The Men from True American Lodge #2 Who Served the MWPHGL of Ohio as Grand Master
Please Note: For a complete list of all PGMs of MWPHGL of Ohio go to https://phaohio.org/past-grand-masters-1
According to "The History of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Ohio 1849-1971: An Epoch in American Fraternalism" by Charles H. Wesley, the Grand Masters of the state of Ohio have always held a significant role in Freemasonry in the United States. In fact, there are 11 states (AL, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MS, MO, NC, TN, and WV) whose grand lodges formed out of the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM, hence the nickname the "Mother of Lodges." Before the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM was formed there were two lodges that were brought to Cincinnati from Pennsylvania in 1847. These two along with a third that came in 1848 constituted the first Grand Lodge west of the Allegheny Mountains. The three lodges were Corinthian Lodge #1 (founded January 16, 1848), True American Lodge #2 (founded April 17, 1848). and St. John's Lodge #3 (founded May 20, 1848). The three lodges were officially chartered under the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM (after it was conceived) on May 3, 1849.
For a fuller history of Prince Hall Freemasonry in the State of Ohio please click here: https://phaohio.org/history
True American Lodge #2 holds the distinction of having the very 1st Grand Master of the State of Ohio Thomas W. Stringer hail from its lodge.
PGMs Rev. Thomas W. Stringer, William Parham, Samuel Wilcox Clark, Frank A. B. Hall, and Dr. Chester C. Pryor, whose collective leadership spanned the course of 140 years, were pivotal in helping to shape the Grand Lodge of the State of Ohio into what it is today. Three of them served two years; however PGMs Samuel Wilcox Clark and Frank A. B. Hall served six and five years, respectively. Here is a brief history of each of them.
PGM Thomas W. Stringer (1849-1851) - 1st GM for the State of Ohio
Reverend Thomas W. Stringer (sometimes noted in the history books as Thomas W. Springer or Thomas J. Springer) was a reputed A.M.E. Preacher and Elder of the Indiana District church covering most states along the Mississippi River. To say that his presence as our first Grand Master gave immediate credibility and gravitas to the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM would be an understatement. He had already served as Deputy Grand Master for the territory west of Pittsburgh. Now he would bring the same leadership and direction to the states west of the Allegheny. Although Ohio represents the 7th Grand Lodge there were more than 11 other states that benefitted from the guidance of the Ohio Grand Lodge. Stringer later served as a forerunner for the Grand Lodge of Ontario, and then as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, which later was named after him. Also, a lodge in New Orleans, Louisiana was named for him in 1854.
PGM Stringer was a phenomenal force. His energy seemed boundless as he traversed states preaching the gospel and expanding the reach of Freemasonry. He also found time to lead True American Lodge #2 while also serving as Grand Master for the newly formed Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM. During this era Bro. R. H. Gleaves began expanding Freemasonry beyond the degree of Master Mason by organizing Royal Arch Masonry and the Commanderies of Knights's Templars.
PGM William Parham (1875-1879)
William H. Parham was a graduate of the Cincinnati Law School and member of the Cincinnati Bar, was the Superintendent of the Colored District's Schools of Cincinnati. He held considerable influence of the "Negro" community at a time within 12 years of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The sociopolitical conditions were unfavorable toward Blacks, and yet he rose as a leader within his community.
PGM Parham's term began in 1875 and was preceded by Grand Master Boyd who insisted that it was time to seek recognition from both the European Grand Lodges and Grand Orients. By 1877 there were at least six of these foreign Grand Lodges that recognized Prince Hall Mason Lodges, the first being the Grand Orient of Peru. The others were League of German Grand Lodges, the Grand National Orient of the Dominican Republic, the Grand Orient of France, the Grand Orient of Italy, and the Grand Orient of Hungary.
PGM Parham's years of leadership were on the precipice of marking a turning point in the relationship between the predominately White Grand Lodge of Ohio and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio. According to the Arts & Sciences Lodge #792's account of the history of this period, "On October 18, 1876 on the second day of their Grand session the predominately White Grand Lodge of Ohio held a vote to recognize 'the so-called Colored Grand Lodge of Ohio' as legitimate, on the condition that it change its name to The African Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Ohio." There was an objection to the resolution and the majority voted against the Grand Master, effectively tabling the motion indefinitely. It is important to note that the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio had no intention of changing its name. In fact Parham was adamant about this, stating, "In objecting to the title 'African" we did so because our lodges are not made up of Africans...I admit that we should stand up for our ancestral native country, but having two sets of ancestry, should we not stand up for both?" (Wesley, p. 69) PGM Parham approached this topic with caution, care, and circumspection. The audacity of this tough conversation, when confronted with rejection from White lodges, defined the parameters for Masonry at the time. PGM Parham perhaps is most well known for writing An Official History of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Ohio in 1906.
PGM Samuel Wilcox Clark (1879-1888 & 1898-1902)
According to PM Roy L. Gooseby's narrative account of True American Lodge #2's history, PGM Samuel Wilcox Clark was born in Cincinnati, Ohio July 25, 1846. He was initiated and raised in 1870 in True American Lodge and served as Worshipful Master 1872 to 1879. Of course his term as WM was immediately followed by his election as Grand Master. PGM Clark wrote the first history book on minority Masonry. The book was entitled Negro Mason in Equity in the United States.
At the end of the century the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio reportedly had only 13 Past Grand Masters since its inception in 1849. That is 13 PGMs over 51 years! If we look at the early pattern with the leadership of our 1st PGM Thomas W. Stringer, you will notice that there was no single logic to the length of a term. Some PGMs served 1-2 years and others served 4-6 years and beyond. As we can see with the years PGM Clark led the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM, he started with a nine-year term (1879-1888), then he had a gap of ten years (1888-1898) before being re-elected to serve a four year term. There were also over 1000 members in over 100 chartered lodges. This was truly yeoman's work!
During PGM Clark's leadership he published an essay "Negro Mason in Equity" in the 1886 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, and it was later issues as a pamphlet. This treatise steeped in legal and political discourse was a plea for recognition of Black lodges being universally recognized by White lodges domestically and globally. PGM Clark deployed his legal expertise as an attorney in the formulation of his arguments. This interest in full and universal recognition among all Freemasons would become the concern of future Grand Masters as well. It has in fact led to the present condition of Freemasonry, in which predominately White Grand Lodges in all except 9 states in the U.S. recognize Prince Hall Freemasonry and enjoy reciprocity such that they are welcome in one another's lodges and are able to collaborate on initiatives.
PGM Frank A. B. Hall (1925-1930)
Frank Alfred Butcher Hall was a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He served 11 years (1897-1908) in the Cincinnati Police Department as a patrolman before getting promoted to Detective, a position he held for the subsequent 18 years (1908-1926). He was a civically minded individual who served as the first Negro citizen to hold a seat on the Cincinnati City Council. Hall worked tirelessly on behalf of Freemasonry. He was WM of True American Lodge 1869-1871 and again in 1880. He was elected as the 22nd Grand Master in 1925.
According to Chapter Seven of Inside Prince Hall (2003), by David L. Gray (Edited by Tony Pope) Published by Australian New Zealand Masonic Research Council & Anchor Communications, by the start of PGM Hall's term there were 3,463 active members of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, and there were 67 lodges within this jurisdiction. By 1927, Hall had laid the foundation for the emergence of a new women’s and orphans’ building on the Masonic Home grounds at Urbana, Ohio, on August 14, 1927. Additionally, the first newly constructed Masonic Temple was erected in Columbus, Ohio and became the home of St. Mark's Lodge #7.
Also, during his term, the Grand Lodge established a Burial Relief initiative allowing for support of families of Mason brothers whose widows and orphans were left with funeral arrangements.
Finally, perhaps most noteworthy was PGM Hall's call for greater fraternal bonds among Masons and the appendant bodies such as Royal Arch Masons and those from the Commanderies of Knight's Templars. In fact these two appendant bodies, after reaching the Master Mason degree became the entry point for membership in the Lodge of Perfection, Chapter of Rose Croix, and the Consistory of Scottish Rite. This move toward stronger brotherhood would prove quite prescient given the impending 1929 stock market crash and era of Great Depression in the United States. Unfortunately clandestine or irregular masons seemed to rise during this period, and GM Hall fought this as hard as he could. Despite the new warrant granted to Evergreen Lodge #101 in Ravenna, Ohio, lodge memberships and active participation declined during this period. Yet, GM Hall understood that the continued need for faith, hope and charity would overcome the despair.
PGM Dr. Chester C. Pryor II (1987-1989)
Dr. Chester C. Pryor II retired as the first University of Cincinnati Professor of Opthalmology. Additionally he has been recently named (by Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber) a 2018 Great Living Cincinnatian. He earned his Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from Central State University, and his M.D. from the Howard University College of Medicine in 1955. He completed his residency at Boston City Hospital, a HEED Fellowship of Opthalmic Pathology at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, and his internship at Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati. A former Captain in the U.S. Army, Dr. Pryor is a groundbreaking Opthalmologist who is credited with being the first African American Opthalmologist in the State of Ohio! A lifetime member of Allen Temple A.M.E., he is a 33rd degree Mason, member of King Solomon Consistory #20, and member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Pi Phi (Boule), Argus Club, NAACP, and Funday Nighters. His story is largely detailed in the book Breaking the Color Line in Medicine: African Americans in Opthalmology published by SLACK and University of Michigan.
Dr. Pryor was the 48th elected Most Worshipful Grand Master of the MWPHGL of Ohio on August 11, 1987. He began his term with an impressive vision, perhaps more elaborate than any of the GMs that immediately preceded him. According to David L. Gray's book (published by the MWPHGL of Ohio) The History of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM 1971-2011 Dr. Pryor's trestle board included issues such as finance, lodge attendance, the "Order of Pythagorans,the Scholarship program, the convention panning program, and the Progressive Masonic Conference." Perhaps his greatest accomplishment during his term was the eventual approval of a member per capita tax to relieve the Grand Lodge deficit. Another interesting facet of his leadership was the assurance that each newly raised Master mason receive a copy of Charles Wesley's history book entitled The History of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the State of Ohio 1849-1971. In order to replenish the Grand Lodge's number of copies of this important text it was adopted that lodges increase the initiation fee by $20. Dr. Pryor was a transformational leader who inspired greater commitment to the Pythagorans, greater fiscal responsibility, tighter financial controls, strict adherence to Masonic principles (especially among collegiate lodges attempting to function as Greek letter fraternities).
One of the highlights of his term as GM occurred on October 28, 1988 when a historical documentation of sixteen Past Grand Masters from Cincinnati, who contributed to the enhancement of Prince Hall Freemasonry, was unveiled at a private ceremony held in the reading room of the Cincinnati Historical Society. Among those PGMs who were celebrated are as follows: Rev. Thomas W. Stringer (1849-51), Griffin T. Watson (1851-52), William Darnes (1852-56), Richard Gleaves (1857-61), William D. Goff (1867-69), William H. Parham (1875-79), Samuel W. Clark (1879-88 and 1898-1902), W.W. Cordell (1909-1912), Howard T. Greer (1917-19), Frank A.B. Hall (1925-30), Braxton F. Cann (1963-65), Judge William A. McClain (1979-81), and Dr. Chester C. Pryor (1987-89). For years after his term as GM Dr. Pryor served as Grand Physician for the MWPHGL of Ohio.