Why Black History Matters
Case #1—Prince Hall Freemasonry
By D. Lanois, Ph.D.
On January 26, 2021, Whoopi Goldberg joined a growing number of celebrities who have dawned African American fraternal organizations paraphernalia without being a member of these organizations. Goldberg wore a Prince Hall Masonic sweater on her show The View that led to her being barraged by Black Twitter for having such a huge faux pas forcing her to somewhat apologize the next day. In her apology, Goldberg stated that she will not wear it again but added, “I don’t know what the connotations are or why people are upset.” This is Why Black History Matters--to help her and others understand the connotations and the why.
On March 6, 1775, Prince Hall and fourteen others were initiated into Freemasonry and giving birth to African Freemasonry. Whites in the soon to be US had denied them entry solely because they were men of African descent. The named changed to Prince Hall because he was a steadfast advocate for African American freedom, humanity, and fight for social justice. He demanded for the abolishment of slavery, public education for African American children, and helped Belinda receive her pension. Prince Hall embedded the fight for human rights and social justice into the organization.
The organization continued to fight for African Americans and taking into its ranks some of the most famous African Americans. However, African American history is made up of men and women who are little known and the members of Prince Hall Freemasonry became a silent and dignified army dedicated to fraternal love, human rights, and social justice. During the 20th century, the organization had to fight to exist in the South because white Southerners outlawed their use of the name, insignia, and all paraphernalia. Black fraternal organizations took their white counterparts all the way to the Supreme Court and gave African Americans one of their first victories in the Supreme Court.
Ms. Goldberg, it matters because wearing that name and symbols reflect the fight these men have had for over almost two and half centuries against racism, for human rights, social justice, and the very right to wear it. As a member of the organization, the legacy of men such as Medgar Evers (you played his widow), Thurgood Marshall, Charles H. Houston, John Wesley Dobbs, W. E. B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Major Martin Delany, Reverend Absalom Jones, and Bishop Richard Allen to name a few are the giant shoulders we stand upon, and only members who have been initiated, passed, and raised have the right to wear the emblem with the name.
Dr. Derrick A. Lanois is an Assistant Professor of African American History at Norfolk State University.