by Joseph A. Walkes, Jr.
Until we free ourselves from dependence on other people, we will never be free. Day by day, we must deal with the images that influence and control us. What we do for ourselves depends on what we know about ourselves and what we are willing to accept about ourselves. When other people control what we think about ourselves, they will also control what we do about ourselves. We must reclaim our heritage in order to be a total people. We can confront the world if first we confront ourselves. We can change the world if first we change ourselves.1
The concept for an international Masonic research group was in my head, but how to bring it to reality was another matter. Not only did I have to consider how to organize it in the first place, but also how to keep it from being destroyed before it even took form. In 1943, the great Prince Hall Masonic scholar from New York, Harry A. Williamson, my mentor, would organize the first Lodge of Research in Prince Hall Freemasonry, becoming its first and only Master. The Lodge was chartered by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York for the following purposes:
1. To encourage and promote study and research into Ancient Craft Masonry and its Concordant Orders.
2. To assist its members in the preparation of lectures upon such subjects, and their presentation before the Lodge for information and discussion.
3. The maintenance of a library for reference purposes and to issue from time to time a list of books of value for the use of its members in this and other grand jurisdictions.
4. To issue from time to time a volume of its Transactions, which included the papers presented before the Lodge.2
The Lodge actually published its first and only transactions under the name ?PHLORONY? which was composed of the first letter in each word of the title of the Lodge. Although the Grand Lodge received a recommendation from the Grand Master to give it a charter, that document was never delivered for some unknown reason and in January of 1946, the Grand Master, for reasons never made known, suspended the operations of the Lodge. It was this fact, that caused me not to consider establishing a Lodge of Research, as I felt that most would not understand its concept, and the Grand Master, who ever he might be, would have too much control over it.
In that same issue of the Royal Arch Mason Magazine, that I had brought from Korea, there was a notification of the Research Lodge No.2 of Iowa having two papers published, both by Jerry Marsengill, one being on Prince Hall Freemasonry, and the other on the early records of the Mormons and the Craft.3 I had made mention in my book, Black Square and Compass ? … my observation is that I do not see book buying or borrowing high in the priority list of black people. To put it more emphatically, reading (or research and study) as a necessary life enrichment experience is not foremost in the must do list of most black people.?4 This knowledge also caused me to dismiss the formation of a research lodge.
I had the Philalethes Society and its organizational structure to use as a guide, but I was faced with other formidable areas of concerns. The Grand Masters, how would they react to such an organization that would cross jurisdictional lines? I lived in the State of Kansas but held membership in the State of Missouri, how would these two jurisdictions act when it was discovered what I was up to. Was I preparing to commit Masonic suicide, would I be accused of attempting to organize a Masonic body, a lodge or Grand Lodge? How would Prince Hall Freemasonry act to such an organization?
These questions kept me up at night as I attempted to study the pros and cons of what I was attempting to do. First off, I wanted to design an organization that was purely Prince Hall orientated, though I was to use the organizational design of the Philalethes Society, the group that I was planning had to have an Afrocentric look. My first goal therefore was to find a name, that was in some way close to Philalethes, but yet distinct and different. In the dictionary I found the word, Phylaxis, taken from the Greek. For this book, I asked Wallace E. McLeod FPS, a Professor of Classics at Victoria College, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada to look up the word. In the ancient Greek dictionary, it means ?a watching, a guarding, security, caution.? It?s not a common word, but the meaning is pretty clear. The suffix – sis is quite common in Greek, and serves to make a noun out of a verbal root, so clearly Phylaxis must be derived from a root something like phylak or phylag-. The basic word is the verb; it was originally pronounced something like phylag-yo; but the combination -gy- was unstable, and evolved into -ss-. So in the dictionary we find the verb Phylasso ?to guard, watch, secure.? Beyond any question the proper meaning of phylaxis is ?the act of guarding; the action of watching; caution.? It fit the concept that I was attempting to develop, and so the name of the organization would be that.
Next I needed a logo. The Philalethes Society used a square and compass resting on an open book with the lamp of knowledge in the center of the design with the words Fiat Lux at the top and Veritas at the bottom .. I designed a logo for the new organization with the square and compass resting on an open book similar to the Philalethes, the exception being the lamp of knowledge was placed under the square and compass and in the center of the design I added the number 15 to represent Prince Hall and the fourteen who entered Freemasonry with him. The organization was to be dedicated to not only Prince Hall Freemasonry, but to Prince Hall himself. The Philalethes Society used the words ?An International Society for Freemasons Who Seek More Light And Freemasons Who Have Light To Impart.? I adopted the same wording, only adding Prince Hall Freemasons to it.
My next goal was to find officers for the new organization. I could only turn to those I knew from my own Lodge, at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The first name that came to mind was Bro. Herbert Dailey, who worked with me in King Solomon Lodge No. 15. He was an affiliated member from Truth Lodge No. 151, Springfield, Missouri, and without a doubt one of the most dedicated Freemason that I had ever met. He had long since retired, and I could remember that he had a home somewhere in the State of Washington. So I took a gamble in an attempt to locate him, and sent a letter addressed to the Grand Master, Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, Seattle, and prayed that without the full address that it would reach its destination. I was hoping that some Prince Hall Freemason working in the Post Office would see that the letter, though not correctly addressed, reached its destination. Within a short period, I received a letter from the Grand Lodge, and in it was Bro. Dailey?s address. I wrote him and gave him the concept of the Phylaxis Society, and he agreed to serve as its First Vice President.
While in Korea, in 1970, I, as Special District Deputy Grand Master at Large (Military) had issued dispensations to form study clubs in Athens, Greece, and in the Canal Zone of Panama. The group in Panama would eventually be placed on the rolls of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri as Canal Zone Military Lodge No. 174, and in November, 1972, I would fly there as guest of the Lodge. The Master was Bro. Zellus Bailey, another dedicated member from King Solomon Lodge No. 15, and I would offer him the position of Second Vice President, and he accepted.
It wasn?t too difficult to nominate an Executive Secretary. King Solomon Lodge No. 15 had an outstanding Secretary, Bro. James E. Herndon, a First Sergeant who had retired and was residing in Denver, Colorado. ?I am pleased and in fact without words,? he would write, ?to think of all the Brother?s you have come in contact with that you chose me as one of the officer?s of this great undertaking.?5
Bro. Herndon worked at the United Bank of Denver, the second largest bank in the Rocky Mountain West where the boxer Joe Louis?s son, Joseph Barrow was a Trust Officer, and we agreed that we would open a checking account in the name of the Society at the bank.
To round out the officers, the next appointment was of Editor for the magazine that I hoped to publish. I chose a Brother who had been an editor of two publications in the past, The National Conference of Artist and the Bio-Medical Photographic Association. Bro. Allan G. Junier of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. He accepted the position, though we had no idea when we would be able to launch such a publication. Junier would write, ?I agree Prince Hall Masonry needs this kind of publication.?6 Bro. Junier had designed a ?PHA Masonic Structure? that would grace the back cover of the Phylaxis Magazine through 1975. I had worked with a Mrs Scott at Fort Leavenworth, and she had given me his name and address, as a Prince Hall Mason, I should meet. Bro. Junier was head of the Tuskegee VA Hospital Department of Medical Illustration, responsible for all areas of visual education in medical, veterinary and biological sciences, recording operations, bodily structure and diseases by drawings, photography and closed circuit TV. His photographs and drawing appeared in medical text books, journals, and teaching aids and used by doctors for clarification and in some instances to help in diagnosis. He had studied fine art at Leyton Art School and Wisconsin Art Academy. While at Marquette University he moved into Medical Art and acquired a degree in Medical Photography. I was overjoyed that he was joining our efforts.
In an effort to keep the new Executive Staff informed, I created a Newsletter, as a stop gap measure until we could publish the magazine. After the 107th Annual Session of my Grand Lodge, I returned to Panama to bring the charter for Canal Zone Military Lodge at Fort Clayton, which allowed me another opportunity to meet with Bro. Zellus Bailey and to solidify the concept of the Phylaxis Society.
The United States Army had refused to allow the new Lodge a building on Fort Clayton so it could meet, and the Lodge had protested and gave my name to Headquarters United States Southern Command. I received a phone call from a Major Charles W. Fowler, from the Canal Zone, as he had heard that Masonry restricted membership by race, color, religion or national origin. I sent the Major a detailed listing of all of the Prince Hall Military Lodges that resided on military bases from the Civil War, to the Buffalo Soldiers, to the present day, and information as to were he could locate the documents to show that I was not exaggerating. The letter accomplished what I had set out to do, as the Lodge was provided a building to meet in.
I was greatly concerned over difficulties of Jurisdiction, and the impact that the Grand Master of Kansas might attempt to have over the new organization, so in March 1973, I opened a Post Office Box at Fort Leavenworth, to serve as the headquarters for the newly formed Phylaxis Society. A military base being outside of state or Masonic control, would serve as the location of the organization, and perhaps keep us out of jurisdictional trouble. Grand Masters in Prince Hall Freemasonry are much more powerful than their Caucasian counter part. A few, especially in the south, serving in office many many years. For instance the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee served over forty years. There being no limit to tenure in a number of jurisdictions, and though the Grand Master tasted the ballot every year, the Craft could keep him in office as long as they wanted, if they felt that the Grand Lodge was progressing under his leadership. Unlike the Caucasian branch which elected new Grand Master?s each year, the most staying in office for two years only. This lack of limit to tenure in the southern Prince Hall Jurisdictions, came more from cultural consideration than Masonic justifications, and reflected the influence of the Black church within Africa America. Grand Masters in Prince Hall Freemasonry welding considerable authority, some dictatorial with an iron fist. Bro. Bertram Baker at one time Masonic correspondent for the Black New York Age, and a vocal opponent of fraternal dictatorship wrote in a column in 1933:
Contrary to the opinions of some, Freemasonry is not a despotic institution. It is unfortunate … that some men, and I am speaking now of colored men, holding high positions in the fraternity would assume the attitude of despots, taking unto themselves the doctrine of the ?divine rights of Kings.?7
While this certainly was not true of all the Grand Masters in the Prince Hall family, yet there was concern over them, and how they would react to the concept of the Phylaxis Society. What would be there response, when they learned what we were attempting to do?
Baker?s column provoked a swift counteraction by the Grand Master of New York. He wrote a letter to Baker informing him that he was in violation of fraternal law by publicly exposing problems of the Order, and henceforth he must allow all of his articles for the Age to be censored by the Grand Master. Baker indignantly refused to concede to such a gross violation of freedom of the press, and was promptly suspended from Masonry. In the events that followed the suspension of Baker, the hand of authority and the power of personal animosity were leveled against both the columnist and all of his brothers in Carthaginian Lodge. By the end of the fight many of Baker?s closest associates had been suspended for periods ranging from one to fifteen years for their defiance of the Grand Master?s authority. The original cause for these suspensions came from the local Lodge?s refusal to punish Baker on the Grand Master?s demand. They insisted that the Grand Master had no right to usurp the rights of a local lodge to original jurisdiction. Not only did they refuse to punish Baker, but at the next lodge election they made him an officer of the Lodge.9
I had decided to place the following excerpt taken directly from the Philalethes membership application: ?The Phylaxis Society was designed to create a bond of union for Prince Hall Masonic writers and also to protect editors of Masonic publications from undeserved aggression of some ?dressed in a little brief authority.? It might be easy to pick on one isolated individual, but the prospect of being held up to scorn of the whole Prince Hall Fraternity outside of one?s own Jurisdiction would give cause for pause.?
I knew this could be considered a direct challenge to the Grand Masters, yet in all, it had to be included. The Baker case, a cause celebre which ultimately led not only to his exit from Masonry but also to the resignation of the noted black bibliophile Arthur Schomburg, to the suspension of the international known black Masonic writer Harry Williamson, and to the alienation of many others, is a flagrant example of the tendency toward despotism in the fraternity. The major difference between this incident and countless other suspensions without trials in other states was that columnist Baker and his allies were a highly articulate and forceful group and for years refused to allow the issue to die. 10 I had come to the conclusion that I would fight any interference or attempted censorship of the Phylaxis Society because all Masonic bodies had to be amenable to the law of the land, and while some believed that ?they are governed by no law other than the landmarks of Freemasonry?, I knew better, as I had a copy of W. Irvine Wiest book Freemasonry in American Courts and having studied this important work, believed I was on solid ground and that the Society would have the right to legal redress if the need ever arouse.
Bro. Herbert Dailey recommended that Alonzo Foote, a retired Military Officer residing in Tacoma, Washington, become the Treasurer, and we agreed to accept him. Bro. Junier never joined the Society by paying the ten dollar dues, and Bro. Dailey recommended Arthur H. Frederick of Roxbury, Massachusetts to become the Editor. Frederick before becoming a Prince Hall Freemason, had published a pamphlet, titled Negro Masonry in the United States. He would be the first non-military member within our small rank. Our Executive Staff was now complete with all positions filled.
The next step in the process was to seek members from around the world, and to have the organization international in scope, without the Grand Masters discovering what we were up to. The only way to accomplish this feat, was through the military channels that we had access to. All of our Executive Staff other than our Editor, were either active or retired military personnel, and therefore our Masonic acquaintances were with military personnel, and so we began to contact those that we knew throughout the country and at military bases around the world, and slowly completed applications were returned and the membership dues began to filter in. We did open an checking account in Denver, and made preparations for the first printing of The Phylaxis magazine.
Bro. Zellus Bailey the second Vice President had returned from Panama and was back at Fort Leonard Wood, and living in St. Louis. There he had an opportunity to meet with our Editor Bro. Frederick, who had contacted him while traveling in Atlanta, Georgia and informing him that he would be in St. Louis for a short period in December 1973. Bro. Bailey thought it wise for the Executive Staff to be assessed $50 each to defray the cost of publishing the first issue of the Phylaxis magazine, and would take the matter up with Frederick upon there meeting. He further recommended that we not only publish the issue but send copies of all of the Grand Masters in Prince Hall Freemasonry, an idea I was not to keen on.
As Editor of the Masonic Light, the official organ of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri I had taken the mast of five Grand Lodge publications and placed them on the back cover of one of the issues, drawing a line from them to my publication. They were the Plumb Line from Louisiana, the oldest in Prince Hall Freemasonry, The Lamp from Ohio, The Masonic Quarterly of Texas, the Prince Hall Sentinel of New York and The Light from Pennsylvania, while calling the Editors of each to join the newly formed Phylaxis Society. Interestingly enough, Bro. Charles A. Method, the Editor of The Lamp from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio would print in his column ?From the Desk of the Editor? in his next issue:
Brother R. W. Joseph A. Walkes, Jr., Special District Deputy Grand Master-At-Large, Military of the Jurisdiction of Missouri and editor of the Publication Masonic Light together with several other editors of Masonic Publications of Prince Hall Masonry, have formulated the Phylaxis Society, a Society for Prince Hall Freemasons who seek more light and who have light to impart.
Brother Walkes states the several ?Official Organs? printed by our Grand Lodges leave much to be desired. They are usually composed of sloppy photographs, badly written articles, and for all practical purposes, seem to be thrown together. This is not an out and out criticism, for if nothing else they serve their craft and there is a need for these publications. ?The question, as I see it, when one reads the publication from cover to cover, will he have learned something that he did not know before, will he be just a little wiser about Masonry after reading it or will it just leave no impression at all?? I believe, that spasmodic attempts have been made in the different Grand Lodge publications to foster the spirit of Masonic education, which have been in the main largely failures because no specific and comprehensive plan of universal application has been presented by those competent to handle the subject.?
The Office of Editor of the Lamp believes that the Phylaxis Society is a step in the right direction.
After publishing this, regrettably Bro. Method decided after having served as Editor for almost two years, to ?pass the duties of the editorship to younger hands.?121 had put together an information sheet concerning the Phylaxis Society and sent copies to all of the Editors within Prince Hall Freemasonry and requested that they publish it in their Grand Lodge publications, to notify all, of the Society and its purpose. Needless to say that I was greatly concerned over the fact, that not only had Bro. Method published part of my letter, but then resigned immediately after it appeared in print.
John Sherman continued our exchange of letters during this period, and I continued to purchase documents from him while I maintained my study of Prince Hall, Prince Hall Freemasonry and Masonry in general. As previously mentioned I had never informed him that I was Black or a Prince Hall Freemason and while I was not happy over that fact, I felt that the end justified the means, and then it happened. Sherman would write addressing me not as Brother Walkes as he had done through our lengthy period of exchanging letters, but now as Mr. Walkes:
… about the end of December 1973 Mr. Arthur H. Frederick visited our library and spent some time there reading some of our reference books. He had been there before and told us he was planning to write a book on Prince Hall Masonry. Before he left he gave me a copy of the letter-head of your society, of which he is the Editor and you are the President. It was as if you had slapped me in the face when 1 saw that you had been writing to me as a M.P.S. and signing your name with the same initials. The implication was that you belonged to the Philalethes Society and I felt that you had been deliberately trying to mislead me into believing so. This has tended to shake my confidence in you.13
I was also shaken by this short letter from him and sent him a photocopy of my Philalethes Society membership card as well as my Phylaxis. ?The initials MPS was exactly what you took it to mean, no more and no less,? I would write.
Sherman of course notified the Philalethes Society and I received a letter from its President, William E. Yeager, saying that ?I was not qualified for membership as I was not a Master Mason in good standing under a Grand Lodge of the United States.? I replied that ?racism obviously exists in the Philalethes Society? and I refused to cash the check returning my joining fee that he had sent. To this day, in 1995, I still have this check. It has never been cashed, nor will it ever be.14 Perhaps one day, I will return it back to the Philalethes Society.
At their annual session in Washington, DC, it was my understand that a drag-out fight over my membership, had taken place. There were a number who felt that since I had become a member, that I should be carried on the rolls as an active member. Keith Arrington, Assistant Librarian of the Iowa Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids stated that he was overjoyed over the creation of the Phylaxis Society in the image of the Philalethes Society and thought it was wonderful that Prince Hall Freemasonry had a research society that would be dedicated to digging out and presenting facts about Prince Hall Masonry in all aspects. While there were objections over the naming of the Phylaxis Society and its use of MPS and FPS, never the less, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. IS But John Sherman and others held sway and won the day. I received a number of letters from members of the Philalethes Society expressing their utter disgust over the turn of events.
The Masonic Light of Missouri was being published by The Modem Litho-Print Company in Jefferson City, Missouri, and so I wrote them to see how much they would charge to print the Phylaxis, they informed me that twelve pages would cost $175 for a thousand copies. We certainly did not have that much money in our checking account, therefore I had decided to pay the entire sum myself.
January 1974, Volume 1 Number 1 of the Phylaxis magazine would be issued. Its first editorial ?What Does the Phylaxis Society Seek?? would record boldly, an historical conclusion, that perhaps was also rather challenging: ?Too often information concerning Prince Hall Masonry is written by those who have little knowledge of Masonry in general and Prince Hall Masonry in particular. This leaves the written work in most cases un-Masonic in nature, and often not worthy of consideration, or seriousness. We often review the official organs of many of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges that publish newspapers and magazines for their individual jurisdictions, and needless to say, they leave much room for improvement. It is the official position of the Phylaxis Society that research into all phases of Prince Hall Masonry is truly needed, and that the true history of Prince Hall Masonry must be written by Prince Hall Masons themselves. It is my honest belief, and a statement that I can prove, that the history of Prince Hall Masonry is. also a history of the Black man in America.?
This historic issue contained, ?Prince Hall Masonry? by the Editor, Arthur H. Frederick, ?John Marrant, Brother Chaplain,? by this writer and would later appear in my book Black Square and Compass, ?Some Important Events in the Life of Prince Hall? by William M. Freeman, ?Prince Hall Public School: First School in America named after our Illustrious Founder,? a directory of Prince Hall Grand Masters, and ?Caucasian Prince Hall Lodge,? also by this writer. The back cover contained the PHA Masonic Structure designed by Allan G. Junier. With the mailing of this historic first issue, the entire hopes, dreams and aspirations of the Society went throughout Prince Hall Freemasonry and also to Caucasian Freemasons, and then the Society waited with silent prayer to learn how it was to be received.
1 Clarke, op. cit, p. 58.
2 Harry A. Williamson, The Prince Hall Lodge of Research of New York, April 19, 1943. The Royal Arch Mason Magazine, Spring, 1971, p. 140.
3 Quote from Haki R. Madhubuti, Walkes, p. 168.
4 Letter to the author dated March 2, 1973.
5 Letter to the author dated March 27, 1973.
7 William A. Muraskin, Middle Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America (University of California Press, 1975) p. 257.
8 Harry A. Williamson, The Story of Carthaginian 1904 – 1949 (Brooklyn, The Carthaginian Study Club, 1949) p. 18, Williamson only alludes to the aftermath of the events.
9 Muraskin, op cit, pp. 258 – 259. 10 Muraskin, op cit, p. 259.
11 W. Irvine Wiest, Freemasonry in American Courts (Missouri Lodge of Research, 1958.)
12 Letter to the author, dated March 12, 1973.
13 Letter to the author dated March 24, 1974.