A Brief History of Race Discrimination in (North) American Freemasonry


[1] Exclusion of  Blacks from the White lodges and "their" territories


For 200 years, in America white U.S. Freemasons first refused to initiate black men, [a] and then refused to recognize black Freemasons initiated by others, [b] forcing black Freemasonry to evolve separately.  [c] Some white Grand Lodges excluded black persons with unwritten obligations, [d] some with written regulations, [e] and some with Acts of Incorporation limiting their jurisdiction to men "exclusively of the white race".  [f] Having excluded black persons as members and visitors, the white Grand Lodges then declared the establishment of a second (i.e. black) Grand Lodge in a State to be an invasion of the jurisdiction of the white Grand Lodge in that State, under "The American Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction", thus excluding the black ("Prince Hall") Grand Lodges from recognition. [g]


In 1899 the Grand Lodge of Illinois stated: "To have Lodges exclusively of Negroes, would be dangerous to the high character of our Order.  And, to associate them in Lodges with white brethren, would be impossible." [h]


Race-discriminating text in official policy documents in U.S. Freemasonry continued until well after 1950.  [i]


In 1961, Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia reported: "There have been isolated instances of the admittance of Negroes to lodges otherwise composed entirely of white men", citing a total of 8 such cases, [j] and as late as 1966, Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry stated plainly: "American Grand Jurisdictions do not in fact (whether in principle or not) accept petitions from Negroes."  [k] Educational materials still distributed through official sources in 2008, plainly state that African or slave ancestry disqualifies a person from Freemasonry in America. [l]


"Until the 1970s, like most fraternal organizations, Masonic lodges were segregated".  This was acknowledged by the Grand Master of the mainstream Grand Lodge of New York in 2003. [m]


Since the 1980's Northern, Western, and Canadian "mainstream" lodges have initiated black candidates in more than insignificant numbers. [n]



[2] Recognition Efforts before 1989

[3] Recognition 1989 - 2008

[4] Recognition and Discrimination Status in 2008

[5] Instruments of Exclusion

Free Born

Secret Ballot

Peace and Harmony

Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction

[6] Truth and Reconciliation

[7] Future challenges and options

Footnotes