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Photograph of Harry A. Williamson and five fellow members of the Carthaginian Lodge no. 47

Prince Hall Masons

Prince Hall Freemasonry is the oldest African American Masonic organization. It aimed to foster racial uplift, mutual aid, and social justice.

Prince Hall

Portrait of Prince Hall

Brother Prince Hall

Image of Petition of Prince to W. Moodey, Brotherly Love Lodge

Petition of Prince to W. Moodey, Brotherly Love Lodge, London, 1784

Prince Hall was an artisan and abolitionist in Boston. Hall’s birthplace and birth date are not precisely known, but he is believed to have been born in 1735. A successful leather merchant, Hall owned property in Boston and was therefore on the city’s voting roll. He was an engaged citizen, advocating for the Black community as a vocal supporter of the abolition of slavery. Hall died in 1807 and is buried in Boston's historic Copp’s Hill Cemetery.

In 1775, after Hall and other free Blacks tried unsuccessfully to join the city’s all-white Masonic lodge, they were initiated into Lodge 441, which was attached to a British army regiment. When the British retreated from Boston in 1776, Hall’s group received a permit to assemble as African Lodge No. 1. In 1784, the Grand Lodge of England officially chartered the group as African Lodge No. 459. More than 4,500 lodges worldwide are descended from this original organization, now known as the Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

Portrait of Prince Hall

Brother Prince Hall

Image of Petition of Prince to W. Moodey, Brotherly Love Lodge

Petition of Prince to W. Moodey, Brotherly Love Lodge, London, 1784

We profess to be both men and Masons; and challenge the world to try us, prove us, and disprove us, if they can.

Martin Delaney, 1853

Prince Hall Masons

A high backed wooden chair used at the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts.

Chair from Prince Hall Masonic Lodge of Boston, early 1800s

A commemorative medal for the 100th anniversary of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New Jersey.

Prince Hall Mason badge

A booklet detailing the proceedings of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, 1904.

Book, Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, 1904

Founded in 1784, Prince Hall Freemasonry is the oldest African American Masonic order. While Prince Hall Masons practiced the secret rituals and moral teachings of Freemasons worldwide, they also shared with other Black fraternal organizations a commitment to racial uplift, mutual aid, and social justice. During slavery and segregation, Masonic lodges provided safe gathering places for the black community. Membership included various community leaders—prominent businessmen, clergymen, and politicians—who also served as role models for Black male identity and empowerment. Membership also provided essential networks for artisans and business owners, and even granted protection. For instance, in 1829, when a protest by white Cincinnati workers against Black employment erupted in violence, Prince Hall Masons organized patrols for the community.

A high backed wooden chair used at the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts.

Chair from Prince Hall Masonic Lodge of Boston, early 1800s

A commemorative medal for the 100th anniversary of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New Jersey.

Prince Hall Mason badge

A booklet detailing the proceedings of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, 1904.

Book, Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, 1904

A metal printing plate mounted on a wood block used to print lodge certificates.

Masonic certificate printing plate

A certificate of initiation for Otis A. Gates Jr. into the Rising Sun Masonic Lodge a part of the Most (M.) Worshipful (W.) Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

Masonic Certificate, 1946

Rites and Rituals

Like other secret societies, Freemasonry is known for its elaborate system of codes, symbols, and rituals. For African American members, Masonic teachings that drew on the Bible reinforced the Christian values preached in Black churches. Other Masonic traditions celebrated the knowledge of ancient civilizations, including Egypt, offering a prideful connection to African cultural heritage.

Becoming a Master Mason

This early document from African Lodge No. 459, America’s first Black Masonic lodge, certifies the membership of Nero Powers, who was raised to the third degree of masonry, a Master Mason. The document is signed by prominent senior members of the lodge, some of whom were active abolitionists. This Masonic member certificate contains symbolism rich with meaning for Freemasonry that draws from biblical accounts of King Solomon’s Temple.

A membership certificate from the Masonic African Lodge No. 459, Boston, Massachusetts, certifying the promotion of Nero Powers to the rank of third-degree Mason.

Order of the Eastern Star

A circular metal pendant with a ceramic center.

The Order of the Eastern Star was established in Boston in 1850 as an auxiliary organization for wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of Freemasons. It became affiliated with the Prince Hall Masons in 1874 through the founding of the Queen Esther Chapter No. 1 in Washington, D.C. The Eastern Star conducts its own philanthropic and community service activities, as well as supporting the work of the male lodges. The society’s emblem, a five-pointed star, symbolizes the group’s aspirations. Each point of the star represents a biblical ideal–Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa–who each embody virtues that members are encouraged to emulate.

A circular metal pendant with a ceramic center.

Masons Today

Photograph of Prince Hall Masons stand in front of a newly erected historic marker in Alexandria, Virginia

Prince Hall Masons stand in front of a newly erected historic marker in Alexandria, Virginia, which was dedicated on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Photograph of Prince Hall Masons in the African Day Parade

Prince Hall Masons in the African American Day Parade, September 15, 2019

Photograph of Black senior men wearing Masons, masonic lodge fez caps at the Martin Luther King Junior Parade

Senior Black Masons wearing Masonic lodge fez caps at the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.

Prince Hall Masons were established during the Revolutionary era as a separate, all-Black organization when African Americans were prevented from joining existing Masonic organizations. Prince Hall Masons continually sought racial and social justice for their members and for the wider community, seeking dignified, just, and fair treatment as equal citizens. Today, Black Freemasons continue to expand their original vision and approach.

Photograph of Prince Hall Masons stand in front of a newly erected historic marker in Alexandria, Virginia

Prince Hall Masons stand in front of a newly erected historic marker in Alexandria, Virginia, which was dedicated on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Photograph of Prince Hall Masons in the African Day Parade

Prince Hall Masons in the African American Day Parade, September 15, 2019

Photograph of Black senior men wearing Masons, masonic lodge fez caps at the Martin Luther King Junior Parade

Senior Black Masons wearing Masonic lodge fez caps at the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.