BY MARK GOODSON — Just around the corner from the City of Hyattsville is a very active masonic lodge — the Shelton D. Redden Lodge No. 139 (SDRL) of Prince Hall Freemasons. The historically black masonic lodge shares the goal of community service through brotherhood with Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, but the two bodies’ mutual existence is a reminder of segregation in the masonic body that is as old as America.
George Washington was a mason in the Anglo-American tradition at a time when black Americans were denied membership. A man named Prince Hall founded African Lodge #1 in 1776, the year the country declared its independence. According to lodge documents, African lodges grew and created the African Grand Lodge (AGL), a governing body. For over a century, these lodges grew without receiving recognition from the grand lodges of England.
In 1827, after Prince Hall’s death and when the AGL’s authority to grant new charters was drawn into question, the group declared its independence. Struggle for mutual recognition between Anglo-American and African-American lodges continues to this day in parts of the country, only not in Hyattsville.
Online reference BlackPast.org described Prince Hall Freemasonry as the oldest and largest group of masons of African origin in the world. In describing the historic fight for recognition, former SDRL master Kevin Stephen said it was only in the last decade that there has been “mutual recognition” between the Prince Hall and the Ancient Free and Accepted parent masonic bodies. Stephen said that there is still some reluctance to recognize legitimacy at the subordinate level on both sides of the masonic body in this country.
SDRL meets in a space borrowed from Rollingcrest Commons at 6060 Sargent Road in Chillum. Stephen said that the 20-year-old lodges’ lack of geographical visibility inspires members to be more visibly active in the community. Some recent holiday services include organizing Thanksgiving food basket donations, a Redskins game potluck for senior residents at Rollingcrest, and a Christmas toy collection.
Located at 4207 Gallatin Street is Hyattsville’s local lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 179 (MHL), which was established in 1886.
The two local lodges have shared some recent milestones that mark the growing integration and recognition of both masonic bodies. In addition to attending one another’s meetings, the two groups marched together in the 2013 Hyattsville parade and continue to collaborate in offering a free child identification program (CHIP).
A staple service of American freemasonry, CHIP creates a kit of identifying materials for a child: fingerprints, a video, a physical description and DNA sample. If a child goes missing, this kit can be used by law enforcement to enhance search efforts.
Brendon Pinkham, supervisor of MHL’s CHIP program said he and other masons are eager to find events where they can offer this free and potentially life-saving service. MHL set up its CHIP program at Hyattsville’s Summer Jam this summer and at a clothing swap organized by Hyattsville parents.