The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.

Part Twenty-One: African American Fraternal Organizations and the American Revolution

Fraternal organizations are an essential part of the African American community. These institutions also have their roots in the American Revolutionary period. The oldest fraternal organization among African Americans is the Prince Hall Masonic Order, which was founded in 1787 as African Lodge No. 459. The Leader of this movement was named Prince Hall, who was born in 1735 in Barbados, British West Indies and worked his way to Boston, Massachusetts in 1765. He became a self-made man, working at various jobs, saving money, purchasing property and became a voter. He even educated himself and developed a real appreciation of the need for good schooling. In 1797 he petitioned the city of Boston and protested the lack of education available for African Americans and shortly thereafter the city officials provided schools for Free Black children.

Prince Hall was involved with all three of the major institutions that emerged out of the American Revolutionary War era and became dominant in the African American Community. In 1774 he joined the Methodist Church and eventually became a minister and leader in the Boston African American Community. He founded the African American fraternal order in 1787 and later helped to establish schools for Black children in Boston. When the American Revolution broke out in 1776 Blacks were not allowed to join the Continental Army of George Washington even though several African Americans had already given their lives in battles leading up to the War. The most notable examples were Crispus Attucks who was the first to fall from British bullets at the Boston Massacre in 1770, and Peter Salem and Lemuel Haynes who died at Bunker Hill after killing the British officer General Pitcairn. Prince Hall did not let the whites-only restrictions stop him from contributing to the war effort. He petitioned John Hancock of the Committee for Safety for the Colonies to allow him to join the Continental Army. His petition was granted and George Washington personally approved it.

Initially Prince Hall and fourteen other African Americans were initiated into a British chartered Lodge of Freemasons in Boston. This event took place in 1775 before the Revolutionary War. After the war, Prince Hall and his associates organized the African Lodge No. 459 in 1787. From this beginning they established an African Grand Lodge in 1791 with Prince Hall as the Grand Master. They continued to expand their fraternal organization and in 1797 set up African Lodges in Philadelphia and Rhode Island. After Prince Hall died in 1807, it was decided to change the name of the organization from African Grand Lodge to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

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