Prince Hall was a black minister of West Indian origin who emigrated to Boston in 1765 and became the pastor of a Methodist church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1775 he and 14 other men of African descent were entered, passed and raised by a Masonic regimental lodge in Boston. They then applied to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for a charter and were turned down, but an application to the Grand Lodge of England proved more successful. African Lodge #459 received a dispensation in 1784 and a charter in 1787. Seven years later it assumed the powers of a Grand Lodge and began granting charters to African-American lodges throughout the new republic. By the beginning of the Civil War “Prince Hall” lodges, as they came to be called, could be found throughout the northern states, as well as in Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana, the states with the largest number of free African-Americans. The established (and entirely white) American Masonic lodges denounced these lodges as “clandestine,” but this does not seem to have slowed the growth of black Freemasonry at all. See Freemasonry.
The second half of the nineteenth century saw this steady growth turn exponential as black Americans turned to fraternal orders for mutual aid and networking. Three years after the Civil War, Prince Hall lodges existed in every state of the old Confederacy. By 1900 Prince Hall Masonry was the premier African-American secret society in the United States and formed one of the core social institutions of the black middle classes. The twentieth century brought the same challenges to Prince Hall Masonry as it did to every other secret society in the western world, but it survived when many other African-American orders went under. At the time of writing, Prince Hall lodges exist in 41 US states, as well as in Canada, the Caribbean, and Liberia. See African-American secret societies.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, many historically white Masonic jurisdictions found themselves rethinking the old rules of racial segregation, and the issue of recognizing Prince Hall lodges formed one of the battlefields on which this was fought out. In 1989 the Grand Lodge of Connecticut formally recognized its state’s Prince Hall grand lodge, a move that infuriated white Grand Masters in the deep South and saw several southern jurisdictions stop recognizing Masons from Connecticut as brothers. The movement spread, however,and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Prince Hall Masons are recognized by 38 American grand lodges and essentially all other regular Masonic bodies around the world.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006