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It may seem strange to some because of the fierce determination for the astute ,mason of darker persuasion to be identified, not just as a mason, but as a Prince Hall Mason. There is a difference in "masons." Because of the trials and tribulations that we, as Prince Hall Masons have endured, it is with a great sense of pride to be privileged to wear the name. It is mute and vocal testimony to the fact that, "Prince Hall, we're still here!"
A lot of things are not appreciated in life, sometimes because the method used in gaining the honor, the privilege, or the tangible product, is not one where it called for a sacrifice of some sort. Not so with Prince Hall Masons, for we have, "been up the creek, and down the river." The Prince Hall Mason can truly say, "I have often been tried, but never denied..." The background, the legacies, the involvement of the Prince Hall Masons in the growth of the meaningful things that were gained in the Black Experience and the Black Church, speak louder than the negative reports that sometimes seep into our midst. Prince Hall Masons have many things to be proud of, because of the sacrifices made by those brothers and sisters in by-gone years. I for one do appreciate the many years of their sacrificial efforts.
Because of its beautiful history, Prince Hall Masons have come under attack, by word and deed. There have been court cases, negative media coverage, and by and large, an exclusion from the pages of history found in libraries or in private collections, sorry to say. However, little by little, the story is being told of the many worthwhile things that have been done in the name of human endeavors by those brethren of the craft. Because of its beautiful history, Prince Hall Masons have had to endure many groups professing to be "masons." Some even carry the name, "Prince Hall Mason," but the result is not the same. It is said that "Imitation is the highest form of flattery" or something to that order. However, when the term, "mason" is used, everyone should be aware that it does not always mean, "Prince Hall Mason" and there is a difference.
When one considers Prince Hall, one can readily understand why there would be attempts at duplicating the fraternity that bears his name. It is a proud name, one that can stand up to the criticisms that may come from opponents; one that can, because of the many brothers and sisters that wear the name, withstand the court cases and innuendoes of smaller minds. Prince Hall was a man that American History can be proud of, even though some today may feel threatened by the love some members have for their order. Prince Hall was a man that veterans can be proud of, even though Black veterans today, cannot enjoy the benefits of heroism and service for their country. In spite of the duplications, in spite of the overlooking, Prince Hall, "We're still here!"
September 12 has been accepted by all Grand Lodges of the Prince Hall Masonic Family, even though the year is still debatable. It is understandable though, because many times, Blacks' births were not recorded, for we sometimes were counted as cattle, not as humans. Even today, there are many Blacks walking around with questionable records of no records of birth. Therefore, the debate on Prince Hall's year of birth will probably be going on 100 years from now. But, on September 12, 1988, and every September 12 afterwards, or a Sunday closest to it, Prince Hall Masons around the world, should pause and thank God, for the man and the name. A church would be the proper setting, but whatever or wherever, the name is worth remembering. Prince Hall, "We're still here!" We have survived thus far! 213 years have passed since you and 14 others, "knelt where Hiram knelt." As long as we follow your precepts and examples, we will be here as long as life lasts.
On the Second Sunday in September, many masons, Prince Hall Masons, around the world, will celebrate the birthday of the founder of Prince Hall Masons in the United States, and consequently, because of the association, around the world. It is a day reeked in American History. Because of a strong foundation, Prince Hall, "We're still here!"
Freemasonry is a system of morality, a system that is shared between members of the Masonic Family, and then is shared with the community at large. It is not a secret system, for the lessons come from the Holy Bible, the Holy Koran, the Vegas, and many other religious books found wherever there is a system of religious ideals. Because of the Judeao-Christian principles practiced by the bulk of the Prince Hall membership, it stands to reason the main teachings regarding Freemasonry would come from the Holy Bible.
Prince Hall, the man, left a legacy that will live as long as there is at least one Prince Hall Mason that adheres to the principles of Freemasonry, by walking upright before God and man; acting on the square, and traveling on a level of time. As long as that happens, Prince Hall Masonry will survive, no matter the losses of membership in tedious times, for like all calamities that are man-made, "This too will pass." The legacy is one of freedom-loving; it is one of industry, one of caring and sharing, through hard times, through weal and woe.
Prince Hall, the preacher, left a distinct connection between the Lodge and the Church, two entities that are interwoven in the Black Experience, and will continue to exist as long as the Prince Hall Mason believes in God, the Grand Architect of the Universe. The legacy will exist as long as a Prince Hall Mason treats his fellowman the way he wants to be treated. It will exist as long as Prince Hall Masons around the world will remember the Prince Hall they read of or heard about. It will exist as long as there are those that know the stories, the legends, the allegories of this great man.
Prince Hall, the Patriot, will be remembered as a soldier fighting in the Revolution War, leading the way in the fight for Freedoms that came with victory for others, but only opened up a long series of battles for Blacks. The legacy will exist as long as Prince Hall Masons remember that the war is still being fought just as hard now, in 1988, as in 1776. The legacy will exist as long as there is one Prince Hall Mason that says, "No" to the pitfalls that would seek to entrap our young, our old, our industrious ones. Slavery and/or oppression is not always seen as in the Eighteenth Century, but the threat is always there, lurking in disguises that are pleasing to the eye. Yet, it is fight, fight, fight!
Prince Hall Mason, will be remembered because of his forthrightness and tenacity in wanting and getting the Masonic degrees. To him, it must have been more of a vision rather than a dream. To him, this system seemed tried and true, and he would have some of it, or know the reason why. Because of his forthrightness, because of his tenacity, there are some 265,000 masons around the world bearing his name. Because of him, there are some 110,000 women that wear the name Prince Hall Affiliation proudly as appending orders of Prince Hall Masons. Because of him, many masons will contribute funds for scholarships, for medical research, for the enlightenment of mankind. Masons are like that.
Prince Hall the hero, will be remembered in several instances. Like circulating petitions against slavery in New England, against randomly picking up Free Blacks and calling them runaway slaves from the slaveholding states. He was a hero, because of his understanding of Hosea 4:6, and started a school for Black children. Prince Hall will find us, "Still here!"
Well, we have seen over 40,000 black folks assemble in Las Vegas for the 95th Annual Session of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of North and South America, Inc. In other words, we've seen the Nobles and Daughters of Isis, commonly called Shriners, Prince Hall variety. In spite of the hoopla and brights, along with the lure of the slot machines and gaming tables, we can say of a surety, "Prince Hall! We're still here!"
The Prince Hall Masonic Member, male and female, boys and girls, is still in operation, after the trials and tribulations caused by actions unbecoming the fraternity over the years, all in the name of some organization within the Prince Hall Masonic Family. Yet, like families of blood with skeletons in the closets, with "Black Sheep" in the family, we're still here! alive and well and living in the world. I say world because we are not limited to one country or nation, but encompass the world, where it is easier to count the countries where we are not than where we are! The fact that 40,000 or more of these members were in Las Vegas for a week or more, the fact that millions of dollars were left there, the fact that our reputation is unsullied still, speaks well for us.
It is with great pride that we watched Black Masonry of parade as the twilight parades took place, especially the hundreds of young people, people of many different races, all in the name of Prince Hall Masonry. We realize that it was a Shriner affair, but it was the name of Prince Hall Masonry, for there were Grand Masters, Grand High Priests, Sovereign Grand Commanders, Eminent Grand Commanders, as well as the Potentates and Illustrious Commandresses, all headed by the Imperial Potentate and Imperial Commandress. There were hundreds of thousands of people lined up to watch and admire the various manners of dress displayed so vividly.
Prince Hall may not have foreseen the results of his endeavor way back in 1775 when he and 14 other Blacks were initiated into the Masonic Order. He may not have foreseen the many hundreds of thousands of members world-wide that we see today. But Prince Hall did believe in a God that "sits high" and looks low." That belief was fostered down through many generations of Afro-Americans, and now includes members of all racial persuasions. It is a dream come true for anyone that dared to dream in 1775. We cannot say that those members did dream in 1775, but I am sure that the same God that blessed their endeavors back then is still in the blessing business, for we are the recipients of His grace and goodness. Our very survival and presence bear witness to that.
It was not in man's cards that we be here, for the mason of old had to "be tried, sometimes denied, but stood ready to be tried again." Those days of physical opposition are gone now. The days of being in court, defending your right to be called Prince Hall Masons, are now history. The blood that was shed for the right that was taken for granted by all other Americans, shall not be in vain, and we revere our dead members, we celebrate the birth of our founder and benefactor, Prince Hall, the man, the mason, the patriot, the preacher! We're still here, Prince Hall!
We're still here, because of first, God's goodness then we're here because all of mankind was not opposed to Prince Hall Masonry, as there were some of other racial persuasion that countenanced the cause of Prince Hall. There are some today, in the name of Freemasonry, that will not bend to the yokes of racial discrimination and segregation. There are some that will not believe that a Prince Hall Mason is inferior. There are some that are masons, and not just members! We're still here because of the perseverance of those Prince Hall Masons that went the length of their cabletow, and there are those that supported through other means, touched by the Spirit of God and Brotherly Love.
We are here, and we will stay here, as long as there are men and women, boys and girls that believe in themselves and Almighty God!
The Prince Hall Masonic Family, except in a few instances, is getting smaller; it's also getting smarter! Jurisdiction after jurisdiction, after losing some of its members to other pursuits, like, apathy, non-involvement, VCR's, tele's (phones and visions), and many other various and sundry things. Yet, through it all, there remains a hard core of dedicated men, women and children, that will make all of us proud to say, "Prince Hall, we're still here!"
The Imperial Council held recently in Las Vegas, has had a very profound effect on me, and I do hope it's for the best for all concerned. Being a "Masonic Editorialist," one may tend to forget that what is said in print is read hundreds of years from the date of publication. Therefore, this writer goes from a more "spirit" of Prince Hall Masonry, which is more personal, than being specific in history, ritualistic, etc. There are many "experts" on those subjects. Still, the Shriners, by being the most focal and vocal, lifted my spirits, clarified some questions and in general, made me feel good as a Prince Hall Mason.
Prince Hall would have been proud of the descendants that bear his name in their titles; he would have been proud as many young people, people of many hues and racial backgrounds, marched past the viewing stand in Las Vegas. It was brotherhood of the highest degree, on parade. It was an occasion of East meeting West, as the Black Shriners mixed it up in dress, with the Orient, the Africa that most people have never heard of or seen. There were those in Arabic dress, marching to the beat of African-type drum beats, rhythmic and pulsating. There were those in Western attire, some on motorcycles, modern-style, grown men, being kids again, and having a ball doing it. Prince Hall would have been real proud!
Over the years, Shriners have also done their part in giving negative images of Prince Hall Masons, by the ignoble actions of some Shriners and Daughters, not knowing the harm that was being done. Over the years, there has been an influx of members that have joined this colorful group, and never see it as an extension of highest Masonic ideals. Yet, in the midst of all of that hoopla in Las Vegas, I realize that Prince Hall Masonry, like everything else, survived, not because of all the time, but most times, in spite of.
As I looked into the life-worn faces of nobles older than most Lodges and Shrine Temples; as I looked at the innocent faces of those young people participating in what people have come to regard as one of the world's greatest spectacles, the Shriners' parade, I saw the Spirit of Prince Hall, alive and well, and by the Grace of Almighty God, Allah, Jehovah, Grand Architect of the Universe, that spirit would be alive for years, for generation, for centuries to come! As I talked with the nobility from around the world, I realize that this was Prince Hall Masonry on parade, not only in dress and actions, but more especially in spirit and in the overall commitment and dedication that has caused Prince Hall Masonry to still be here.
Beyond the sometimes silly actions of some; beyond the Un-Masonic actions of some of the not-so-smart leaders, I saw a light, like what Prince Hall must have seen in Boston when he was raised, from the level, to the perpindicular, a light of racial and brotherly understanding, all at the same time. Beyond the clowns that delighted all kids, young and old; beyond the high stepping, hip shaking, shapely ladies in short skirts; beyond the colorful costumes of the Daughters in their Cleopatra-type attire; beyond the Black Bedouins that appeared on horses with western-style saddles, I saw Prince Hall, his legacies, his life, his spirit! I saw Prince Hall! And where? In the eyes, the smiles, the mannerisms, and certainly in the handshakes, the grips that masons all over the world know so well! I heard it in their voices. Prince Hall, yes! We're still here!