There has just come to the Supreme Council Library the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine for 1948, and it is very gratifying to read the report of the Committee on Foreign Correspondence with reference to Negro Freemasonry. It is exceedingly clarifying and ought to be a satisfying statement to anyone and everyone who is trying to create dissensions in Freemasonry. We print it in full. It appeals to us as being exceedingly appropriate and coming at an appropriate time.
We have for review a report of the subject of Negro Freemasonry presented to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at its Communication in March of 1947. While expressly disclaiming any thought of extending actual recognition to these negro bodies or of allowing any intervisitation therewith, this report represents a complete reversal of the traditional position maintained by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for the last century and a half, in that it admits the regularity of the original African Lodge, and extends a certain vague and undefined approval to the present-day bodies of the so-called Prince Hall Affiliation. It is evidently the belief of the Committee that helpful and friendly assistance can be extended to these bodies while their activities develop along lines parallel to those of regular Masonry, but without any mutually embarrassing commitments to formal relationships. It is all too easy to see how this approval might be interpreted as virtual recognition, either by sister Grand Lodges or by the negroes themselves. The consternation which this report has caused in certain Grand Lodges, such as those of California and Texas, can be readily understood.
No one has ever denied that the original African Lodge, chartered by the Grand Lodge of England in 1784, derived its charter from a regular source. The only question involved was that of territorial jurisdiction, its date of charter being subsequent to the actual Masonic independence of Massachusetts. However, as the report under consideration truly points out the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction was not firmly established in the eighteenth century, particularly in Massachusetts prior to the Union of 1792. If Massachusetts now chooses to acknowledge this fact and to withdraw her traditional objections, the original legality of African Lodge appears to be fully established.
However, we cannot see where the legality of African Lodge has any bearing upon the status of existing negro bodies. Whatever authority African Lodge derived from its English charter ceased forever when African Lodge was erased from the roll of the Grand Lodge of England. Moreover, following the death of its founders, African Lodge became dormant and so remained for many years. When it was self-revived in 1827 the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction was as fully and firmly established as it is today. The English charter had long since lost its force, and the negroes made no attempt to secure authority from the only power capable of granting it, the sovereign Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Instead, they deliberately declared their independence of all legitimate Masonic authority and knowingly and voluntarily embarked upon a purely clandestine career.
African Lodge, even in the days of its legitimacy, was never anything but a subordinate lodge. Its action in issuing charters to other negro lodges was a plain defiance of Masonic law and a usurpation of powers inherent in Grand Lodges alone. As for those lodges deriving illegal charters from African Lodge, they have never, for a single moment, had anything but a clandestine existence, and neither have the coloured Grand Lodges illegally formed by these illegal bodies.
We in Maine are particularly fortunate in having for our guidance the exhaustive reports on this subject made by our own great Masonic luminary, M. W. Josiah H. Drummond. After the most thorough investigation, Bro. Drummond held that the Prince Hall bodies were utterly clandestine and without the slightest claim to the Masonic character. With all respect for the distinguished brethren making the recent Massachusetts report, we still find Drummond's arguments to be unanswerable. How could a subordinate lodge issue charters? How could a subordinate lodge continue to exist after its erasure from the roll of its Mother Grand Lodge unless it had previously thereto come under the jurisdiction of another regular Grand Lodge? How could a dormant lodge revive itself without authority from the Grand Lodge within whose jurisdiction it proposed to work? How could a Grand Lodge be formed by less than three regular lodges, and how could a Grand Lodge be formed in territory already occupied by a sovereign Masonic power? Unless these questions can be answered, we must continue to hold with Drummond, with Albert G. Mackey, and with Charles W. Moore, that negro bodies are without the slightest claim to Masonic legitimacy.
Personally, we deplore the revival of discussion on this question. We do not doubt that the negro lodges do a certain amount of good and render a measure of service to the coloured communities in which they exist. We do not regard them as being in quite the same class as clandestine lodges composed of white men. Yet, when all is said and done, these negroes are not regular Masons, and any attempt to accord them conditional or qualified recognition as such can only lead to confusion. The coloured bodies exi st in many different Grand Jurisdictions. Widely divergent attitudes are certain to develop, and the only result will be the introduction of an element of discord into our American Masonic life. Moreover, even the most limited recognition of these bodies as Masonic will, in the eyes of the profane world, make regular Masonry responsible for any and all misconduct on their part. Unfortunately, such misconduct has been common throughout the history of these bodies. Their antics have verged upon the grotesque, and, if their clandestine status were not clearly understood, could only result in making Freemasonry ridiculous. The recent unfortunate happenings in Nova Scotia only serve to emphasize this point, as does the recent unseemly brawl in Kansas, where a negro Grand Lodge election ended up in police court.
Our objection to these bodies is not based upon the colour of their members, but upon the clandestine nature of their origin and upon the gross irregularity of their conduct. For regular negro brethren, where such exist, we have nothing but the kindest and most, fraternal feelings. But we cannot allow the mere element of colour to excuse clandestinism, to justify unmasonic conduct, or to allow any departure from the traditional American doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction. In the words of M. W. Josiah H. Drummond, as found in the official Maine Masonic Text Book: "The Grand Lodge of Maine exercises exclusive Masonic jurisdiction in this State, and any lodge, organized by any other authority, is illegal and clandestine, with which, or with whose members, no Masonic intercourse can be held."