Conspiracy theorists rarely, if ever, deal with a charge ("trick") such as this. The 'Religious Intolerant' though will find this convenient to use in an attempt to persuade others that Freemasonry excludes Blacks while their own church may practice the same type of discrimination they accuse Freemasons of doing.
However, the charge of racism in Freemasonry seems to come primarily from the mouths and pens of the 'Self-Server' in the United States. Here's why:
In the earliest days of the United States, white men and black men did not mix socially - in any way. In fact, this continued through the 1960s with segregation at virtually all levels of live. It is not unusual, then, to appreciate that this didn't occur in Freemasonry either. In other parts of the world, however, Freemasonry was and is quite integrated with race not an issue at all. The charge of 'racism', then, is a mere ruse!
Some historical facts about US racial divisions in Freemasonry
A Masonic Lodge was chartered in Boston under the direction of a Black man, Prince Hall, who had received his degrees from a duly chartered military traveling lodge and who proceeded in accordance with the custom of the day for forming lodges. While there was no specific prohibition against Blacks in Freemasonry then or now, there was a phrase in the Masonic obligations that required a candidate be "free-born". This requirement harkened back to the days of apprenticeship where a new apprentice was not accepted unless he was free from bondage. Regrettably, this restriction - mirroring other such restrictions in society in the United States at large - was used to restrict membership of Blacks. But we're getting ahead of ourselves in the story....
In the days of Prince Hall and his companions, even the act of mailing a simple letter to another town required considerable wherewithal. During this period, the Lodge which Prince Hall had formed in Boston ultimately lost their contacts with the Grand Lodge in England from whom they were originally chartered.
Here we must digress for a moment to explain that at this time, there were actually two Grand Lodges in England. This had come about because certain innovations had begun to appear in the development of Freemasonry and a group of 'traditionalists' calling themselves (ironically) 'The Moderns' split from the former group (who came to be known as 'The Antients'). In the early 1800s this rift was healed, however, and when the two Grand Lodges united (forming today's United Grand Lodge of England - UGLE), each dropped all of the lodges throughout the world with whom they had lost contact. African Lodge #459 in Boston met this fate.
Nevertheless, African Lodge - following ancient Masonic tradition - continued to make Masons and grow as an organization. Soon there were two parallel organizations in existence but because of complicated rules regarding recognition of other Masonic bodies, the various lodges and Grand Lodges formed from that original lodge with Prince Hall soon found themselves somewhat outside the larger body of Freemasonry.
The problem was further compounded by - ironically - the growth of the United States from its colonial roots to the broad expanse of territory from coast to coast. As new territories were admitted into the Union, a concept of 'exclusive jurisdiction' peculiar to the United States was adopted. This concept allowed for only one Grand Lodge within the boundaries of a particular state's borders. Because of this, recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodges which were founded there was precluded since they were always created after the 'mainstream' Grand Lodge and were not part of the 'covenant' which created the territorial exclusivity.
Which brings us to more modern times....
Freemasonry was separated by what appeared to be clearly a racial divide. Although this was not the plan in the 1700s, the hardening of racial divisions leading up to the US Civil War made the progression inevitable. Thus, arriving in the 1950s, a 'Black' and a 'White' Masonry co-existed, both knowing the other existed but neither recognizing the other as a true "Masonic" body.
Being traditionalists, some 'mainstream' Masons reminded others of the 'free-born' requirement or pointed to the loss of Charter and subsequent inappropriateness of creating new lodges when not a lodge itself (in their eyes). Other Masons, however, saw a division as plain as the color of their faces - and as a result, worked tirelessly to remind Masons that the matter of a lost document in the early 1800s should not be the cause of remaining at a perpetual distance - and that the concept of territorial exclusivity, unique in the United States, should not interfere with the sharing of Masonic fellowship. However, because each organization now had over two hundred years of tradition, it was difficult to see how the bodies would reunite.
After considerable effort on the part of some, recognition has occurred beginning in the 1990s and the United Grand Lodge of England (recognized by all Masonic bodies as the 'senior' grand lodge and thus due primacy in these matters) restored recognition to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1994. Within the week, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had extended similar recognition.
Now the details of such recognition processes continue throughout the United States and the world and both parts of Freemasonry are working more together as a team. A majority of 'mainstream' Grand Lodges have recognized their Prince Hall counterparts and vice versa. Some still remain at a perpetual distance due to long-standing fears, personality conflicts, or procedural issues. Nevertheless, the direction of the movement is clear and soon Prince Hall Freemasonry will fully and completely take its place within the world-wide fraternity of Masons once again.
As we enter the the 21st century, we continue to see the charge of racism leveled against Freemasonry but we believe that it's a false one and can be dismissed. Regrettably, though, some Grand Lodges in the Southern United States have clung tenaciously to their segregated ways thus exposing the racism charge further. We believe that this is a temporary situation and within the next few years will be resolved. Freemasonry is, if nothing else, an organization that places great weight upon tradition. Couple this with a section of the country which does likewise (and is often very reluctant to change, regardless of the reason) and we see 4/5ths of the U.S. accepting Prince Hall while the remainder drag their heels.
We have a listing of Prince Hall Grand Lodges on our site here. Prince Hall Masons have a long and proud tradition and the charges of racism are now a mere ruse to discredit Freemasonry. There's an interesting article by noted Masonic author Allen E. Roberts titled "Who are these Prince Hall Masons?" here.
In light of the above discussion, a non-Mason might well wonder why Prince Hall and 'mainstream' Freemasonry in the United States don't simply join their lodges together and eliminate any issue years and years ago. The answer has nothing to do with race but is wrapped up in the rich heritage each Grand Lodge now has. With mutual recognition, the bodies can and will work together yet retain their history and culture. Those choosing to join Freemasonry will do so in lodges where their ancestors did. This will allow the traditions and histories will weave into the fabric of their lives. Joining together risks the loss of that tradition in future generations and thus it is unlikely at this time that any such joining would ever be contemplated. Perhaps in centuries to come things will be different but for now, Grand Lodges are pleased to share fellowship and fraternalism while maintaining their independence and historical lineage.
This web site's author is proud to be an honorary member of African Lodge #459, Prince Hall Affiliation!
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