Herald Online - NC
Masonic groups in N.C. -- one white, one black -- acknowledge brotherhood
Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008
By Richard Stradling - The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Members of North Carolina's two Masonic organizations ended 138 years of official disregard for one another Friday by signing a resolution recognizing each other as brother Masons.
The resolution, signed near the end of a two-hour ceremony full of formality and speeches, ended a vestige of the segregation era, during which the two groups -- one white, the other black -- spent decades following the ancient tenets and teachings of freemasonry while each pretended the other didn't exist.
"Today's a historic day, because we're here to say we're brothers again," said David Cash, a Methodist minister from Kannapolis and grand master of the white group, the Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina.
Cash and his counterpart, Milton "Toby" Fitch Jr. of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina and Its Jurisdictions, signed the document in the old House chambers of the State Capitol. They sat at a table where North Carolina's resolution to secede from the Union was signed 148 years ago.
Both Prince Hall and AF&AM Masonic groups carry on the traditions of a fraternity founded by building craftsmen in medieval Europe. The state's AF&AM organization was founded in 1787, though some of the individual lodges date back earlier. The state's Prince Hall group was founded in 1870.
Despite shared roots and goals, their members did not officially recognize each other as Masons until Friday.
"We are of the same family," said Dan Blue, a Prince Hall Mason and state legislator from Raleigh. "This is an opportunity to complete a circle."
The ceremony, which had the feel of a peace treaty signing, was years in the making.
Members of the Prince Hall Masons unanimously passed a resolution recognizing their white counterparts as true Masons at their annual meeting in 2004. But a similar resolution failed several years in a row at AF&AM meetings, despite impassioned pleas from the group's leaders. This year, in September, it passed 642-328, leading to Friday's gathering, which filled not only the old House chamber but also the old Senate, where the overflow watched on a big-screen TV.
Membership in the larger, white lodge has fallen from 73,000 at its peak in 1981 to less than 50,000, even as the state's population has soared.
The resolution signed Friday does not merge the groups in any way. But it should lead to cooperation between the two organizations.
Cash, the AF&AM grand master, said representatives of the two groups are meeting to work out visitation issues and protocol. For example, he noted, Prince Hall Masons have a dress code, while the AF&AM does not.
"They are a little bit more formal," he said.
That formality was on display Friday, as Prince Hall members in particular wore colorful aprons around their waists and medallions around their necks. A color guard of Prince Hall Masons with epaulets on their shoulders, two rows of buttons down their chests and hats covered with white feathers lined the aisle of the old House chamber with raised swords as officers from the two organizations filed in.
Earlier this fall, Fitch and the Prince Hall Masons made Cash an honorary member. Friday, Cash returned the gesture, reading a framed resolution with a preacher's shout in his voice before the two men embraced before a shower of flashbulbs and a standing ovation.
Some famous Masons
PRINCE HALL FREE & ACCEPTED MASONS
Louis Armstrong, jazz trumpeter/singer
William "Count" Basie, orchestra leader/composer
Nathaniel "Nat King" Cole, pianist/singer
W.E.B. DuBois, educator/author/historian
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, orchestra leader/composer
Medgar Wiley Evers, civil rights leader
Alex Haley, author
Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader
Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court justice
Kweisi Mfume, president, NAACP
A. Philip Randolph, founder, International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
Rev. Al Sharpton, activist
Andrew Young, U.N. Ambassador/mayor of Atlanta
ANCIENT, FREE & ACCEPTED MASONS
Robert Burns, national poet of Scotland
Winston Churchill, British prime minister
Ty Cobb, baseball player
Henry Ford, founder, Ford Motor Co.
Jesse Helms, U.S. senator
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director
Charles Lindbergh, aviator
Douglas MacArthur, World War II general
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer
Arnold Palmer, golfer
Franklin D. Roosevelt, president
Theodore Roosevelt, president
Dave Thomas, founder, Wendy's hamburger chain
George Washington, general/president
WHAT IS A MASON
WHAT IS A MASON?
Masons, or Freemasons, are members of a fraternity founded in medieval Europe by the craftsmen who built castles and cathedrals. Masons aim to better themselves and society by living a moral and just life.
IS MASONRY A RELIGION?
No, but Masons are required to believe in a supreme being. It is not a charity either, though Masonic groups raise money for charitable causes.
IS IT A SECRET SOCIETY?
Some dictionaries define Freemasons as a secret society, but Masons bristle at the term. They prefer to say they are a "society with secrets," including their rituals and the handshakes and passwords they use to identify each other.
ARE MASONS THE ONES WITH THE FUNNY HATS IN THE PARADES?
Those are Shriners, one of several subgroups of Masons that also include the Scottish Rite and the York Rite. The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine was founded in the 1870s by New York Masons who wanted to create a livelier, less solemn Masonic organization. The hat is a Moroccan fez, chosen for the Shrine's Arabic theme.
WHAT DO MASONS HAVE TO DO WITH ODD FELLOWS OR MOOSE?
Not much. The popularity of Masonry spawned other fraternities that mimic the Masons' titles, rituals and secrets. These include the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Improved Order of Red Men and Moose International.
AREN'T MOST OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS JUST MEN'S DRINKING CLUBS?
Some have bars in their lodges. But except for the Shriners, Masons in North Carolina do not allow alcohol in the lodges, and the ban extends to non-Masonic events.
CAN WOMEN BE MASONS?
No, but some Masonic organizations are open to women, including the Eastern Star and the Order of the Amaranth.
WHAT DOES THE "G" IN THE MASONIC SYMBOL STAND FOR?
It stands for geometry, the science the ancients believed most revealed the glory of God; it also stands for God. The "G" is framed by a compass and square, building tools that symbolize the ideals of Masonry: honor, integrity, truthfulness and a well-developed spiritual life.