Black and White Masons Meet For First Time in Connecticut
NORWALK, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s two Masonic lodges, traditionally racially segregated Christian organizations, met in an unprecedented joint service that band leader Lionel Hampton hailed as a blow to prejudice.
″This is the first time I’ve witnessed it, and I’m so happy to be here,″ said Hampton, who was keynote speaker at the joint service Sunday.
Hampton said the meeting of black and white Masons symbolized what the group was long meant to stand for.
″Brothers are supposed to work together and meet together, and have strength and unity,″ he said. ″This is love, peace and harmony - breaking down prejudice and kicking it in the pants,″ he said. ″I’ve finally seen it come to pass that the black and white brothers can meet together.″
The two lodges, one with 28,000 whites and the other with 2,000 blacks, last year became the first masons’ lodges in the United States to grant mutual recognition and certain membership privileges to each other. Recognition allows a Mason to attend services or participate in activities in another jurisdiction.
The Masons are a Christian, non-denominational group with 3 million members in the United States and 6 million worldwide.
St. John’s Lodge No. 6 in Norwalk was the site of the gathering Sunday, which brought together members of the white Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons with members of the black Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons.
Connecticut is one of only four states with a policy of joint recognition, Mason officials said Sunday. The others are Nebraska, Washington and Wisconsin.
″We got criticized for it,″ said Grand Chaplain Ervin L. Betts of Connecticut’s Grand Lodge. ″For instance, the state of Louisiana will not recognize any of our Masons now.″
Betts said Masonic lodges in several states are planning to abolish racial divisions and extend recognition to one another.
Although racially mixed lodges are virtually non-existent, Betts said Sunday’s service was a good first step in that direction.
″I think it’s marvelous,″ he said. ″What was so beautiful about this was that both blacks and whites helped bring this about.″
Hampton said the event highlighted his 52 years as a Mason.
″This means so much,″ he said. ″I applaud these people - it’s so good when people like this get together. We’ve never had this in Masonry before.″