On August 2-7, 1914, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee celebrated its forty-fourth annual meeting, or Communication, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This souvenir badge in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library was created to commemorate that meeting and connects the stories of emancipation and African American Freemasonry.
The annual Communication was a chance for African American Masons from all over Tennessee to meet and visit. The larger Chattanooga African American community found other ways to convene. On January 1, 1914, leaders in the city hosted an “emancipation celebration.” As reported by the Chattanooga Daily Times, “the fifty-first anniversary of emancipation was celebrated yesterday by the colored population of Chattanooga under the auspices of the Colored Boosters' Club of this city.” The observance included speeches, banquets, musical performances, and a parade “nearly a quarter of a mile long.”
This anniversary celebration seems to have been tied to the original Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863. However, Lincoln’s Proclamation depended on the Union winning the Civil War to take effect in the South. Hence June 19, 1865–the day when news of the war’s end and the resulting emancipation of enslaved people reached the African American community in Galveston, Texas–is celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States. Five years after that momentous date, on August 31, 1870, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee was founded.
The pin at the top of this commemorative item shows the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge building in Chattanooga. This three-story brick building was built in the 1800s as a commercial building and renovated by the local Masonic community between 1903 and 1908 to house seven Prince Hall Affiliated Masonic lodges, three women’s auxiliaries, and one Knights Templar commandery. The building was located on East 9th Street, the same street as the City Auditorium where many events that were part of the 1914 Communication were held. The use of the Masonic Temple on the Annual Communication pin reflects the pride of Chattanooga Masons and celebrates the progress of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee.
The ribbon is marked on the back with the name of the maker, Chattanooga Button & Badge Mfg. Co. This company was founded around 1911 and located on East 4th Street in Chattanooga, a few blocks from East 9th Street where the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge was.
In preparation for inclusion in The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History, this souvenir badge was conserved in 2021. This souvenir, a compelling symbol of African American identity in the South after emancipation, will be on view at the Museum & Library until October 2024.
Similar examples at Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture: