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The Voice of the Black Community

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Fraternity reaching out for founderís weekend
Masons celebrate with community events
 
Published Wednesday, September 11, 2013 8:28 pm
by Herbert L. White

Prince Hall Masons are keeping with the spirit of their founder through public service.

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COURTESY DONDHI BURRELL
Prince Hall Mason District Deputy Grand Master Dondhi Burrell (left) leads a procession of Masons in Charlotte.

The historically black fraternity is gathering in Charlotte Sept. 13-15 to honor its namesake at the Double Oak Masonic Outreach Center, 1326 Prince Hall Ave. The weekend is a joint effort between Prince Hall Masons and the Order of Eastern Stars, an auxiliary organization of men and women. The celebration includes a community festival where food and school supplies will be given away, awards gala and church service.

“It’s both benevolent and charitable,” said District Deputy Grand Master Dondhi Burrell. “This weekend, everything we’re doing is in terms of giving back to the community or community oriented.”

Said District Deputy Grand Master James Harrell: “At Prince Hall weekend, we’re doing this all over the country,” 

The Masons, unlike college fraternities, don’t draw members exclusively from a campus. Any man is eligible to join and its membership is socially and economically diverse. Prominent members include the Rev. Jesse Jackson, basketball hall of famers Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen and entertainers Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Nat “King” Cole. Famous Eastern Stars include U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.

Charlotte’s Prince Hall community has 12 lodges and more than 2,000 members, including former mayor Harvey Gantt and the Rev. Clifford Jones, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. 

“In our lodge we run the gamut from sanitation employees and service workers to (Mecklenburg District Judge) Donnie Hoover,  (N.C. Rep.) Kelly Alexander and everything in between,” Burrell said. “Your profession will not get you into Masonry or prevent you from coming into Masonry.”

The fraternal tradition of freemasonry began as a predominately white organization in 17th century North America. Hall, (1735-1807) an abolitionist minister and leader in Boston’s black community, was among the first 15 African Americans initiated as Masons in 1775 at Lodge No. 44 of the Irish Registry in Boston. They were previously denied membership at St. John’s Lodge.

As the American Revolution loomed, the lodge dissolved and Hall and other black Masons founded the African Grand Lodge, which declared its independence in 1827. In 1847, the fraternity changed its name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge. Today, the group has 5,000 lodges and 47 grand lodges around the globe. 

The vestiges of racial separation continue but are thawing. In North Carolina, whites generally belong to the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, founded in 1787 while blacks are members of Prince Hall, established in 1870. The two groups agreed to formally recognize each other in 2008 and are racially inclusive.

“The ills of segregation, it takes a long time to correct,” Burrell said.

The Masons probably aren’t as well known as Greek-letter fraternities among African Americans, but its emphasis helping others has generated community support. 

“We do a lot of things, but it’s like an unwritten law to (not) go out and brag about it,” Harrell said. “We’re not out there to get recognition or fame or anything.”

 

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