Learn about the unique origins and history of Prince Hall Freemasonry, an African-American Masonic tradition.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that uses symbols and ritual to teach morality to its members. Equality between men is a key value in Masonic teaching, but unfortunately, it has not always been practiced. When African-Americans in Colonial America weren’t allowed into white Masonic lodges, they formed their own.
Prince Hall and the first African Masonic Lodge
Men must first become Masons before attempting to start a lodge. On March 6, 1775, Master Mason John Batt, the white Master of a military lodge stationed in Boston, made Prince Hall and fourteen other African-Americans Master Masons. “The earliest record of freemasonry among African-American people in the United States is to be found on a sheet of paper in the archives of African Lodge in Boston,” writes the Phylaxis Society, an organization dedicated to the study of Prince Hall, on their website.
The first lodge for the African-American Masons was called African Lodge no. 1. When they were authorized by the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1784, the lodge became African Lodge no. 459.
Grand Lodges and New African Masonic Lodges
Grand Lodges are independent governing bodies of Masonic lodges in a certain area. In Prince Hall’s case, his lodge was not recognized by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, so he applied for a charter from the English Grand Lodge.
Grand Lodges have the power to create new Masonic lodges, although in Colonial America many lodges did it themselves. African Lodge no. 459 was no exception. In the late 1790s, Hall, as Master, authorized the formation of two more African lodges in Providence and New York.
Racism, Grand Lodges and Independence
Grand Lodges in the United States began to declare their independence from the ruling Grand Lodge in England in the late 1700s. Records show that Prince Hall and his lodge dutifully sent charitable contributions and correspondence to the English Grand Lodge that had chartered them, but never received a reply.
“Shunned by the white Masons of Massachusetts and ignored by England, Prince Hall’s fraternal descendants found themselves cut off from the Masonic world,” writes S. Brent Morris in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry. In 1827, the African-American Masonic lodges declared themselves independent of any Masonic authority.
In 1847 the African Grand Lodge changed its name to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his tribute. Today most Masonic lodges in the Prince Hall tradition carry his name. Many Grand Lodges, including the UGLE, today recognize Prince Hall Grand Lodges.
What is Different about Prince Hall Freemasonry?
Prince Hall Masonic lodges are quite similar to other Masonic lodges in the United States although some rituals may be performed slightly differently. Prince Hall Masons have a strict dress code of dark socks, dark shoes, dark suits, white shirts and dark ties. Members may also wear a top hat, black or white, or fedora. Many prominent African-American men have been Prince Hall Masons.