A LOOK AT PRINCE HALL MASONRY
A Look From Within:
A Look at Prince Hall Freemasonry
by Reverend Jan L. Beaderstadt, E.P., P.C., P.M.
This paper was presented to the Michigan Lodge of
Research and Information No. 1 on Saturday September 16, 5995 A.L.
and was published from Point-to-Pointe, the official publication
of the Grand Lodge of Michigan.
It was a beautiful sunny morning when
I pulled up and parked next to the
Detroit Masonic Temple. The sounds
of the city filled the air, and people were
walking about. It might be only 9:30 in the
morning, but everything was alive.
I've certainly traveled to Detroit for
Masonic business before, but this time I
wasn't at 500 Temple Avenue. Instead, I was
at the main Temple on 3100 Gratiot Avenue.
Who meets here, you may ask?: About
nineteen Lodges, plus the Eastern Star,
York Rite, Scottish Rite, and more.
It also holds the offices of the Grand
Lodge--The Most Worshipful Prince Hall
Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted
Masons of Michigan.
I was there that day to interview their
Grand Master Ozzie L. Gardner to learn
who exactly are the Prince Hall Masons.
Hang around any Mason, and in the
course of Masonic conversation will come
questions about Prince Hall. I've been a
Mason for eighteen years now, and I
remember hearing about them way up in
L'Anse, which is hundreds of miles from
the nearest Prince Hall Masonic Lodge.
Start surfing through the various Masonic
computer bulletin boards, and there are
all kinds of articles about Prince Hall.
There's a problem, however, with all of
this "information." It comes from Masons
who are in no way connected with Prince
Hall Masonry. And sadly, much like the
anti-Masonic material in circulation today,
much of what is said isn't true, but it
keeps being repeated in word and print.
That's why, with the permission of
Grand Master Dale Edwards, I made the
journey to their Grand Master to get the
facts straight from the source.
What do you ask of a Grand Master
who is currently considered the head of a
"clandestine" Grand Lodge (even though
13 American Grand Lodges, plus four
Canadian Grand Lodges and the Grand
Lodge of England recognize them)? After
some thought, I decided anything goes.
I got there early for the interview, so I
walked into the office, where the
secretary showed me into the Grand
Master's office. Grand Master Gardner
hadn't yet arrived, but in the short while I
was there, I carefully looked around the
office. It didn't look any different than one
you'd find in many a Michigan Masonic
Temple. The books on the shelves were
Masonic books from Macoy and other
sources that would have easily held a
prominent spot in any Lodge library.
Nothing seemed out of order.
At about 10:00, Grand Master Ozzie L.
Gardner arrived along with Past Grand
Master Clem Dawson. Both are 33
Masons in the Prince Hall of the Scottish
Rite. Both are York Rite Masons of the
Prince Hall. And for the next 2l/2 hours,
we discussed Prince Hall Masonry.
The name Prince Hall comes from the
founder of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, a
freed slave named Prince Hall, who was made
a Mason along with fourteen other former
slaves by an Irish Military Lodge in 1775.
In 1784, the Grand Lodge of England
chartered African Lodge No. 459 in
Boston with Prince Hall as its first
It is after this date that its history gets
a bit fuzzy, even for Prince Hall Masonic
scholars. The Grand Lodge of England
didn't receive annual returns for a number
of years, so the Lodge was dropped.
Rather than going out of business, Prince
Hall and his Lodge continued and began
to charter other Lodges. As a result,
Prince Hall Masonry has grown to
become a worldwide organization.
Prince Hall Masonry came to Michigan
twice. The first time was during the middle
of the Civil War when Grand Master
James Hinton of the Grand Lodge of
Prince Hall of Indiana chartered a Lodge in
Niles. In 1864, dispensations were given
by Indiana to three Michban Lodges, and
on April 25, 1865, the four Lodges met in
Niles to organize the Grand Lodge of
Prince Hall of Michigan. They held their
first meeting in December of 1866.
Prince Hall Masonry was able to pull
off what caucasian Masonry had been
unable to do: a national Grand Lodge.
Called the National Compact, it was
organized in 1848, and the newly
organized Michigan Prince Hall Grand
Lodge was to become a part of it.
Not everyone was happy with the
National Compact, according to P.G.M.
Dawson. The Grand Lodge of Prince Hall
in Ohio was unhappy, was seeking a way
out, and needed allies. With this agenda,
Ohio chartered four Lodges in Michigan in
1872: Battle Creek, Detroit, Pontiac, and
Grand Rapids. This initiated a split in the
Compact, leading to its eventual demise.
Looklng for Recognltlon
As this new Prince Hall Grand Lodge
was coming into existence, the Prince
Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan sought and
received from the Michigan State
Legislature articles of incorporation under
the laws of Michigan. That was in 1873,
the same year Prince Hall petitioned the
Grand Lodge of Michigan for recognition.
According to Dawson, they never
received a reply, either positive or
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of
Michigan in 1874 show that the matter did
come before the delegates. On January
27, 1874, W. Brother L. T. Griffin
"presented a petition from persons styling
themselves as Masons, and a committee
of the 'M.W. Grand Lodge of Free and
Accepted Ancient York Masons for the
State of Michigan, holding authority from
the M.W. National Grand Lodge of the
United States of America' asking for
Masonic recognition by this Grand
W. Brother Griffins offered the
"Resolved. That the petition herewith
presented be referred to a special
committee (sic) of five with instructions to
investigate the subject matter therein
contained in such manner as they may
deem advisable, and report to this Grand
Lodge at its next annual Communication,
what measures, if any, can be expediently
devised to place under the jurisdiction of
this Most Worshipful Grand Lodge the so-
called colored Masons of the State, now
organized into Lodges, and thereby
secure to them the benefit of its
fellowship and affiliation."
On motion the petition was received
and laid upon the table for such
conslderation. A motion was then made to
reconsider the previous action, but it failed.
The next day, W. Brother M. M.
Atwood presented a petition for persons
claiming to be Masons, (colored) and
moved that it be referred to a Special
Committee of five for examination and
report." The petitions were received and
laid on the table. A motion was then
made to reconsider this vote, but it lost.
The matter then disappears from
Grand Lodge records. A perusal of Grand
Lodge proceedings for 1875 makes no
mention of "colored Masonry."
Prince Hall Masonry Today
Prince Hall Masonry looks like our
Masonry. It would be very hard to
distinguish the Prince Hall Grand Lodge
from the Grand Lodge of Michigan. Prince
Hall Grand Lodge is independent of all
other Grand Lodges, and there is no
longer a national Grand Lodge.
Each Lodge must be chartered by its
Grand Lodge, and in Michigan there are
forty-nine Lodges with approximately
3,000 members. The most northern
Lodge in the state is Andrew W. Dungey
No. 52 in Idlewild near Baldwin. There are
no Prince Hall Lodges in the Upper
Peninsula, although the Michigan Prince
Hall jurisdiction covers both peninsulas,
according to Grand Master Gardner.
Each Lodge confers three degrees.
While we did not discuss any Masonic
secrets, this writer did learn that their ritual
is the "Ecci Orienti," or the three-letter key
many Michban Masons carry with them.
I had a tour of the Gratiot Avenue
Temple, and their Lodge rooms look a lot
like ours. On the altar, located in the
center of the Lodge room, are the Great
Lights of Masonry. One variation is that
the Master sits under a canopy supported
by two columns in the East.
Michigan Masons who complain about
our dues wouldn't like the dues structure
in Prince Hall Masonry. Dues average
around $10--a month. A Brother is
declared delinquent at six months.
According to Grand Master Gardner, if a
Brother is expelled for nonpayment of
dues, his sponsor in Masonry isn't
expelled along with the delinquent
brother, as some report.
Prince Hall Masonry insists on a strict
dress code: dark suits, black socks, dark
shoes, white shirts and dark ties.
According to G.M. Gardner, this dress
code is strictly enforced.
When a man petitions a Prince Hall
Lodge, the Lodge appoints an
investigating committee, and there must
be thirty days between degrees. Stories
that it takes one year between degrees
and that the entire Lodge is the
investigating committee are untrue,
according to Gardner.
Each candidates does have a
catechism to learn, like that formerly
required in the Grand Lodge of Michigan.
Lodges meet twice a month, once for
ritual work and again for regular
communication. Lodges meet for regular
communication each month but can
suspend work during the months of
December, July, and August.
Refreshments follow the meeting, except
at the time of a Master Mason Degree, when
there is usually a dinner wah speeches. A
third degree is a festive occasbn.
White Prince Hall Masons
Grand Master Gardner noted that they
have a number of white Masons, shattering
the idea that Prince Hall is simply black
Masons. There have been several white
men who have served a Prince Hall Lodge
as Worshipful Master, and in the book
Black Square and Compass's, the author
noted that there was a Prince Hall Lodge in
New Jersey where every member but the
Secretary was white.
Structure of the Grand Lodge
There are forty-four Prince Hall Grand
Lodges located around the world. Each
one is independent, but they recognize
each other. The newest Prince Hall Grand
Lodge is the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of
The Michigan Prince Hall Grand Lodge
meets in April for two days, and new
offcers are elected. The Grand Master is
elected yearly for a one-year term. If the
Grand Master decides to run for a fourth
term, he must receive two-thirds of the
vote of the delegates.
The moving grand line begins at
Grand Junior Deacon. The non-moving,
elected line includes the Grand Treasurer,
Grand Secretary, Grand Lecturer, Grand
Marshal and three Grand Trustees.
Appointed Grand Lodge officers
include a Senior Grand Steward, a Junior
Grand Steward, two assistant Grand
Secretaries, a Grand Chaplain, four
assistant Grand Chaplains, a Grand Tyler,
an assistant Grand Tiler, three assistant
Grand Marshals, a Grand Attorney, five
assistant Grand Attorneys, a Grand
Pursuivant, a Grand Organist, a Grand
Pianist, a Grand Custodian, and a Grand
Grand Master Gardner said that in the
workings of their Grand Lodge, business
is completed at regular cabinet meetings
of the elected Grand Lodge officers. The
Worshipful Masters of the subordinate
Blue Lodges are invited and encouraged
Appendant Prince Hall Bodles
Once a man becomes a Master
Mason, he and his wife are eligible to join
the Order of the Eastern Star. He can
petition either the York Rite or Scottish
Rite, even become a Shriner. All of the
bodies resemble and parallel our own
They have no DeMolay, Rainbow, or
Job's Daughters, but their Shrine sponsors
youth groups of their own: the Order of
Eyes for Boys and the Iserettes for girls.
Other "Black" Masonic Grand Lodges
Prince Hall Masonry is not the only 'black"
Masonic organization, aithough it is the largest
of the groups and has respect amongst the
black community. Grand Master Gardner and
P.G.M. Dawson noted that there were other
"clandestine~ Masonic bodies that have
broken off from their organization over the
years. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of
Michigan does not maintain any
communication with these groups, nor do they
have a list of them. Two such bodies they
were familiar with included the Intemational
Masons and the Fitzpatrick Grand Lodge. A
trip down Gratiot Avenue will reveal a sign
proclaiming the Grand Lodge of Enoch,
another pseudo-Masonk organization.
P.G.M. Dawson noted that they did not
rscognize these bodies because none of
the Lodges ever obtained a charter from
the Grand Lodge of England. In their
criteria for Masonic recognition, a Lodge
or Grand Lodge must have been
originally chartered by the Grand Lodge
of England or be able to trace its legality
through the mother Grand Lodge.
Dawson noted that these other bdges
are "clandestine" and not "irregular."
For this writer, the interview contained
many surprises. I had heard much about
Prince Hall Masonry, much of it not true.
The time spent with their Grand Lodge
officers revealed new light on a subject
that has long been clouded with
darkness. Prince Hall Masonry is like a
parallel universe, proclaiming similar
landmarks, ritual and organization. And
its Brethren are tied to a mystic bond that
is highly respected in their communities.
Famous Black Freemasons
A look at who's who of Prince Hall
Masonry reads much like traditional
Masonry in the great men that have or
currently occupy the role of membership.
In the book, Great Black Men of
Masonry, by Joseph Mason Andrew Cox,
Ph.D, P.G.M. of the Most Worshipful
Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York,
are listed 269 black men, of which the
vast majority are Prince Hall Masons.
The list includes statesmen, actors,
musicians, writers, athletes and more.
Some great men on the list include
Ralph Albernathy, 33; William "Count"
Basie; Alex Haley, 33; Thurgood
Marshall, 33; Edward "Duke" Ellington;
Reverend Adam Clayton Powell; Richard
Pryor; Sugar Ray Robinson; Booker T.
Washington; and Andrew Young. The
Reverend Jesse Jackson, 33, is also a
Shriner. Former Detroit Mayor Coleman
Young is a 33 Mason, and current Detroit
Mayor Dennis Archer has been elected to
receive the 33.
The Reverend and Sir Knight Jan L. Beaderstadt
is a Past Commander of Lake Superior
Commandery No. 30, Marquetle, Michigan, and
is Prelate of Alpena Commandery No. 34,
Lincoln, Michigan. His mailing address is P.O.
Box 137, Sterling, Ml 48659.