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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

African American Masons and family tradition

William Clement describes his activities as a Mason from the early 1940s up until the time of the interview in 1989, at which point he had become Grand Master over the jurisdiction of North Carolina. William talks about involvement with the Masons as a family tradition and he explains the broader historical context of the fraternal order. Towards the end of his discussion of the Masons, William notes that he thinks it is important for the historical record to record the activities of the African American branch of the organization, which few people were aware of despite its rich history.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Oh, I forgot about the Masons, gosh, I forgot that.
WALTER WEARE:
We have a family tradition there.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
And that's the tradition, really, the connection. My father was a master Mason in Charleston, South Carolina. He was a member of the Nehemiah Lodge. I looked that lodge up the other day when I went down to visit the grand lodge of South Carolina. But my father-in-law, John Wesley Dobbs, was an outstanding Mason and a Masonic scholar. And we (Josephine and I) got married. I didn't go into our marriage because Josephine related that, but we were married in 1941, December the 24th, and our office really was in the Masonic temple, North Carolina Mutual regional office, and so I was going to Georgia, we were making a tour through Georgia in 1941 celebrating our 30th anniversary and that's really when I met Josephine. But Mr. Dobbs's office and we got to be good friends and so forth. And finally, after we married, and having no sons, he talked with me about Masonry. He told me that, "Bill, I know you want to be a businessman and you are dedicated to North Carolina Mutual, and I don't want to interfere with that, but a little Masonry will not hurt you." And so I accepted that challenge and became a master Mason, was raised by him in his lodge in Atlanta, H. R. Butler. And then right after that I was able to qualify and recommend for the thirty-second degree and I was elevated to that level and that puts you eligible for becoming a Shriner. And so I was made a Shriner. Then in '45 was elevated to the 33rd and last degree and that's my ring. And Josephine gave me that ring. I took the wedding band off and that has become my wedding band and my Masonic ring, and it's all engraved and everything on the inside. So I transferred to Durham and became a member of Doric Lodge, number 28, in 1946. And in 1948 I was elected senior warden and then in '49 I was elected worshipful master of my lodge and served for two years and that makes you eligible to become a member of the grand lodge. And so I started attending the grand lodge of North Carolina and in 1959 the grand master, who has the power to appoint some of his officers, he appointed me as a special deputy grand master and I served in that capacity for fifteen years until 1974. And then he retired as grand master and Bishop Shaw, Herbert Bell Shaw, of the A.M.E. Zion Church, became our grand master and he appointed me deputy. And he died suddenly in 1980 in Indianapolis attending a church convention, and I succeeded him to the office. Now I had to be elected. He died in January; our grand lodge meets in October. And so in October I was duly elected grand master of the jurisdiction of North Carolina, which is one of the largest jurisdictions in the country. We have 20,000 financial Masons. We must have a hundred Masons, but we have 20,000 financial; we have 18,000 Eastern Stars. And so we have a big operation. That's really one of my big operations now. We're in the process of having our regional meetings. We donate to charity more than $70,000 a year. We have a scholarship fund of $25,000 that we give to North Carolinians who are finishing high school going into college, any college of their choice, and it's male or female. And what we did, we established an endowment of $250,000 and the investment from that. So it's perpetual; we don't have to allocate it every year and vote it. We just allocate the funds from the endowment. And the resources now of the grand lodge are in excess of two and a quarter million dollars. I'm glad you mentioned it because that's really been fantastic.
WALTER WEARE:
It's been an important part of your career.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Oh, yes. Particularly in the later years. I've always been involved in Masonry but since I retired and had the time and so forth to give to it, it has really been fascinating and we have a tremendous program, and we are now concerned about helping people. We have an orphanage that we give $20,000 every year. We've given the NAACP $10,000 in the last fifteen years. And we just made a special contribution to the NAACP in connection with their moving their headquarters from New York to Baltimore. And we also give funds to the United Negro College Fund and many other charities in the state and also in the country. Fantastic program.
WALTER WEARE:
In the future, there may be people listening to this who aren't aware that in - well, it really begins in the eighteenth century, what Prince Hall founded in 1787, I think.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Well, Prince Hall himself was raised to master Mason in 1775. He was born in Barbados and he came to Boston at the age of fifteen. In 1765 the British regiment was stationed there in Boston protecting their harbor and because of the tea and so forth and all. He was raised by the British regiment in '75. That was one year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But the regiment moved on, and these newly-made Masons had no charter. You cannot operate as a Mason without a charter. But he had the foresight to petition the grand lodge of England, because the regiment was an English lodge chartered by the grand lodge of England. And so they granted a charter in 1784. I had the pleasure two years ago of going up to Boston to see the original charter, African Lodge, 459. It's now in a vault; they only bring it out on special occasions. They have it sealed and everything and it's under security. But he had the foresight and so in 1790, the grand lodge of Massachusetts was established and he was elected grand master. And one of the landmarks of a grand master is to issue dispensations, and he issued a dispensation to establish a grand lodge in Rhode Island, in New York, in Pennsylvania, and in New Jersey. And so we trace our origin back to the grand lodge of New York. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
. . . King Solomon Lodge, number one, and it's still operating. That same year we established another lodge in Wilmington, Giblin Lodge, number two. And then the year later, 1867, we established two more lodges - one in Fayetteville, which is known as Eureka, number three, and Widow Son, number four, in Raleigh. And in 1870, the grand lodge of North Carolina was organized and we are now planning, today we were talking about it, we are planning our one hundred and sixteenth annual communication in Greensboro, North Carolina, in October.
WALTER WEARE:
That's a nice little sidelight because a lot of historians in the future, scholars listening to this or reading the transcript, may not be aware that, as I was going to say, back in the seventeen hundreds, the eighteen hundreds, and on into the twentieth century, that there was a black organization and a white organization; particularly a lot of whites don't realize that there was a separate organization.
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
They have not come together yet.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Black history is very important because of the legitimacy of Prince Hall. That's why whenever you see a grand lodge that's named - and Josephine's father was responsible for this - in the forties, they went around and got all of the jurisdictions to change the name of their grand lodge to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, to identify it because we can trace our legitimacy to the charter that was issued by the grand lodge of England. You did have three grand lodges in England back in those times: there was the grand lodge of Scotland [pause] Well, anyhow, I better not get into that because I'm not as sure.