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Masonic Education Series


Unrecognized Masons


The question was, "Why Don't Prince Hall Masons Recognize Four-Letter Masons?"


What is a Four-Letter Lodge?

In answer to this question, consider this example.  Robert J. Fletcher, a Past Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of California, was a star in the firmament and was said to have been one of the brightest and most inspired Masons in the jurisdiction.  In 1909, however, PMWGM Fletcher disregarded resolutions passed in this Grand Lodge.  He was subsequently tried by Philomaethean Lodge No. 2 and was expelled from the Order.  He applied for reinstatement in 1910, but he was never reinstated as a Prince Hall Mason.  In that same year, as an expelled Mason, without authority from any Masonic body, without a charter or dispensation from any Masonic lodge or grand lodge, he formed an organization that he called Robert J. Fletcher Grand Lodge A.F.&A.M. (Ancient Free and Accepted Masons).  He filed with the State of California to have his organization incorporated under that name and went about the business of conferring degrees styled on his previous teachings, on unsuspecting men of California.  In 1913, the name of Fletcher’s organization was changed to Hiram of Tyre Grand Lodge A.F.&A.M. with Fletcher as Grand Master.

Thus began one of several so-called “grand lodges” in the State of California operating without the blessings of the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge F&AM of California because they were not formed under proper Masonic authority.  In other parts of this nation, the un-chartered formation of lodges styling themselves “Masonic” has been successfully contested in court.  In an action in New Mexico the court stated,

We think the appellant’s use of the word, “Mason” or the terms “Free and Accepted Masons” or “A.F. & A.M.” or “F. & A.M.,” renders the name of the Grand Lodge so strikingly similar, as to cause confusion, tends to deceive the public and induces persons to join one institution when actually they intended to join the other.

Bringing such suits has proven to be cost-prohibitive; the disbanded “grand lodges” typically change some part of their name or change some part of their emblem, and open up again without missing a single meeting of a subordinate lodge.

Here is the problem: We learn in the very first degree of the Order that a charter or dispensation is part of the indispensable furniture of a lodge.  No body of men can be considered Masonic without such a charter or dispensation from some legitimate Masonic authority.

Legitimate Freemasons are part of an Order rooted in heritage and law

Legitimate Freemasons are part of an Order rooted in heritage and law. Legitimate Freemasons have a lineage based on their charter and this lineage traces back, not to the time of King Solomon (as Scottish Rite Masons claim), but to the time of the Grand Lodge system founded by the Grand Lodge of England in 1717.  Spurious bodies styling themselves Masons have come into being over the centuries, but unless they are chartered by recognized bodies, they are not taken as being Masonic.  Some people refer to these bodies as bogus or clandestine, but it is safer to refer to them simply as “unrecognized” or “spurious.”

Please note that there are legitimate Grand Lodges that use AF&AM, or the four-letter name.  The presence of three letters or four letters does not make a lodge spurious.  By the same token, the presence of “Prince Hall” in the name does not make them legitimate; the so-called “Prince Hall” Grand Lodge of Florida is not recognized by other Prince Hall Grand Lodges (Union Grand Lodge is).  The key lies in the origin of the Grand Lodge.

How are Prince Hall Masons Different?

Prince Hall Masonry goes back to the year 1775 when 15 men of color were made Freemasons by British colonial soldiers.  The Prince Hall fraternity has since grown parallel with the so-called Regular (Caucasian) Freemasonry in the United States through periods of slavery, segregation, and racial tension to become the predominant Black fraternal organization in the nation.

Who are the Scottish Rite Masons?  The so called "Scottish Rite" Masons are a group of Afro-Americans practicing a brand of Masonry that is not recognized as legitimate by Prince Hall Freemasons anywhere in the world. They are a spurious body that constituted itself outside the body of recognized Masons as an independent order.

Are these the same as the AASR Masons of the 32nd and 33rd degrees?

The Scottish Rite Masons who confer the Symbolic Degrees are not to be confused with the men in Prince Hall Consistories who operate under the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry and who confer the 4th through the 33rd degrees.  The unrecognized body claims authority to charter Blue Lodges and empowers these lodges to confer the first three degrees of Masonry.

What about the Principle of Brotherly Love?

Every Prince Hall Grand Jurisdiction that I have visited, and every one that I have heard about teaches the practice of Brotherly Love:

By the exercise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human race as one family—the high, the low, the rich, the poor, who being created by one Almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet, ought to aid, support, and protect each other.  On this principle Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

Although our Grand Lodge considers certain fraternal bodies as being spurious, it opens its arms to any man who has mistakenly applied for Masonic membership in these spurious bodies, and our Grand Lodge allows such men to become Prince Hall Masons by way of a special Healing ceremony.

Race is not an issue in deciding Masonic recognition

If we can recognize White Masons, why can’t we recognize Black Masons?

Race is not an issue in deciding Masonic recognition; the racial makeup of a group is entirely irrelevant and offers no advantage either in favor of or against recognition of a body.  The fact is that our Grand Lodge recognizes Black Masons in virtually every state of the nation, provided they pass the test of Masonic legitimacy.  There are Black bodies that we do not recognize Masonically for other reasons. 

1. Some of them are not known to us.  Our fraternal Relations Committee attempted to identify all organizations operating in California using the emblem of the square and compass.  We did not find them all.  Of those we found, we sent correspondence to the last known address of each asking whether they wished to enter into discussion regarding items of mutual interest.  We received a response from only one of them.  We offered that body an opportunity to enter into discussions that might lead to the formation of a unified grand lodge encompassing their members and ours: they refused to discuss the idea.

2. Recognition between two Masonic bodies must be mutually desired.  We do not recognize a body that has no interest in recognition.  Overtures must come from both parties, and only after mutually agreeable discussions have been concluded between representatives of the two groups will recognition be recommended by the Fraternal Relations Committee. Even then, the matter must still be approved by both Grand Lodges in session.

This is a difficult issue for anyone committed to Masonic ideals, because there are men out there, members of the four-letter lodges, who are as devoted to the principles of Masonry as some of us are.  Many of you will agree that a man who has pledged himself to conform to the principles of the Masonic Order, a man who has obligated himself in the same manner as we have, even if he has been tricked into making this pledge by a spurious, unrecognized organization, is a greater friend to us than one who has made no such pledge.  This is the reason that we accept these men into the Order under the relaxed standards of the Healing process.  It is not the man but the organization that recognition excludes.

 

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