Men of Color in US Freemasonry

Bro. Stanley R. Conyer

James A. Mingo Consistory #334

There are 29 degrees that comprise a Consistory, each with its own history, moral lessons, and obligation. Of these, one that stands out is the 20th Degree - Grand Master of All Symbolic Lodges; or Master Ad Vitam. In this degree, we learn that the right to govern in a Lodge is not only acquired by formal selection and suffrage of the brethren and subsequent installation, but also by the power of Masonic intelligence, which is attained by patient labor and the study of Masonic Law, together with a true understanding and ability to teach the tenets, doctrines and symbolic legends of our Order.

There are nine (9) Great Lights in the lodge; Charity, Generosity, Heroism, Honor, Patriotism, Justice, Toleration And Truth. Of these, the seventh, (Patriotism) is the most revered. This short story will help to illustrate why.

The Time: December, 1775. Late Afternoon

The Place: Old Vassel or Cragie House, in Cambridge Mass. Present: George Washington, MG Richard Gridley, Joshua Wentworth (aide) Prince Hall, Cyrus Jonbus, Bensten Slinger, Thomas Sanderson & Peter Best

The Scene:

Washington and Gridley were poring over a military map and discussing the need to consolidate their resources and try to prevent another attack on Boston by the British. During this discussion, they were interrupted by Washington's aide with news that several "men of color" wished an audience to speak on a matter of grave importance. Even though Washington was busy planning his defense, he allowed the men to enter. Prince Hall, the speaker of the group, petitioned Washington as the Commander-in-Chief, that free men of color be allowed to enlist as regular soldiers in the Patriot Army. Washington, knowing that to allow this he would be treading on "shaky ground", implored MG Gridley to give his opinion.

Gridley felt that it would cause major dissent by white soldiers if this occurred. Prince Hall stated that he could not understand why. He wanted to know what objection ANYONE could have to sharing the burden of defending one's common land. He reminded Washington of Crispus Attucks, one of the first to die in defense of this country. Washington asked for Gridley to confirm this and he did. While doing so, Gridley noticed that Prince Hall was wearing a Masonic emblem. He asked by what authority that he did so. Hall stated that by due initiation into the Fraternity, in Lodge #41 of the Irish Registry, assigned to General Gage, on March 6th of that year.

Gridley was incensed that these men had consorted with the enemy to receive their degrees and wanted to know what kind of patriots they could possibly be? Hall informed him that it was ONLY after several attempts of petitioning the lodge there in Boston and being denied continually, did they petition the others and that at the time their petition was made, the Declaration of Independence had not been made. Gridley was adamant however, and said that he could not support them in their cause. (Gridley had lost a close friend in a recent battle with the army led by Gage). He felt that to advocate the cause of the men he deemed "not fit" timber for the Masonic Order, would betray his memory and his friendship, with his dead friend General Joseph Warren, who had died at Bunker Hill.

Washington, who had been listening to this cold exchange, could not and did not give his support to MG Gridley and informed Prince Hall and the others that he would "lay the matter before Congress", while at the same time granting the request until it was reversed.

The rest, as they say, is history. Black soldiers have fought in every war this country has ever participated in and served with valor. Crispus Attucks, Benjamin O. Davis (Sr & Jr), Roscoe C. Cartwright, and a host of others, serving as a shining example of the love that we as Men and Masons have for this country. Never forget our heritage, nor let others forget.

"Let the great light of PATRIOTISM shine in our lodge: Patriotism willing to sacrifice itself for the common good, even when neither thanks nor honor follow it, but does the right without regard to consequences; the patriotism of Leonidas, who died to hold Thermoplae; of Curtius, who leaped in the yawning gulf; of Socrates, who died because the law willed it, rather than escape; of all who love the soil that gave them birth enough to die for it unwept, unhonored, and unsung.