CLANDESTINE VERSUS REGULAR FREEMASONRY: WHO DECIDES?
By Fahim A. Knight-El
I have had tremendous amounts of conversations within the last five years relative to Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (AF&AM) and Prince Hall Affiliated Masonry (PHA) squabbles about Masonic legitimacy—in particular how these two orders were formulated historically and the present day impact it still has on the relationship of the two distinct Masonic orders and membership. There are many who believe that AF&AM and Prince Hall Affiliated Masonry (PHA) need to remain separate and apart, thus, and see no possibly of reconciliation. I think, if Black AF&AM brothers throughout the United States continues to do good and exemplify Brotherly love, Friendship and Morality, it would be just a matter of time, that the two sects Grand lodges (AF&AM and PHA) in the various cities and states will eventually see the LIGHT and work together to bring about full recognition. if we as Prince Hall Masons can grant full Masonic recognition to our white Masonic counterparts (although up until the last 10-20 years many of them did not reciprocate the gesture) and still practice intra-discrimination and black racism against their own black Masonic brothers of the Craft (AF&AM and other black non-Prince Hall Masonic orders) this; thus, represents the utmost hypocrisy and contradiction and it serves as proof positive that in deed we have falling victims to the schemes of self-hatred that were perpetrated some 150 plus years ago against black people and sadly to say, we are still carrying out their plans without been told.
But there are others who are open to the possibility of creating positive dialog and reaching across the isle, in the spirit of acquiring a unilateral brotherhood that seeks Black Masonic unity. I do feel both sides of the arguments and as a Prince Hall Mason myself, I share in some of the grievances that have been waged and whether they are legitimate or not, it must be determined by each individual, which will require doing their own research in which to determine whose right and wrong in this Masonic divide. Some time I am led to believe that this divide is being festered by ego and superego driven Grand Masters and Masonic jurisdictions who are suspended in time and are fearful of moving forward from a debate that is over one hundred years old. But I think it’s often the negative sentiments echoed by PHA zealots that gets more attention than the sensible and fair minded Prince Hall Masons relative to the question of Masonic legitimacy and many non-Prince Hall Masons outside of our order formulate a negative opinion of the entire Prince Hall order because of this. I have always entered these type dialogs with an open mind. There are radical and high emotions (which lack rational thinking) on both sides of this issue and it actually skews the debate and it compromises the effort to understand one another as brothers.
The question of Masonic "legitimacy" amongst African American Masonic orders are inextricably tied to the history and evolution of Prince Hall Freemasonry within the United States of America (being perhaps the first constituted black Masonic lodge in the United States—1784 viewed as the mother of black Freemasonry in the United States) and it has been a nemesis to other black Masonic orders that have evolved and were created after Prince Hall Masonry was established. Many (non-Prince Hall Masons) have become reactionary to this fact and even deep down inside in some of these groups minds they perceive themselves as being less than PHA because they have subtly bought into the propaganda that the only true "regular" body of recognized black Masons in the United States is the Prince Hall order and simultaneously this has fed into Prince Hall brothers superego in which has established this superficial disposition of believing the hype that all other Black Masonic orders other than PHA is "clandestine".
I think black Masonic unity has to first have an open dialog and debate on the topic of black Masonic "regularity" in which no holes are barred. Although, even after such dialog, we still may have to agree to disagree on some issues, but at least we should recognize those long standing black non-Prince Hall Masonic orders that have demonstrated a positive track record and follows the Masonic landmarks. I think mutual recognition should be established in the name of black Masonic unity, it is imperative that we consider this in the name of Masonic progress, unless our great grandchildren will view us as voluntarily carrying out the Willie Lynch Plan.
Let me say right from the gate, I do think there should be some Masonic criteria and guidelines that are in place to govern the process that oversees Masonic Grand lodges and subordinate lodges who are seeking to become duly constituted and chartered/or dispensation Masonic lodges by ensuring that there is a legitimate affiliation and belonging to some recognized Grand Body of competent jurisdiction empowering it to work. If not for some established rules and guideline then any clandestine, bogus, and/or irregular Masonic entity can pop up with a fictious charter and/or Masonic renegade group can come in the name of Freemasonry—Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry or Prince Hall Masonry with ill fated intentions. But we must have a test instrument to determine the legitimacy of such claims in order to determine, if you are in deed a "regular" body of Masons or in deed a “clandestine” organization.
Often one's charter would be the overriding indicator/evidence of whether or not a Grand Lodge and its subordinate lodges have the right and authority to function as a "regular" Freemasonic entity. The charter would give us proof positive of a Grand Lodge Masonic origin, date it was considered "regular", signatures of Masonic authorization, and permission to function and disperse legitimate degree work according to our modern and ancient landmarks. There must be some oversight because many bogus fly-by-night lodges pop up across the United States in huge numbers every year proclaiming to be "regular" bodies of Freemasons in which many of these groups are con groups who are looking to financially capitalize off the name of Freemasonry by duping those who potentially desire to become Masons. But somehow ran into, perhaps the wrong group and became victims of Masonic scams—hustlers and pimps who had no legitimate authorize charter to function as a Masonic entity, but wrongfully used this powerful knowledge to manipulate the innocence of gullible potential candidates.
Now, I am for Black Masonic unity and in all of my writings and articles, I have consistently advocated around this premise and I have equally espoused that we do not need white or European Masonic Jurisdictions to be the determining body to declare our Masonic "regularity" such as the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), perhaps the most recognized Masonic govern body the world-over. Moreover, historically, if a western lodge could not trace their roots and origin to the UGLE, it would be automatically declared to be "irregular". Many black non-Prince Hall Masons have tried to put forth an argument that Prince Hall African Grand Lodge # 459 (originally African Lodge # 1) of Massachusetts was not recognized as a "regular" body of Masons, although, Prince Hall was granted a charter in 1784 from its Mother Lodge UGLE in which Prince Hall and fifteen other black Masons were made Masons at the bequest of a traveling Irish Military lodge and were raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.
I think in the early 1990s there were some additional addendums that solidified the legal aspect of Prince Hall Masonic Order receiving full recognition from the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE). I have never personally recognized the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) as having the authority over African rooted Freemasonry because the Kemetic (Egyptian) Mystery School system goes much further back than 1717. This has always been a point of contention between me and other Prince Hall Masons, I have taken this position because of acquiring the knowledge of self and I see the black man as the original man in which all knowledge sprung. The ancient Nubians had established a sophisticated and complicated system of neophyte initiations long before the Europeans came in contact with this mythical knowledge. There is no historical doubt in my mind that the origin of the ancient esoteric, occult and Gnostic wisdom and knowledge goes back to ancient Kemet (Egypt). It was Africans who gave the world civilization. Our Afrocentric scholars based on their tireless scholarship have dismantled the half-truths and outright lies giving to us by Eurocentric Masonic scholars in which most black Masons have embraced and follow (this behavior is probably a direct correlation to the affects Chattel slavery had on the psychological development of black people).
However, I do not think that white Grand Lodges are actually participating in some grand scheme to keep black Masons divided, but I am of the opinion that it is ego-driven black Masonic leadership and ignorance that have driven this divide. Why do not John G. Jones Freemasonic lineage—Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons make a conscious effort to move beyond the artificial barriers that keeps us divided and come to a binding Masonic resolution geared toward full and complete recognition based on black Masonic unity? We owe this to Prince Hall and John G. Jones two Masonic pioneers who preached brotherly love and enlightenment.
There are, perhaps still eleven historical southern Confederate States within the United States in 2011 that still have not recognized Prince Hall Grand Lodges as a ”regular” body of Masons and for over 200 years has viewed Prince Hall Masons as a body of clandestine Masons (their position represents the epitome of racism). For example, in North Carolina the Masonic jurisdiction in which I hail under, it was not until 2008, that the White Ancient Free and Accepted Masons extended full Masonic recognition to Prince Hall Masons. These Negroes were cheering and celebrating that their ex-slave master’s children having finally recognized them as full and complete Masons (these Negroes attended a Masonic luncheon in Raleigh, North Carolina hosted by the white AF&AM order—they were laughing and scratching where they did not itch and somehow white Masons felt vindicated after practicing 200 years of discrimination and racism). The Negro Masons felt whole that the white Masons of North Carolina finally curtailed their racist behavior and extended an olive branch of full Masonic recognition to their black Masonic counterpart. I did not give a damn about the decision and did not attend the official recognition ceremony because it was sicken to think that we needed white Masonic approval to justify our present and historical existence as a body of African American Masons.
I think many astute readers that have interest in this topic, perhaps already know Prince Hall Masonic version of John G. Jones being a former suspended PHA Mason who left the organization not in good standings and it has been this historical controversial that has spewed debates on both sides of whether or not Brother Jones' present day Masonic lineage should be considered "regular' or 'irregular' relative to his Masonic claims of yesterday. I have had many discussions with AF&AM brothers about this historical controversial and often from the Prince Hall perspective, it is maintained that Brother John G. Jones did not have an official charter decreed upon him by an official Masonic entity. Now, this is where it gets a little sticky, in particular for us African American Masons who ancestors arrived to the Americas as captives and prisoners of war. We look for Caucasian Masonry—the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) as the official legitimate Masonic body who so-called has the determining authority to declare what Masonic bodies would be consider "clandestine" and "regular".
This is atypical behavior of the Mis-Education of the Negro, as Dr. Carter G. Woodson defined this type of thinking back in 1933. We do not consider ourselves to be 'official' or 'legitimate' unless we have the approval and sanction of white folk (a condition of mental slavery). So as a Prince Hall Mason, I would argue that Brother John G. Jones had every right to exercise a sovereign mind and establish his own AF&AM organization outside of white approval and/or even PHA black approval. Some AF&AM have sought to make the claim that John G. Jones received a charter form Romania, however I do not think there is any credible documentation that proves that Jones received a Masonic charter from Romania or any other European Nation. He was a high ranking Prince Hall Masonic official from the state of Illinois who had acquired all the knowledge from all the Masonic Houses both practical and philosophical and knew how to set-up and structure a Masonic organization and he did just that.
But here is my argument, the Europeans stole and corrupted this ancient knowledge from Kemet (ancient Egypt) and I maintain that it's insane for us to be looking for some white (Romania) or British (UGLE) Masonic entities to validate our Masonic reality. This knowledge belongs to the Black man and whether you are AF&AM or PHA, it is our duty to reclaim what's rightfully ours. My brothers, I have written so many articles designed to teach all my Masonic brothers to look beyond the lies and distortions of western Freemasonry. In the early 1900s Caucasian Masons took Prince Hall Masons and Shriners to court claiming that Prince Hall Masonry was 'clandestine' " ... the White Masonic Order lost their legal battle to the Black Masons and on June 23, 1929, the United States Supreme Court handed down the decision that guaranteed that Prince Hall Masons and Shriners had all the rights as a fraternity to appear in public and in private to practice the time honored traditions of Masonry.
Lastly, I have had some very spirited debates on aspects of Speculative Freemasonry with some Ancient Free and Accepted Freemasons (AF&AM) and about the history and origin of African American (Black) Masonry in the United States. I do agree whole heartily with brother Ralph McNeal and Brother Ezekiel M. Bey, Grand Historian of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York and other prominent Prince Hall officials of the Phylaxis Society who exposes many of these Bogus Freemasonic organizations on their website. But I have come to respect some of the positions of black AF&AM due mainly through my independent research and dialog with Worshipful Master brother Joseph Ferguson of King Solomon Lodge #514 (AF& AM) in Dallas, Texas who has been more than willing to openly share the black AF&AM perspective with me and I have learned a lot from our many dialogs about this non-Prince Hall Masonic order. Brother Ferguson has also been open to constructive criticism coming from me—but I never tried to belittle the Masonic organization that he chose. I see him nothing short of a Masonic brother that has been tried, never denied and ready to be tried again (I see and accept him as a brother Mason). Yet, I do not speak for all of Prince Hall Masons (I am representing my views as an individual) nor do I speak for the Phylaxis Society—there are many hardliners who will have nothing to do with a non-Prince Hall Mason or accept the legality of their Masonic claims to them they will always be a clandestine organization.
I have also had a number of conversations whereas a brother has joined an AF&AM lodge and after joining has felt that he was duped. There are some instances in which a potential brother knocked (or asked one to be one) some Masonic orders do not give them the full and complete history of their Masonic order. I see John G. Jones as one of the pioneers of Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry (AF&AM), but the fact of the matter is that he was an expelled Prince Hall Mason from Illinois jurisdiction; I do my best to stay away from which Masonic orders should be deemed "clandestine" and "irregular" because of the sensitivity of the subject and I do not think Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons should place themselves as the official overseers of Black Freemasonry within the United States and have taking the role to determine who will be considered a "regular" body of Masons.
Brother John G. Jones played a huge role in establishing the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and as 32nd (Scottish Rite) degree and Knights Templar (York Rite) degree members petition the Shrine, Jones' history is taught within this degree. However, North Carolina Prince Hall Code book states that all Masonic houses above the Blue Lodge is considered appendix and auxiliary bodies (no higher than the Master Mason Degree, but lateral degrees), which further translate to mean that unless a Mason is in good standings (this includes but not limited to being suspended and/or Masonic excommunicated) in the Blue Lodge no other Masonic house can be officially validated.
If a Shriner has not met his financial requirements or obligation in the Blue House (by not being in good standings) then this automatically affects his standings in all the above appendix and auxiliary bodies. So one could reason why and how, this contradiction has taking place with Brother John G. Jones being denied acceptability in the Blue House and at the same time revered and respected in the Shrine (these two Masonic bodies are totally separate).
Now, if the Prince Hall Shriners have reconciled the History of Brother John G. Jones in the Shrine (he established the black Shrine degree as it was organized under the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. However, most learned Prince Hall Masons attributes the Shrine theory to Ali Rofelt Pasha prior to its official establishment in 1893) and if this history is being taught in the Shrine Temples; it becomes a big historical contradiction that needs to be rectified and amended by Prince Hall Masonry on all levels relative to them passing a Masonic resolution and going back over 100 years later and exonerating and expunging Brother John G. Jones of all the charges levied against him and work to heal the divided Masonic family. This would be a great step in atonement and reconciliation of the Black Masonic Family. I think members of the black Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (AF&AM) need to propose to the Prince Hall Grand Lodges that Brother Jones be pardoned of any perceived wrongdoings and lets work to remove all the negative stigmas that are hindering Masonic unity. I also, would like to see AF&AM giving an option to be invited back into the fold of Prince Hall Masonry and/or remain sovereign, independent and separate, but each order is given full and complete recognition one to the other.
However, If I am in distress and I am forced to give the Grand Hail sign and to whisper the word in a low tone, it would not matter to me if an AF&AM brother or PHA brother came to my rescue and nor will I be asking what Masonic affiliation do they belong (or question their race and nationality). I would be saying praise the lord that there were some help that came to the poor widow’s son. This internal disputes often becomes null-in-void when distress is knocking at our door. The more this system collapses upon itself, it is going to require us to look more to one another for assistance and we were taught that you should be able to recognize a brother in darkness as well as in LIGHT; this recognition gives us a true clue to what our Masonic disposition should be and how we have falling victims to the artificial barriers
Yet, I do believe as I have stated above, that we all have a duty and responsibility to defend Freemasonry from fly by night clandestine groups who do not possess a charter or dispensation from some legitimate grand body empowering it to work. I advocate that brothers do their due diligence and homework prior to joining a Masonic order and become fully informed about their history and to make sure they possess a recognized legal charter.
I always advise newly raised brothers to view the Master Mason degree as a stepping stone to even higher knowledge and do not view the 3rd degree of having obtained all the knowledge that one need. Speculative Masonry is a huge field and often we do not continue to delve into all the esoteric, occult and Gnostic knowledge associated with working towards understanding Freemasonry from the various inter-connective links after we are raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular on the Square (what a mistake of great magnitude). I advise that each newly brother acquire a Masonic Library and find like minds in the lodge and start a study group who would be interested in being a part of a highly charged Cipher who seek to investigate the history, ritual, symbolism, relics, etc., of ancient and modern Freemasonry. Freemasonry is not a religious organization in which we should freely investigate how Islam and the Holy Qur'an is associated with Masonry, each degree that you attained was rooted in a Biblical scripture and the symbolic allegory is what gives meaning to the functionality of the Craft (For example signs, tokens and words).
Also, as newly raised Brother Masons, I advise that they remember the new name that they were giving during the Entered Apprentice Degree which was Caution—I advise that until one fully understands the role that the Compass and Square plays as Operative Tools and how we use them for the more noble and glorious purposes in Speculative Masonry that they should continue to wear the new name of Caution. Masonry is not a sprint, but is a travel (marathon) that will continue to evolve with age, experience and a willingness to seek external knowledge. Lastly, I believe that Freemasonry had it's origins in Kemet (Ancient Egypt) and that it was the Nubians who introduced civilization to Europe and the entire world. Please do not take my word, but do your own independent research. So Mote it Be.
Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EI can be reached at fahimknight@ yahoo.com.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight-El