BY DR. BENJAMIN CHAVIS, JR.
During Black History Month 2015 I believe it is important to highlight some of those long lasting institutions and entities that have continued to serve the empowerment interests of Black America for over the past 200 years. Too often some of us forget too quickly about the historical groups and social bridges that have helped to bring Black America across troubled and perilous waters during the last two centuries.
One group that I know we should resolutely salute during every Black History Month is the organization known today as the Grand Lodge of Prince Hall Masons. They have grown exponentially from their first lodge in Boston, Massachusetts in 1787 to numerous other masonic lodges today strategically established and recognized throughout the United States.
Without a lot of external fanfare and public boasting about the accomplishments of Prince Hall Masons, the facts are that this organization of skilled and talented “Brothers” has been consistent in contributing to the long protracted progress of Black America. The living legacy of Prince Hall is still today focused on the mission of providing leadership of high moral character, charitable assistance to those in need, and steadfast support of freedom, justice, equality and empowerment for Black Americans and all people.
Who was Prince Hall? He was one of the earliest Black abolitionists against the slavery of African people in America in the mid-1700s. He was a Free Black leader in Boston who was proud of his African ancestry and committed to improve the quality of life of African people during the early founding years of the United States. Prince Hall was a Black American freedom fighter who, like Cyprus Attucks, fought bravely in the Revolutionary War.
Prince Hall was one of the first Black Americans to be made a mason in America on March 6, 1775 in Boston. Interestingly, he and 14 other Black men initially established and named their first lodge: African Lodge #1 on July 3, 1776, one day before the United States Declaration of Independence was adopted and issued on July 4, 1776.
Once again this was a bold historic move by Hall and his masonic brothers with the clear unambiguous intention to stand up and work for African liberation and empowerment as a sacred fraternity. Hall was named master of African Lodge#1. Years later in honor of Prince Hall after his passing, the name of the lodge was changed to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons.
Why is this important and relevant 239 years later today in 2015? It is important because Black history did not start on a slave plantation in the south of the U.S. Prior to the birth of the United States, African people in America were engaged and involved in promoting unity to advance the cause of freedom and liberty. The evidence and truth about the historic and contemporary contributions of Prince Hall Masons to advance our interests needs to be better known and understood today by 44.3 million Black Americans.
The history of African people is as old as the history of humanity. Given the fact that racism and racial discrimination are still prevalent throughout the U.S. today means that we have to remain vigilant and committed to keep pushing forward to improve the quality of life for our families and communities. Similar to the fundamental necessity of maintaining the Black church, press, businesses and HBCUs, the issue concerning our awareness of the good work of historic groups like the Prince Hall Masons is equally important.
My great grandfather, grandfather and father were all Prince Hall Masons. I know firsthand about the many different orphanages, schools, medical clinics, hospitals, rest homes, many other charitable institutions that they have built across the nation and maintained for all these years serving to uplift Black America. We must teach our young people today about the proud traditions and legacies of our fore parents. No matter what circumstances that we have had to face, we have always found the ways and the means to look after one another with respect, care, giving and love. That challenge and obligation continues today.
Black History Month, yes, is a time for reflection and memory of the past. But we must learn from the past and build upon what previous generations have built as a foundation. Let’s celebrate Black history by renewing our determination and spirit to uplift all of our families and communities. Let’s strengthen our institutions and businesses, in particular our HBCUs are in critical need of financial support. Let’s learn from the sustainable tradition of the Honorable Prince Hall: unify, build, outreach to care for others, demand justice and freedom, and enjoy the blessings of life to ensure a better future for those who will come after we have transitioned.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.