I originally intended this post to be a quick blurb about Liberia, but I kept running across information which seemed relevant to my initial subject; before I knew it I was heading off into numerous fascinating directions, and, as is so often the case, what I found could easily be transformed into a book if only the situation were a bit different: firstly that I were a smarter fellow and secondly if I had access to a world-class library.
Fortunately the Internet is getting better and better and there is no lack of original documents available online. My work here wouldn't hold much water in a peer-reviewed journal, but I do think it's a credible survey of some valuable secondary sources. I've also got some academic background in the subject. In 1991-1992 I wrote my senior thesis for my B.A. in history on black nationalism and the Back to Africa movement. My emphasis was on the spiritual dimensions of these movements and traced their evolution from advocating a literal, physical repatriation to Africa into a spiritual re-orientation and cultural return, a voluntary separation of the races within the United States and the re-definition of what it meant to be Black, Negro, Asiatic, Muslim, what have you. What surprises me in retrospect is that in my original paper, 60+ pages long, I never once touched upon the topic of Freemasonry, whereas now I believe it was an important, if not the principal catalyst to the development of some of the more radical spiritual/political movements in 19th-century African-American life.
The Gid, my LoS partner, actually accompanied me on a trip in late 1991 to South Carolina to visit a separatist group there living according to the customs and religious practices of the Nigerian Yoruba, something I only recalled towards the end of writing this. (See Oyotunji, they didn't have a website back then!)
This is a limited and often surface treatment of several related topics and I ask you to recall that this post is not the fruit of years of research and reflection, but a public expression of my learning process; it is thus prone to errors of interpretation. It is also, in a sense, a prose poem in disguise.
The Lone Star in Africa
In Lone Star Republics (July, 2013) I used the title to identify several mostly short-lived republics created by different revolutionaries, impresarios, adventurers and filibusterers intent on setting up new republics around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, largely corresponding to the area (the Golden Circle) envisioned by the Knights of the Golden Circle as the natural location for their slave-holding commercial empire, an extension of the South. These various filibuster schemes may or may not have been directly linked to the larger schemes of the Knights and/or the Confederate States of America. What the Lone Star Republics did have in common were two things: Masonic leadership and the unabashed reference to Freemasonry on flags which prominently featured a solitary star, either on a solid field of blue or red or in a canton of that color against a field of horizontal bars. Various configurations of this heraldry exist and in some cases, such as in Chile and Texas, the flag is referred to as a "Lone Star Flag".
|The Golden Circle from http://knights-of-the-golden-circle.blogspot.fr/|
In my initial musings, Morocco and Liberia were the only African flags that came to mind featuring solitary stars, but I soon stumbled across the flag of Ghana. Looking first at Morocco, I soon rejected any notion of Masonic influence, but I was surprised to see that the flag, which features a green five-pointed star on a red field, once featured a six-pointed star, or "Star of David." While it may be surprising to see a symbol so closely associated with Judaism on a Muslim country's flag, it's actually used quite a bit in Muslim heraldry and is known by Muslims as the "Seal of Solomon" in addition to the "Star of David." Its widespread use in hermetic and alchemical texts may well explain how the star came to be used in Freemasonry, but in this it is only tangentially related to the topic at hand.
If we exclude the flags which feature a Muslim crescent and star or a Communist star and sickle, we also have to extend the list of star-bearing flags to include: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bassau, Senegal, Togo and Zimbabwe.
The stars in these flags are said to represent Islam, Marxism or the light of revolution; sometimes a star is a star is a star, it has many associations and doesn't necessarily refer to Freemasonry. I think, however, that like the Lone Star Republics in the Americas, the star on the Liberian flag represents Freemasonry and its Five Points of Fellowship. As for the other flags, unless you think Islam and international Communism are parts of a conspiracy which includes Freemasonry, and there are clearly people who do, I don't think there's a Masonic connection, although Togo's flag is said to be inspired by that of Liberia.
(A useful overview of Freemasonry in Africa can be found here).
A quick look at Liberia's history is enough to demonstrate why I feel that the lone star in Liberia's flag represents Freemasonry.
Wikipedia gives a succinct summary:
In 1820, the American Colonization Society (ACS) began sending black volunteers to the Pepper Coast to establish a colony for freed American blacks. These free African Americans came to identify themselves as Americo-Liberian, developing a cultural tradition infused with American notions of racial supremacy, and political republicanism. The ACS, a private organization supported by prominent American politicians such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, and James Monroe, believed repatriation was preferable to emancipation of slaves. Similar organizations established colonies in Mississippi-in-Africa and the Republic of Maryland, which were later annexed by Liberia. On July 26, 1847, the settlers issued a Declaration of Independence and promulgated a constitution, which, based on the political principles denoted in the United States Constitution, created the independent Republic of Liberia.
I haven't been able to find any indication that the ACS was Masonic, per se, but many early supporters and members were Freemasons. Attendees at its inaugural meeting in 1816 included Freemasons such as James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key; Henry Clay presided. On the other hand, another attendee was Daniel Webster, who ran for Vice-President in 1838 as a candidate for the Anti-Masonic Party. Of the three man considered to be the ACS' co-founders, Henry Clay, John Randolph and Richard Bland Lee, only Clay was a Freemason. (As far as I can tell).
In addition to Freemasons, Monroe, Jackson, Key and Henry Clay were also slaveholders. The ACS was a mix of slaveholders and abolitionists, many of them Quakers, whose motivations were to mitigate the dangers of a slave-holding society, such as slave rebellions, and to expunge freed blacks from American society. Most of them didn't support mixing with the blacks they repatriated; repatriation was really a drastic kind of segregation. Wikipedia states that:
Critics have said the ACS was a racist society, while others point to its benevolent origins and later takeover by men with visions of an American empire in Africa.
This is an interesting point to consider, as it resolves the apparent conflict between the aims of the KCG and Lone Star adventurers and those of the ACS, which at first appear more benevolent. That said, the rhetoric of the ACS was deemed racist even by standards of the time and some contemporary abolitionists expressed the belief that the "ACS' works [were] palliative propaganda to soften the continuation of slavery in the United States." This belief characterized the historiography of the society during the 1980's and 90's, but more recently this has shifted back to the view that the group was genuinely anti-slavery.
The other colonies mentioned by Wikipedia do not appear to have had an especially strong Masonic presence. Only one leader of the Maryland colony (the Republic of Maryland from 1854 to 1857) before it became part of Liberia appears to have been a Mason; John Brown Russwurm, a Prince Hall Mason, was the longest-serving Governor of Maryland in Africa (1836-1851), the precursor to the Republic. Mississippi-in-Africa was a short-lived colony with only one Governor before becoming part of Liberia.
|Republic of Maryland, 1854 - 1857|
|Flag of Liberia, 1847-Present|
....Liberia’s national flag is called “Lone Star”. The eleven horizontal stripes represent the eleven signers of the declaration of independence and the constitution of the Republic of Liberia; the blue field symbolizes the continent of Africa; the five pointed white star depicts Liberia as the first “independent republic” on the continent of Africa; the red color designates “valor”; the white, “purity”; and the blue, “fidelity”. Although these representations are uniquely Liberian, the flag itself is a replica of “Old Glory”, the national flag of the United States.
Other sources confirm the "Lone Star" appellation; it is also the nickname of the national football (soccer) team.
Although information on Masonry in Liberia prior to independence is scanty, after independence was quite a different story.
Author Chris Hodapp:
From the beginning, Liberian society quickly developed into three classes: settlers with European-African lineage, who came to be known as Americo-Liberians; freed slaves from slave ships and the West Indies; and indigenous native people from the existing tribes already living in the territory. Liberia was dominated by a single political party for over 130 years, the True Whig Party, based in large part on the American Whigs, the precursor to the Republican Party in the years after the American Revolution and before the Civil War. The Liberian Whigs were almost entirely Americo-Liberians, and top government officials were uniformly Freemasons. By the 1970s, there were seventeen lodges at work in the country under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons of the Republic of Liberia, with approximately 1,000 members, and the longstanding sentiment of the tribal population was that decisions about the nation were all made secretly behind Masonic closed doors.
This small clique of about a dozen families dominated the country's politics and excluded indigenous Africans and descendants of slaves from points other than the US. This hegemony and the exclusion of indigenous Africans from the Lodge meant that when a coup d'etat was staged by Samuel Doe in 1980, the Lodge was targeted alongside the existing political regime; the hand-in-glove relationship between Lodge and State is personified by William R. Tolbert, Jr. who was both President of Liberia and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Liberia at the time of the coup. Naturally, the Lodge was outlawed by Doe in 1980.
During the turmoil and violence which has taken place since the coup in 1980, the Grand Lodge building was virtually destroyed and fell into ruin, eventually becoming the home of thousands of squatters. The squatters were evicted in 2005 and the Lodge is apparently currently rebuilding their Lodge building....and their influence.
Early African-American Proponents
Liberia and other colonies like it were only the beginning of a Back to Africa movement which envisioned a literal repatriation of freed slaves. As the only one of these colonies to survive, it would continue to play an inspiring role in the Back to Africa movement, even as the movement took on an increasingly Pan-African character. So far we've looked at predominantly white-led groups, so let's turn to some important African-Americans.
Paul Cuffee (1759-1817) was a man of mixed-race descent. His mother was a Native American and his father a freed slave from what is now Ghana. An enterprising self-made man, he made himself one of the day's richest African-Americans by his early fifties, learning as much as he could about shipping and commerce. After acquiring the necessary wealth and resources, he became interested in voyages that mixed personal enrichment with African repatriation. In 1815, at great personal cost, he led 38 colonists to Sierra Leone, where they successfully established themselves. Cuffee would later envision mass repatriation to Sierra Leone but eventually favored Haiti. His involvement with the ACS was brief; he was too repulsed by their open racism, but the ACS derived great inspiration from his successes; Liberia after all is a neighbor to Sierra Leone. Like many in the ACS, Cuffee was a Quaker.
Prince Hall (1735-1807) was an abolitionist, educator, philanthropist and what would be today called a civil rights leader. He was also a proponent of the Back to Africa movement and founder of what is known as Prince Hall Freemasonry. Prince Hall and 15 other black men were initiated into a Lodge attached to the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The Irish Lodge was a military Lodge and when it left town the men were authorized to operate as a Lodge. Here the history became a bit convoluted, but suffice it to say that due to racism within Masonry it became independent of the Grand Lodge of England in 1827 and evolved into a separate institution for black Masons. Until recently, many "mainstream"--that is to say whites only--Grand Lodges did not recognize it as legitimate, relegating it to clandestine status, usually reverting to the often Byzantine arguments of legitimacy to mask what was essentially racism.
(For an overview of Prince Hall Masonry, see here).
When I first saw the following chart 10+ years ago, all of of the states below the Mason-Dixon line were in white; as you can see, the only states which still do not recognize Prince Hall are below the line in what was once the Confederacy.
|Copyright Paull Bessel: http://bessel.org/masrec/phamap.htm|
According to the Grand Lodge of Liberia, when the original Americo-Liberian settlers landed in Liberia in the early 1820's, it was known that there were Prince Hall Masons among them, but it was not until 1867 that the dispensation was given so that Prince Hall Masons in Liberia could form a Grand Lodge under the aegis of Prince Hall Masonry.
The Back to Africa movement and Prince Hall Masonry have had a long association, dating back to Prince Hall himself.
Although Hall and Cuffee were rough contemporaries, and both were proponents of repatriation, I cannot find anything online to demonstrate that the men knew one another. Surely as abolitionists, education activists and leaders in the African-American community in Massachusetts, they must have at least known of each other, but with my limited resources I'm afraid I can't say much else.
Freemasonry and other Fraternal organizations were certainly an important feature of African-American civil life. In a kind of weird coincidence, there was even a fraternal group called the Order of the Lone Star Race Pride. A book entitled (1910) discusses this Lodge in some detail beginning on page 115. Thing is, this book lists literally dozens of fraternal groups in the South, but the name, not just the Lone Star but the reference to Race Pride is for me anyway, highly evocative.
A third Prince Hall Mason to have a profound effect on Marcus Garvey was Martin R. Delaney (1812-1885). Some have argued he was the first black nationalist. Abolitionist, writer, journalist, philosopher, inventor....he was also one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School and the first black field officer in the US Army, obtaining the rank of major. In 1853 he wrote a short book entitled The Origin And Objects Of Ancient Freemasonry: Its Introduction Into The United States, And Legitimacy Among Colored Men. He had written his first book proposing mass emigration, perhaps to the West Indies or South America in 1852. In 1854 he led the National Emigration Convention and read his Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent; this moment is considered to be one of the foundations of black nationalism.
That said, he travelled to Liberia in 1859 to look into to possibility of settlement; he stayed nine months and signed a treaty for settling "unused" land in exchange for bringing skill to the region, but white missionaries undermined his plans and the outbreak of the Civil War put an end to them. He later sought an appointment as Consul General to Liberia. As Reconstruction began to be curbed and whites successfully began limiting the voting rights of blacks, a group of African-Americans in Charleston again took up plans for emigration; in 1877, they formed the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company. Delaney chaired he finance committee with Delany as chairman of the finance committee and a year later, the company purchased a ship called the Azor for the voyage. Delany was president of the board that organized the voyage but he withdrew in 1880 to concentrate on supporting his family. This was his last involvement in an emigration scheme before his death.
Marcus Garvey (1877-1940), was a proponent of Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism and going Back to Africa. Like Paul Cuffee (1759-1817) before him, who helped to create ACS, he sought to mix business interests with African repatriation in founding the Black Star Line, taking its name from the White Star Line of Titanic fame. Internally plagued with corruption and infiltrated by government agents who did their best to destroy it through sabotage, the Black Star Line lasted three years (1919-1922), but it's impact on African-Americans (in the larger sense of the Americas) and Africans was enormous. Not wanting to overstate the issue, it is of interest in this post because Garvey chose the star for his symbol. Could it also have been a Masonic reference? Was he inspired by Liberia's flag? Like Governor Russwurm, Garvey was a Prince Hall Freemason.
Another of Garvey's creations was the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, founded in 1917.
Interestingly the UNIA itself had many Masonic characteristics:
In 1922, in his perceptive analysis of Garvey and the UNIA, Hodge Kirnon stated that "there is no indication that Garvey meant it [the UNIA] to be anything more than a fraternal order." .... Amy Jacques Garvey later recalled that Garvey became a Mason "through the influence of John E. Bruce and Dr. [F. W.] Ellegor [but] he did not attend Masonic meetings, he was always too busy, so the connection dropped." Moreover, she disclosed that UNIA chapters operated quite freely within the ranks of black fraternities.
During the final four years of his life, Garvey turned even more emphatically toward the Masonic ideal based on secret knowledge. With the defeat of Ethiopia in the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935--1936 and the rapid escalation of militarism throughout Europe and Asia, Garvey revised dramatically his previous estimates of what political movements alone could be expected to accomplish. Thus, he viewed as problematic the absence of "masonry in his [the Negro's] political ideals," noting that "there is nothing secret in what he is aiming at for his own hope of preservation." Garvey was alluding to the evolution of the fraternal idea from its earlier craft stage into a potent political vehicle, one based on the organization of secret revolutionary brotherhoods.
From the start, the UNIA shared numerous features with fraternal benevolent orders. The UNIA's governing Constitution and Book of Laws held the same status and function as Freemasonry's Book of Constitutions and Book of the Law. The UNIA's titular "potentate" was clearly analogous to the "imperial potentate" of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or black Shriners. The High Executive Council of the UNIA and ACL reflected the Imperial Council of the black Shriners and the Supreme Council of Freemasonry in general. The elaborate and resplendent public displays by the UNIA, particularly during its annual conventions, drew upon the example of the black Shriners and other fraternal groups. .... Other features shared with fraternal orders included solemn oaths and binding pledges, special degrees of chivalry (such as the Cross of African Redemption, Knight of the Sublime Order of the Nile, and Knight of the Order of Ethiopia), and an auxiliary Ladies' Division with its own "lady president" (article 5, sec. 5). An editorial in the Negro World (30 April 1921) entitled "A Word Regarding Titles," pointed out that "the Order of Free and Accepted Masons, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and other religious and fraternal bodies have a hierarchy of titles. And we do not see wherein the U.N.I.A. is introducing an innovation."
The Lone Star meets the Black Star
The UNIA also did work to help African-Americans migrate to Liberia, sending a delegation there in 1923 to scope out the situation and make a survey of potential migration sites, a project supported by the Liberian government. Apparently Liberia was going to lease land to the UNIA for one dollar per acre. The plan fell through, however, and the Liberian government cut a better deal with the Firestone Rubber Company.
When Garvey died in 1940, James R. Stewart was elected to head the UNIA. In 1949 he moved to Liberia, where he became a citizen. The Parent Body of the UNIA was located there until Stewart's Death in 1964. Liberian President William Tubman became Potentate and Supreme Commissioner of the UNIA in 1954 and was a close friend of Stewart. Tubman was President of Liberia from 1944 to 1971 and became known as the "Father of Modern Liberia". He was also a Prince Hall Mason. He was succeeded by his VP since 1952, William Tolbert, who was, we have seen, also Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Liberia.
Ethiopianist and Arabist Offshoots
I came across an interesting paragraph in a book entitled Black Pilgrimage to Islam by Robert Dannin:
Evidence of the struggle between churched and unchurched ideologies is also reﬂected in the history of the Prince Hall Masonic lodges where Ethiopianist and Arabist proponents clashed repeatedly. Ethiopianism had roots in the missionary experience as a quasi-biblical justification for emigration. It originated in the work of Martin Delany and came to rest in Marcus Garvey's familiar scenario of a pure African nation. Though radical in style. it belonged to and constituted a theology of redemption. Arabism, on the other hand, was a representation or Islam constructed out of fragmentary knowledge. Like other folk traditions and vestigial religious beliefs it was discordant to the ears of churchmen.
Having once studied this subject at some great length, I saw in this "Ethiopianist and Arabist" conflict a reference to developments in African-American spirituality. Again, "America" here meaning the entirety of the New World. The Ethiopianist tendency is most visible in Rastafarianism. The Arabist tendency was expressed in Noble Drew Ali's Moorish Science Temple and later in the Nation of Islam. In other words, Prince Hall Freemasonry is an important source of both Rastafarianism and the Nation of Islam. A lot of people will find that proposition outrageous, as Freemasonry is often vilified by the Nation of Islam, but I think there's some merit in the argument.
I have long been aware of a book entitled Dread Jesus by William David Spencer. Spencer traces Rastafarianism back to Garvey's UNIA. Furthermore, he
....insists on the role played on the foundation of Rastafari religion by three preachers: Leonard Howell, H. Archibald Dunkley, and Joseph Nathaniel Hibbert. As far as Dunkley and Hibbert are concerned, he insists on their membership in the Great Ancient Brotherhood of Silence, or Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia, one of the "black" (or "Prince Hall") Masonic organizations. Spencer claims that a number of features of Rastafari religion derive from this branch of Freemasonry (including the name "Jah" for "God", coming from the Masonic form "Jah-Bul-On"). Later Rastafari leaders and authors, such as Dennis Forsythe, were in turn influenced, according to Spencer, by the Rosicrucian order AMORC. Rastafari is, thus, a syncretistic faith including elements from the Western esoteric and occult tradition, Christianity, and Jamaican and Caribbean lore (including the trademark Rastafari dreadlocks, and the use of ganja.
This will undoubtedly be hard to swallow, but as Dannin says "Freemasonry was....integral to the construction of black civil society in Colonial North America." Indeed he links the growth in Prince Hall with the "considerable immigration of West Indian colored people". This is a little more credible when we consider that Hall may have been born in Barbados or elsewhere in the Caribbean, although Sidbury believes he was a native New Englander. What is certain is that Garvey was born in Jamaica, and lived there after being deported from the US. He died in London but his body was re-interred in Jamaica twenty years later. Furthermore, Rastafarians consider him a religious prophet, as does the pre-Rasta Holy Piby; Marcus Garvey is to John the Baptist as Haile Selassi is to Jesus. Some even consider him a reincarnation of St. John. A patron saint of Freemasons, incidentally.
The flag of Ghana features the African tricolor associated with Ethiopia and Rasta, with a black star in the center--inspired by Marcus Garvey! The tricolor refers to the flag
Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana after independence and pan-Africanist, also named the national football team the Black Stars and the national shipping line the Black Star Line in honor of Garvey.
As for Arabism, Freemasonry is one of the many sources of belief for the Moorish Science Temple of America, which also drew upon just about every other mystical current from several world religions: Gnosticism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc. although a quick look around the net indicates the "Moors" claim to be the inventors of Freemasonry.
(The Mormon Endowment Ceremony is also drawn from Masonic ritual, yet many Mormons claim the reverse to be true, that somehow Freemasons are practicing a "corrupted" version of much more ancient LDS rituals).
The Arabist element is the Moorish Science is that it is presented as a sect of Islam, despite its decidedly "New Age" potpourri of syncretism and the belief that African-American are descended from, as the name suggests, the Moors, or Medieval Muslims of North Africa.
After Temple founder Noble Drew Ali's death, Wallace Dodd Ford, aka Wallace Fard Muhammad, founded the group that became the Nation of Islam. He was succeeded by Elijah Muhammad who in turn was succeeded by current leader Louis Farrakhan.
Something I learned just now and brings us full-circle is the flag used by the Moorish Science Temple of America:
It's the Moroccan Flag, which if you'll recall was the other flag I considered before thinking of the Liberian Lone Star. Full Circle!
I should pause to say that Rastafarianism or the Moorish Science Temple are not Masonic creations or "fronts". I do think however, that Freemasonic elements have made their way into them. It seems natural that any young man of a mystical bent who later goes on to found a spiritual or secret society, or even a religion, would at some point be attracted to Freemasonry. It was not unusual for young men of the period to have multiple fraternal memberships and seekers, well, seek. Joining the Masons and perhaps finding them insufficient, they move on to other things. It would seem that for a spiritual visionary, Freemasonry might become stifling and limited, hence their need to create a system of their own, borrowing freely from elements of the past. Theosophy, New Thought, New Age, what have you, all incorporate elements from the Western mystical tradition, including Masonry, as well as from various Eastern traditions as well.
Unlike the Lone Star Republics, which in my opinion were definitely Masonic vehicles whose five-pointed stars refer to the Masonic Five Points of Fellowship, the star used by Garvey is more uncertain. I do think it's possible, given the UNIA's link to Liberia. Given that after Liberia declared independence, its civil leaders were virtually indistinguishable from the leadership of its Grand Lodge, it's hard not to conclude that the adoption of what in Liberia is called a "Lone Star" is not a nod to Masonry, especially considering that Masons in the Americas from whence they came were using the same symbolism for their Republican activities at roughly the same time. Maybe it isn't so cut and dry, but the symbols are there, as is a strong Masonic connection. It seems clear that Prince Hall Masonry was an influence on the Back to Africa movement, but even more so on black nationalism; it provided an example of black men doing things for themselves, separately. It's no secret that Garvey worked together with white separatists and nationalists, for they were essentially working towards the same goal. Garvey passed through Prince Hall and Liberia was practically an extension of a Prince Hall Grand Lodge for over a century. Other more radical spiritual movements seem to have felt its influence as well. In the Golden Age of Fraternalism, Freemasonry was king, for both black and white.
I'm sure I've left a lot out and have certainly oversimplified a lot of complex history, stressing as I am points in common as opposed to points of difference, but this doesn't invalidate what is in fact the common ground. I'd welcome any thoughts on the subject, especially as it is one in which I feel especially hampered by relying on the Internet alone to find information. Please, feel free to write and set me straight if I'm wrong and hook us up with any important and relevant information.