Black Freemason's lodge in Detroit joins National Register of Historic Places

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — A lodge established for Black Freemasons on the city's east side has joined the National Register of Historic Places for its contributions to the civil rights movement, the National Park Service announced. 

The Friday announcement means the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan is considered to be a historic place worthy of preservation, joining a growing list the park service was authorized in 1966 to create to "coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources." 

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge at Gratiot Avenue and McDougall Street in Detroit on Jan. 23, 2022.  The building recently was designated as a historic site.

Owned by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge since 1951 and formerly known as the Amaranth Temple, the building became a landmark in the desegregation movement within American Freemasonry that ran in tandem with the civil rights movement across the country in the early 20th Century.

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan was touted as a potential single-building historic district by the Historic Designation Advisory Board, which presented a history of the lodge in a report it was tapped to produce in 2018 by Detroit's city council. 

The 1924 cornerstone on the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge at Gratiot Avenue and McDougall Street in Detroit on Jan. 23, 2022.

Built in 1924, it is the oldest fraternal headquarters that still exist in Detroit, predating the Masonic Temple by two years. 

The report said the lodge's associations with Freemasonry, labor organizing, African American heritage and the civil rights movement as well as its design in the Neoclassical style by Detroit architect Bernard C. Wetzel all contributed to its architectural and historical significance. 

Prince Hall Freemasonry is described in the report as a "leading early social justice and Black welfare organization, seeking to redress discrimination in schooling, voting, and other civil rights issues." 

The door on the Gratiot side of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge at Gratiot Avenue and McDougall Street in Detroit on Jan. 23, 2022.

The building continues to serve its historic purpose to the present day, the report said. 

The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. 

Founded in 1784 by Prince Hall, the eponymous organization is the African American branch of Freemasonry dedicated to "promoting brotherhood, community service and a positive Black identity and combating racism," according to the report, which cites Nina Mjagkij's book "Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations." 

Hall owned a leather shop in Boston and became the first African American to appear before the Massachusetts legislature calling for the abolition of slavery and the establishment of schools for African American children in Boston, according to the report.

The first Prince Hall lodge in Michigan was chartered in 1859 under Indiana authority, the report said, and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan was organized in 1865. During the Civil War, the majority of Michigan’s African American army recruits came from Prince Hall lodges throughout the state.

In 1915, after the Michigan State Legislature proposed an anti-miscegenation law that would criminalize interracial marriage and intimate relationships, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge organized a delegation to protest the measure in Lansing.

Lawyers representing Prince Hall lodges were involved in prolonged legal battles in local, state and federal courts, according to the report.

In 1958, Thurgood Marshall, himself a Prince Hall Mason, declared that without the lodges’ financial support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), many of their cases won before the U.S. Supreme Court could not have been fought.

A view into the lobby through a door window of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge at Gratiot Avenue and McDougall Street in Detroit on Jan. 23, 2022.

The building has undergone several changes in nearly a century since its establishment.

In the mid-1920s, for example, a movement in Detroit to widen the city's main thoroughfares and accommodate increased automobile usage led to a portion of the then-Amaranth Temple being razed in 1930, after which a in condemnation suit against the city awarded the temple more than $80,000 in a settlement. 

When the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Michigan purchased the building for $205,000 to be their new fraternal headquarters in 1951, the report said, the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood was not yet racially integrated.

In 1985, the State of Michigan House of Representatives passed Resolution 327 commemorating Prince Hall Freemasonry, according to the report.