African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism


This collections brings together a number of documents related to historically Black fraternal organizations, including many related to Prince Hall Freemasonry.

A leading citizen in Boston’s eighteenth-century Black community, Prince Hall (1738-1807) was an abolitionist who petitioned the Massachusetts’ legislature to end slavery, and a Methodist who campaigned for schools to educate the African-American children of Boston. Hall was a leather dresser by trade who, in 1777, supplied drumheads to the Regiment of Artillery. Drawn to Freemasonry’s values and opportunities, Hall, a former slave, tried to join Boston’s Masonic lodges in the early 1770s, but was denied membership.

African American men’s participation in Freemasonry is generally traced back to the March 6, 1775 initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other Black men in Lodge No. 441, a British military lodge attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot. A year later, the military lodge that had initiated Hall was leaving Boston, but before they left, the lodge granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, bury their dead, and march in processions for St. John’s Day. However, they were not given authority to confer degrees or perform any other “work.” With this authority granted to them, Prince Hall and his brethren organized as African Lodge No. 1 on July 3, 1775, with Hall as Master.

In order to become a fully functioning lodge that could confer degrees, African Lodge No. 1 needed to be chartered. Unable to obtain a charter from a Grand Lodge in the United States, they appealed to the Grand Lodge of England and were granted a charter on September 29, 1784 as African Lodge No. 459. It wasn’t until later that those lodges and Grand Lodges that descended from African Lodge No. 459 chose to give their fraternity Hall’s name to distinguish it from the predominantly white “mainstream” lodges that generally excluded Blacks throughout the 19th and part of the 20th century.

Pictured above: detail from Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued by Hermon Lodge, No. 21, to Theodore Gleghorn, 1921. A2019/124/001.

View the items in the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection

Collection Items

Historical program for the dedication of the Pythian Temple of the Grand Lodge and Court of Michigan, 1952 September 21
This item contains numerous pictures of officers of the Grand Lodge of Michigan and the Grand Court of Michigan, Order of Calanthe. It also contains histories and pictures of officers of "blue" lodges and courts.

Pictorial review of East Rock Lodge, No. 141, Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, 1957
This pictorial review documents the Golden Anniversary Celebration of the East Rock Lodge, No. 141, established in 1907. It includes photographs of the Grand Lodge Officers, General Chairman and Committee Charman, and assorted committees, as well as…

Fly to the 74th annual session program, 1967
Fly to the 74th annual session program. Dated 1967. This program describes the schedule of social events for the 74th annual session of the Prince Hall Shriners and the 56th annual session of the Daughters of Isis. Cleveland, Ohio, hosted the event,…
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