clandestine since we refuse to recognize the brotherhood of all men. If you think it can't happen, talk to Masons in other jurisdictions. They are discussing it. Will their Grand Lodges take action? I do not know. If they do not address our lack of action then someone, somewhere, will do the same thing we have done here today. They will feel their Grand Lodge is ignoring a vital issue and propose a resolution themselves.

Too many Masons don't want to sit in lodge with blacks. Fine points of Masonry have been perverted to defend racism that would not be tolerated in the rest of society. You do not want to know the statements I have heard since this resolution was proposed. I am going to tell you some of them anyway because they should be heard.

[At this point I had to abandon the speech and take my seat.]

You need to know what Masonry is harboring today. A Past Master told me there are lodges I should not visit because I might not make it out of there. Another Past Master stated that "My grand-children may have to go to school with them but I sure won't sit in lodge with them." He also stated that, if this resolution passes, he and all his sons would be forced to leave Masonry and that we would lose at least half our members. I have been asked "what is going on at your lodge with all this 'nigger' talk". I have been asked if I wanted to sit in lodges with "blue-gums". I have never heard that racial slur before, so I guess this has been an educational process too.

I want to respond to a few of the statements you just heard. First and foremost... if, because I favor recognition, I would be in physical danger... then Masonry does not exist here anymore. Second... anyone who would leave Masonry, because Prince Hall Masonry is granted recognition, is a Mason in title only. Its lesson's are obviously not in their hearts. We may lose a large number of members if the resolution passes. So mote it be. Let them trade their aprons for white sheets with hoods. We are better off without them.

There are those who are livid with me right now. They are thinking, "How dare he say that!" or "Saying things like that is a Masonic offense!" or "He should remember his obligation!" My response is this... If speaking the truth, no matter how unpopular, is a Masonic offense, I am guilty and you should expel me because I am going to continue speaking these truths until we do the right thing.

My dear brethren... We are men, but more than that we are Masons, but more than that we are the creation of the Great Architect Of The Universe. Let us not sully his creation by letting it be associated with evil actions or beliefs. Have the courage to STAND UP and say you will do what is right. STAND UP and say you will no longer allow the order to be used to perpetuate racism. STAND UP and announce that we believe in the brotherhood of ALL men. But most importantly, remember the trowel you were presented with at your raising... remember what it teaches us... and then stand up and vote that Prince Hall Masonry is now, and always has been, a legitimate branch of Masonry that the Grand Lodge of Alabama should grant full fraternal recognition to.

Thank-you.

Bro. Harris and some of his brothers have established a web-site with more information on this issue.


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