June 19th will be the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth day, also known as Emancipation Day, in the United States. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 declaring that slaves in all states still at war with the federal government were free and would remain so.The proclamation was not fully realized until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger (1821-1876) announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest including Texas, the last rebel state to allow slavery following the end of the Civil War. The day is believed to have been named “Juneteenth” by those freed in Texas in 1865. The 13th amendment outlawing slavery everywhere in the United States was subsequently ratified in December 1865.
Since that time, nationwide grassroots celebrations have commemorated this significant moment in American history. In June 2014, the U.S. Senate passed legislation formally recognizing June 19th as “Juneteenth Independence Day” and supporting the nationwide celebration of the holiday. In light of this anniversary the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is taking a moment to highlight some of the items in our collection related to African American Freemasonry (commonly referred to as Prince Hall Freemasonry) and fraternalism.
African American Freemasonry emerged in 1775 when Prince Hall (1738-1807), an active Methodist and leading citizen in Boston’s African American community, attempted to join Boston’s Masonic Lodges but was denied membership. In response, he and fourteen other African Americans who had been rejected by the established Boston lodges turned to a Masonic Lodge attached to a British regiment stationed in the city. Initiated in 1775, Hall and his Masonic brothers met as members of the British lodge until the Revolutionary War ended. In 1784 Prince Hall and the other members of the British lodge, petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to form a new lodge on American soil. The governing body granted his request, creating African Lodge No. 459.
When Prince Hall died in 1807, African American masons chose to give their fraternity his name to distinguish it from predominantly white “mainstream” lodges that generally excluded blacks throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, there are reported to be over 4500 Prince Hall Lodges worldwide. After the civil war, Prince Hall Freemasonry and other fraternal groups, like the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World spread throughout the North and South, helping to establish community institutions and benefits for freed families. Prince Hall and other African American Masonic leaders like Moses Dickson (1824-1901) and Lewis Hayden (1811-1889) were influential activists in the abolitionist and civil rights movements of their era. Their leadership and influence emphasizes how Freemasonry and fraternalism impacted civil rights efforts and afforded African Americans the opportunity to organize toward an equal and free black citizenship in American society.
The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is continuing to look for items related to African American Freemasonry and fraternalism and welcomes inquiries about potential donations. To see items related to African American Freemasonry and fraternalism currently in our collection please visit our museum Flickr page.
This apron originally belonged to an unidentified member of Wilmington, North Carolina’s James W. Telfair Lodge No. 510 who was initiated in March 1915. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina was chartered in 1870. The lodge was named for James W. Telfair Jr. (1837-1914), a slave who later became a reverend at St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Telfair served as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina.
Caption: Prince Hall Master Mason Apron, United States, 1915, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 99.044.7. Photograph by David Bohl.
In December of 1865, Lewis Hayden, Grand Master of the Massachusetts Prince Hall Grand Lodge, delivered a stirring address to members of that Grand Lodge, calling into question the continued discrimination of African Americans in some Masonic lodges and American society.
Caption: Caste among Masons; address before Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Massachusetts, at the festival of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1865 By Lewis Hayden, Grand Master.(Boston, Massachusetts: Edward S. Coombs & Company, )
Call number: RARE 90.H414 1866.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was created in Europe and is a fraternal group that includes mutual benefits. Peter Ogden created the American counterpart of GUOOF in 1843 after obtaining a charter from the fraternal society of England. Membership exploded after the Civil War when African Americans were able to organize lodges in the south. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows reported a membership of 108,000 in the late 1990s.
Caption: Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Chart, 1881, Currier & Ives, New York, 80.9.1. Photograph by David Bohl.
The Improved Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks of the World is an African American fraternal order founded in 1897. The IBPOEW offered leadership training, professional networking opportunities, social fellowship, and community service.
Caption: Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World Apron, 1900-1920, USA, Unidentified maker, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.
Jeffrey Croteau. "Prince Hall: Masonry and the Man." The Northern Light Feb. 2011: 10-13.
Peter P. Hinks and Stephen Kantrowitz, eds. All Men Free and Brethren: Essays on the History of African American Freemasonry (New York: Cornell University Press, 2013).
Nina Mjagkij, ed. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations (New York: Garland Publishing, 2001).
Aimee E. Newell, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library (Lexington, MA: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2015), 222-224.
Previous Blog Posts:
Jeffrey Croteau. "Moses Dickson and the Order of Twelve." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. May 26, 2008
Aimee Newell. "A New Discovery about an old photo." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.May 1, 2012.
Aimee Newell. "From Boston to Washington D.C.: Prince Hall Freemasonry." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. February 4, 2010.