My first impression of freemasonry was in 1989. I was 21 and becoming very involved in Egyptology/ Hermetic studies and all that. During this season of my life, Deacon Otis McClure, or Papa Otis, as his grandchildren and other youth of the community called him, had been called home. He was one of the patriarchs and founders of St. John Baptist Church #2 in East Palo Alto, Ca, where I attended church with my family in my formative years. At the ceremony there were men dressed in black and white performing a mysterious funeral ritual. They wore white gloves and aprons and when his final remains were buried, at the grave site, the apron belonging to Papa Otis was included. These words and gestures of the burial ceremony sparked something in me. In the weeks to follow I would find myself in many discussions with Brother McClure's grandsons, in an attempt to link what we had witnessed to our esoteric interests, American history and the legacy we inherited as African-American young men. This began what would be a ten-year journey to find my way to the door of a lodge.
Later that year I left home to attend Howard University in Washington D.C.I still harbored a deep interest in freemasonry and collected different bits of information and literature wherever I could. By this time I was sure that there were strong connections between ancient, more recent and current history and freemasonry.I met an older gentleman who worked at Howard and noticed that he wore the ring with the symbols of the square and compass. Upon my inquisition, he introduced me to the history of Prince Hall and told me that if I was really interested he would get me an application for membership. Along with this he stated that I would have to "take out the earring" once the time came to enter the lodge. I asked myself, Was I really ready to be divested of my individuality to join with a group of lay anthropologists'? I resolved that I would continue my individual research rather than be subject to the scrutiny of these peers.
While still in the nation's capital I was stopped one evening in a sobriety check. I had not been drinking and so I just waited patiently for the officer to return with my drivers' license after checking my records.
"Did you know that you have an outstanding bench warrant in California?" the officer said, when he returned to the car.
When I arrived at booking, I encountered a middle age man who proceeded with the routine paper work and once again there was the ring with the compass and square. Always one to pick up any bit of a good conversation where ever I can, and equipped with a little more knowledge of American freemasonry, I asked the question: "Are you a Prince Hall Mason?" He looked up from the form that he was filling out for the first time since his questions had began. He stared straight into my eyes and through the back of my head. He answered, yes, and then asked if I was also a Mason. My father was three-thousand miles away but I felt as if he had tele-ported to the moment and that I was on the edge of getting the parental chastisement that a boy half that age would get for finding himself in a situation that he knew "good and well" he should not be. I felt a little less ashamed that I could honestly answer, "no sir" but I admitted that I had been looking into it.
The piercing stare ended and he continued with the routine questions and looking down at the forms he was filling out. I decided to prepare myself for spending the night and perhaps the weekend there when I had a small change of luck. The officer who had made the arrest came up to the holding cell. "I don't think you're supposed to be in here." He said as he opened the gate to the holding cell. I did notice that the officer filling out the form did have a conversation with my arresting officer. Whether or not he put in a word for me to be released early, I can't be sure. What was clear from the comment Mr. Williams made regarding my earring and the encounter with the officer who filled out my paper work was that if I ever did decide to become a Freemason I would have to be conscious of my actions and how I would present myself to the world around me.
Back in the SF bay area a few years later, the ring appeared again, this time on a young man about my age. My growing curiosity in the subject initiated a conversation and it progressed to what he perceived as the difference between Price Hall freemasonry and Non-Prince Hall. His part of the discussion was mostly filled with the claim that Prince Hall was incomplete because it was a "tainted" version of the degrees and therefore one could not comprehend enlightenment using an incomplete set of tools
Contrary to the strange argument that this brother presented, I was left with no negative impressions of the Prince Hall men I had met previously along my journey. The innuendoes of hidden knowledge that he alluded to seemed to be without historical fact or substance, so I was not convinced that Prince Hall Masonry was lacking in any way in its institution of fraternity. It would not be until several years later that would encounter a friend who would point me clearly in the direction toward the door of a lodge.
In October of 2000, I was sitting in a terminal of the San Diego airport at Limburg Field waiting for flight departure. I had just grabbed a ticket and was on my way to Oakland to support my home team, the Oakland A's, in a play-off series against the New York Yankees, and haddecided that I would kill time and do some reading until it was time to board. A gentleman took a seat next to me.How are you doing? he asked. I gave the usual salutation and tried to stay focused on the lessons on the text. What are you reading? Well I guess I'm going to have to engage in some friendly conversation, I thought as I lowered the book. He began to talk about his interest in wireless connectivity technology and our conversation naturally began to take on its own life as we explored our mutual interests.
I was impressed by his ability to find the parts of my personality that would happily oblige the social candor that he possessed. I told him that I was on my way the see the A's battle the Yanks'. The fellow, named Mark, mentioned that he was on his yearly pilgrimage. I wonder if he could see the large question mark I felt floating about my head."Yearly pilgrimage?" I asked.
Yes, I'm a Mason and I am on my way to the Grand Lodge... And the conversation grew.
Mr.Pressey and I spent the next four hours together. We sat next to each other on a plane full of Oakland Raider, A's, and San Francisco Forty-Niner fans and California Masons on their way to Grand Lodge. Along the way Brother Pressey gently satisfied much of my thirst for knowledge and helped me understand the ways that freemasonry is important to me as an American, a man, as a person of faith and perhaps most intriguing, how Prince Hall Masonry has been such a strong pillar in my African-American history, present and future. He helped me understand that Prince Hall was an upright man who sought to lift others along his path and that if I were ever to become a Prince Hall Mason, I would inherit a legacy of labor that has a strong foundation and one that I should certainly be proud of. I left Mark E. Pressey as a friend and later found him to be a brother.
The hoodwink of prejudices that blind some from seeing the light that is potential in all of God's creatures can be difficult to remove. Yet, we are faced with the daunting task of seeing past what society would prescribe in regards how we interact with people of a different race, creed or faith than our own. We learn that as we serve the craft in turn it serves us twice fold.
Chaplain Surfside Lodge #112