Friday, November 18, 2011

Southern Changes Explores the Role of Fraternal Orders in Supporting the Civil Rights Movement

On May 15, 2010 the city of Cambridge, Massachussetts celebrated the unveiling of the nation’s first Prince Hall Memorial, dedicated to celebrating a leader in the struggles for the abolition of slavery and for equal rights, and the founder of the first Masonic lodge for African Americans. Over the centuries, the Prince Hall Masons have played a key role in the development of African American communities nationwide. Recent research has shown that they contributed significantly to legal challenges to segregation.

As part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, noted author David Taylor recently spoke at the Prince Hall lodge about a pivotal character in the Prince Hall Movement, George W. Crawford, one of the leaders in the effort of the Prince Hall Masons to assist in bringing about social change in the United States. In a forthcoming issue of Southern Changes, Taylor expands his account of Crawford’s role at the intersection of Freemasonry and civil rights.

An Alabama native, Crawford attended Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College before becoming the second African American graduate of Yale Law School in 1903. Influenced as a teenager by Booker T. Washington, Crawford later became a protégé of W.E.B. Du Bois and joined Du Bois in forming the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. As an NAACP board member, Crawford led Prince Hall Masons’ support of the NAACP’s litigation campaign against segregation.

Thurgood Marshall credited the Masons for their financial assistance, and the NAACP's director Roy Wilkins said, "The benefits which minorities enjoy today and the efforts to expand their opportunities are due in no small measure to the men of vision, hard work and unassailable achievement exemplified by George W. Crawford."