A brief history of Prince Hall Masonry and its impact on the W.M. Stringer Grand Lodge
JANS – Thomas W. Stringer, the founder of Mississippi Prince Hall Masonry is still held in the highest regard today, because of the unequaled quality of his leadership and service to Mississippi for some 28 years, from 1867-1893. Among the significant occurrences of these years are the rise and fall in the states of the freed¬men from voter in the first Mississippi Constitution of 1868 to nonvoters in the 1890 Mississippi Constitution. In this manner the newly freed blacks began their next 110 years.
Almost 100 years had passed since the founding of Prince Hall Masonry in Massachusetts. Attitudes of race were not significantly different in Mississippi in 1867 when the first Masonic Lodge was organized. Conditions got worse over the next 30 years as dreams and hopes of equality and full citizenship faded away into a new era of disenfranchisement and rampant discrimination. Since the birth of Black Masonry in 1775, attitudes of race had become more institutionalized and planted in Southern life.
Social fellowship of Blacks and Whites had not been a part of America’s Masonry in the “North, the purveyors of American freedom, there was no difference in the South, the “stronghold of American overt racism. Thus, when Stringer came to Mississippi, he gave a kind of inspiration that has become a tradition for Mississippi Prince Hall Masonry. Prince Hall Masonry had advanced in Mississippi when Grand Master James C. Gillian took office on December 3, 1946. Not only did Gilliam provide continuity for the tradition of the Masonic family but also he carried out structurally sound programs, which were initiated under Grand Master John L. Webb.
Most significant among these was the leadership directing the Grand Lodge to complete the Masonic Temple at 1072 J.R. Lynch Street, in Jackson, Hinds County, Mississippi. Since 1955, the Masonic temple has been state headquarters for the M.W. Stringer Grand Lodge, Prince Hall Masonic A & F M and its various affiliates. They have historically supported pride, self-help, and the citizenship maintained a legal research and education bureau to fight for civil rights. Stringer Grand Lodge has contributed annually to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Thurgood Marshall, representing the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, delivered the dedication address for the Masonic Temple at its present location (1072 J. R. Lynch Street) on May 30, 1955. During the early years of the Civil Rights Movement when no other locations were available, the Temple’s large auditorium was used for numerous civil rights meetings, training sessions in nonviolent protest. Martin Luther King, Jr., upon his initial visit to Mississippi, delivered his first speech at the M. W. Stringer Masonic Temple Building. Strategic meetings for the NAACP, COFO, MPDF, and MTA were held on a regular basis. The Mississippi Teachers’ Association (MTA) was headed by H. M. Thompson, former Grand Master of M. W. Stringer Grand Lodge from 1970-1972. Mr. S. B. Dansby, a former President of Jackson State College (University) served as Grand Treasurer of M. W. Stringer Grand Lodge. . The second and current Mississippi office of NAACP is located on the second floor of the Masonic Temple Building. Mr. Aaron Henry served as State President of the NAACP from 1960 until 1992. His office was housed at the Masonic Temple during his 33-year tenure as State President. Medgar Evers managed the NAACP activities as its Executive Director from 1958 until his death in 1963. The Masonic Temple Building overflowed with mourners for Medgar’s funeral service. Dignitaries in attendance during the funeral service included Ralph Bunche, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and entertainer Dick Gregory. Realizing the significance of preserving the rich history that M. W. Stringer Grand Lodge has played in the struggle for civil rights, under the leadership of Grand Master Maurice F. Lucas, Sr., an application was submitted for the building to be designated as a Mississippi Landmark. The application was approved and in 2008 the marker for the site was dedicated and unveiled. The marker reads: M. W. STRINGER GRAND LODGE Named in honor of Grand Master Thomas W. Stringer, Founder of Prince Hall Masonry in Mississippi, who served as Grand Master from 1867 to 1893. Dedicated on May 30, 1955, with an address given by civil rights activist and future Supreme court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The lodge has since been the headquarters of Prince Hall Masonry and the Mississippi branch of the NAACP. On June 15, 1963, an overflow crowd of Mourners gathered here for the funeral of Medgar Evers. M. W. Stringer Grand Lodge is a non-profit enterprise designed to train both “youth” and “adults’ alike for democratic citizenship in each com¬munity. Today, the M. W. Stringer Masonic Temple Building is a well—kept, air conditioned meeting place for community groups who desire to sponsor dinners, luncheons, dances, and conferences. M. W. Stringer Grand Lodge still holds to its original tenants and principals of Freemasonry.