What is Prince Hall Freemasonry?

During the early years of the formation of Freemasonry African Americans weren’t in a position to join the predominantly caucasian Lodges of the time. Sadly, some of this seperation had to do with racism, while some it had to do with the seperation of the classes during the 1700’s. However, it was quickly recognized that African American men could also benefit from the lessons taught in Freemasonry. So, a Lodge was chartered by the Grand Lodge of England, under the direction of an African American man named Prince Hall.

Since that time, the tradition of Prince Hall Masonic Lodges has remained strong in America. As innovations were made in the caucasian Lodge system, they were quick to be taken up by the members of Prince Hall Freemasonry as well. Prince Hall Freemasonry has many of the same organizations as other Freemasons, as well as several of their own. Fezzes have been especially popular among these groups, gaining the most ground among women’s groups attached the fraternity.

Ancient Egyptian Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (AEONMS)

According to their website “The Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. has a long and colorful history. The order was established as an Imperial Council of Prince Hall Shriners on June 3, 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, by 13 Prince Hall Masons under the leadership of John George Jones. They met in the Apollo Hall on State Street where Palestine Temple was organized. On June l0, 1893, Jones and his associates organized the Imperial Grand Council of Prince Hall Shriners. Jones, who was an attorney, immediately went about organizing Prince Hall Shrine Temples in Los Angeles, California, Washington D.C., Jacksonville, Florida, Indianapolis, Indiana, Baltimore, Maryland, Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, New York City, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Providence, Rhode Island, Alexandria and Richmond, Virginia. In September of 1889, Isaac L.W. Holland, the Illustrious Potentate of Pyramid Temple in Philadelphia, sent out a call to members of Prince Hall Shrine Temples within the nation to meet with him for the purpose of reorganizing the Imperial Grand Council. On December 12, 1900, a meeting was held in Philadelphia with officers and members attending from Temples in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and from Alexandria, Virginia, At this meeting the Imperial Council was reorganized and the order adopted a new name: Imperial Council of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and its Jurisdiction, Incorporated.

The first annual session of the newly organized Imperial Council was held on September 25, 1901, in Newark, New Jersey, it was here that a Constitution was formally adopted, establishing the fraternity as it is today, and designating the Imperial Council as a charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social organization, dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry, and decreeing that membership in the order be confined to regular freemasons who were members of lodges descended from African Lodge No. 459.

The Worldwide Fraternal Shrine Family has a membership of approximately 35,000 in some 227 Shrine Temples and 200 Courts, its women’s auxiliary, the Daughters of Isis, throughout the Continental United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, England, Spain, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Guam, Thailand, Panama, and the Bahamas. The Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine is primarily a benevolent, charitable and fraternal organization, Its membership is dedicated to the principle of fostering civic, economic and educational development programs throughout the world.”

It should be noted, however, that the AEAONMS remains unrecognized in many Prince Hall Grand Lodges and operates outside of the main stream of Prince Hall Freemasonry in some situations.

As with all good ideas, it’s only a matter of time until others jump on the bandwagon; this is exactly what happened in Masonry with the Shrine concept. Today the Prince Hall Shrine is a lively and vibrant group with thousands of members. Prince Hall Shrine fezzes look remarkably like regular Shrine fezzes, except for one distinct difference. All Prince Hall Shrines list their number along with their name on the fez, while regular Shrines do not. Below is the first example of a Prince Hall fez purchased by the collection.

The stichwork on this fez is of particular note, as it is done in a gold colored thread and is very eye catching in it’s balance. This fez comes from Al Muhaymin Temple No. 300, however, no such temple truly exists. Al-Muhaymin is the holding Temple where Nobles are placed if they are in an area where no other Temple meets. The Museum would like to thank Noble Tony James who contacted us with this information.

This fez comes from a very unique Temple amongst the Prince Hall Shriners. Obelisk Temple No. 187 is located on a military base in Okinawa, Japan, and is part of the Desert of the Far East and Asia. The Temple appears to very active and regularly updates their Facebook page with events and happenings.

This fez belonged to James Eubank, a Past Potentate of Obelisk Temple. It is one of the most ornamented fezzes we”ve ever seen. The key point of interest are the pyramids attached to the front. Initially, we though these represented a Past Potentate. However, we received information from Noble Tony James of Montgomery, Alabama, who told us The two gold Pyramids on this fez indicate that the person was a current appointed Imperial Officer. After the person steps down as an appointed Imperial Officer the two gold Pyramids are replaced with two silver ones. This would lead us to believe that the owner may have died while in office. A complete breakdown of the rank / pyramid system can be found over in our resources section. Also of note is the sphinx head, which has been painted to appear African American. When the museum received this fez it also came with a Past Potentate’s Collar, making it a rare and valuable addition to the archives.

As noted in the earlier history, Pyramid Temple No. 1, of Philadelphia, is the first PHA Shrine Temple in the world. It remains very active to this day and is a leader within the organization.

This fez, while not that unusual at the outset, actually belies an interesting point. Most PHA Shrines are not large enough to play host to multiple units like their counterparts. So, it is relatively unusual to see a PHA Shrine fez denoting that the owner belonged to a unit. In this case, that unit was the Oriental Band, which would have dressed up in Middle-Eastern costumes and played long wind instruments, likely with drum accompaniment. The fez is in rough shape, with tears in stitching for the rhinestones, missing stones, and rubbed off paint. It is also interesting to note that the first and last letters are done in multi-row stones, but the middle letters are single row; this is not something you see very often. As an overall unusual example, it holds a place in the collection.