I can remember my first encounter with Freemason who were Black in about 2005, something I have never come across before, considering my spiritual journey as at that date.
Since I was in complete ignorance, as I watched one by one many of them booking into the Ramada Hotel, Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham, from all over the country and the world, along with the extra respect I felt they were receiving from hotel staff.
It was in those days of being a digital novice, I set up my studio, as I thought, but for some reason, I started to mess about with the Canon software. That allowed me to tether my Canon 20D in those days, in messing about with some of the features of the software without realizing I had reprogrammed the white balance on my camera.
Not knowing this when the event started, my staff started to tell me that the images did not look right, in my panic to put it right my loyal helpers did not help me very much, on account that operating as an Event Photographer at my new adopted level was as new to them as it was to me including the learning curve of trouble shooting quickly at an event, especially with my Kodak Dye Sub Printers, they were a pain on a half sometimes at various events, but not on this occasion.
However, my two ladies were telling me about Black Freemason being like Devil Worshiper, and stories about pagan rituals of animal sacrifices and walking their dead to the grave and being able to turn their head 360 degrees.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am afraid of my own shadows and such stories, just confused me so much, I did not know how to put a very simple problem right, which affected some of the down times in me trying to solve my technical dilemma as I felt everyone eyes on me as they cued to have their photograph taken.
I was so upset by the quality of the images I had taken, I told my partner at the time, that I will have to refund everybody their money back because the images out there did not represent Walter James Photography.
I quickly started to make a few calls and I was able to refund some money, the following day after the event, the Sunday because I was so in fear of what they could do to me, and the last thing I wanted was the head of a dead animal nailed on my front door.
I can remember turning up to a white door, ringing the bell and a lady answered the door wearing an African garment, with a headscarf, I do not think she realized how afraid I was of her, she gave me back her photographs and I gave her back her money.
Life can be so funny when you are not in control of your journey, and when you allow yourself to listen to other people, who are speaking without any knowledge of understanding of a body of people like the Freemason or Lodge members.
Today that very same lady who I was so afraid of, Mrs. L Watts and her late husband Mr. L Watts, have become like family, and they would often laugh about how we became friends.
My limited involvement with the Lodge activities was only based at the Aurora House, Masonic Lodge Building or Temple, was about capturing images only for their public events, my ability to share more in depth information about them was not as forthcoming as I would like, since I am not a member, plus they probably know how much I love to chat people business, as my big sister once shared with Mr. L Watts. lol
However, information about the different layers of the various divisions or Jurisdictions of Grand Lodges around the world, including rituals, ceremonies for Funerals of Freemason, the location of Masonic Temples or Lodges may be found on the internet, with a bit of effort in your search.
At the same time, I found that just trying to do basic research on this subject matter, of who was the first Black Freemason in the UK, or where was the first Black Masonic Lodge, this information did not jump out at me that easily, as it did with the same questions relating to Black Freemasons in America.
In America, the first Black Freemas was Mr. Prince Hall in 1784, from this one man who was granted his Freemason Charter by The Grand Lodge of England.
Due to the African Lodge's popularity and Prince Hall's leadership, the Grand Lodge of England made Hall a Provincial Grand Master on January 27, 1791, and the rest is history along with its growth in the UK and around the world.
It was much easier for many none white person to start their own fraternal Freemason Order, because of the level of racism in many of the orders, who at the time were very strict on the type of profession and influences of the person who would be a welcome member of their fraternal organization.
The Birmingham Freemason or Lodge comes under the jurisdiction of the I.U.O.M. or the Independent United Order of Mechanics, which is now based in Brooklyn, New York.
They too had their humble beginnings in Preston, Lancashire, the UK in 1757, but due to issues during the Second World War, the British Head Quarters was transferred to America.
One of the interesting things about many of the inaccurate information about Freemasons or Lodge members, who just happen to be Black was that many Black people from African or Caribbean community, have probably got Lodge members in their family and do not realize since many of them keep their association with the Lodge a secret, even those who may be church leaders themselves.
Over the years many churches were probably to blame for some of the false information out there and again probably with good reason since the Bible does not encourage you to be part of any secret society, non religious orders, especially if part of their practice is based on paganism and false Gods
Negative comments from various sources from half truth to serious inaccuracies were allowed to grow and evolve over the years, regardless of Lodge members who were in their congregation.
I myself as a storyteller with a camera, can honestly say that I have not seen anything that may be satanic or unscriptural, but then again would they trust any secrets with me, I do not think so.
However, the lack of understanding I did witness at a Lodge event on one occasion, when the servers who were from certain churches turned up to support the catering company who were booked to cater for the event.
These ladies refused to serve the food for those who were attending, and it was left up to some of the sisters of the Lodge to step into action and start to do the job as servers, for which the other ladies were being paid to do.
Many scholars and researchers have commented on the subject of fraternal Freemasons, and have not always been in agreement, on what is truthful, which in itself has probably contributed to the mystic and confusion about Freemasons around the world.
Since there are so many variations and divisions that have occurred over the years with different leadership, as different Freemason Lodges chose to split and become independent of each other along with how they conduct their fraternal rituals and ceremonies, probably adds to some of the confusion.
It is said the oldest and most respected Grand Lodge in the world is the United Grand Lodge of England who is celebrating their 300 year anniversary this year 2017.
The Lodges in Birmingham come under the Freemason umbrella heading of Mechanics, and as such may vary in how they conduct their affairs from other Freemason organization.
For example, unlike many other Freemason around the world, the Mechanics are for both men and women, and as I understand it many of their teachings are more about scriptures compared to rituals based on long passed down pagan and symbols as seen in other fraternal Freemason organizations.
You will also find a variation of some of the core principles and values, depending what part of a world a Freemason organization, legally operate in that was probably influenced by the original crafts members occupation at the time, the Fraternal Order came about.
Many of the symbols used by many of the first Freemason in history or from the Craft of Stone Mason was based on the true facts that many of them could not read or write properly, so communication by symbols to keep many of their secrets were adopted.
All the Freemason and related organization have a code of conduct that governs their affairs, such as charity giving, which I must say, based on personal experience is done, but a very low key without fanfare, unlike organizations like the Round Table or the Rotary Club.
Freemason Mechanics Order, including other related organization like for example the Odd Fellows can be explained basically like a cooperative, or a friendly society or club, whose members look out for each other's well-being first, for that very reason they would have to have a means of a code to identifying each other wherever they may be in the world.
Membership is open to anyone rich or poor, providing they are in fine standing in their community or business community and churches, membership used to be by invitation only, which may remain the case for certain types of Freemason organization that wish to remain elitist or 110% secretive in what they do behind closed doors.
Freemason can be found from all walks of life, which makes it of interest that in the UK, a Civil Servant needs to acknowledge that he is part of a Fraternal Freemasons Order, and yet to the best of my knowledge, I do not believe that Members of Parliament (MP) have to do this voluntarily as a matter of duty for their contract of employment.
However, a realization has been identified that as an old institution worldwide in its various forms, it is an organization that is slowly dying of membership which is falling and Masonic Lodges are closing down.
For that very reason in recent years many Freemasons Lodges, have become more transparent and open by opening the door to the general public, as a way to educate potential new recruits, especially young people to their respective orders both men and women, along with at times being very charitable in their giving, when there is a need in their community.
Many of them now have websites explaining who they are and their founding history, sadly based on what I see, many websites are, if they do have one, are very poorly done, and many websites for Provincial or Jurisdiction Lodges are also well below what should be expected of a professional body of people in most cases.
But this may be excused, if the senior membership and decision-making members, are old in years and not keen on handing down some responsibility to much younger members if they have any, since many professional organizations today, business views on having a website as a shop window for their business.
With the slow death of Fraternal Orders of many Freemason Fraternities around the world, based on a few conversations to date I have had, many have gone already, or they have started to share buildings as a way of surviving.
It's interesting to hear it said, that one of the biggest mistakes were some established fraternal organization splitting over the years and going their separate ways, which also contributed to making some Lodges much weaker when it came to survival, based on membership and the upkeep of buildings.
Sadly many of their Legacy Story has also gone with them, never to be resurrected and shared, because there is no one to do it, with a true and accurate knowledge of the Order that once was for so many years part of many communities, even if some of the communities did not realise they were there.
As a person who loves to tell a story with my cameras, regardless what anyone may think of the Freemason community and those who happen to be Black men and women of the Black community, it would be so sad, if future generation was unaware of who was who, in these organization of secret fraternities.
Because many of them were fine upstanding members of the community that contributed to the community that they use to belong to, and not everyone was aware they were Lodge members.
The founding members and memberships should not be like a blade of grass blowing in the wind, that is easily forgotten once out of sight, but they should be remembered as part of the Legacy Story of the various Lodges and communities around the world.
Those associated with the Birmingham Lodge members such as Londinium, Aurora and Holland Districts, Star of Birmingham Lodge No. 4, Pride of Birmingham Chapter No. 2, Star of Manchester Lodge No. 4, Loyal Mizpah Lodge No. 1, Esther Chapter No. 2; Rising Sun Lodge No. 1 and the many more in other part of the UK of Black Lodge Members who are from the Mechanic Order or sister organisations or other Freemason Umbrella Organisation should all have a desire to tell their stories.
I do hope, those who I have come to know, should they read my blog they will give some thought to allowing their Journey and Stories to be documented for a future generation since many Lodges are getting smaller and older each year that goes by.
Please note below various links and youtube links that I have relied on to support my blog, as well as images of my journey that I have been able to capture in recent years, which I hope will serve one day as part of the historical Legacy for some of the Black Lodges in Birmingham one day.
Including images from my first Lodge event that went so badly wrong for me, that I have tried to re-edit or resurrect from my distraction due to fear and not understanding my equipment properly.
Sometimes it takes things to go badly for you in life, in order for you to learn valuable lessons in life.
On a final note, those reading my blog, I wonder how many fraternal brother and sister who have passed away and never spoken off again, that I have captured with my camera and my team members at various Freemason or Lodge events.
Just a thought by Walter James the Blogger, and Legacy Storyteller with a camera.
Freemason in Birmingham Hospital Extension
History of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows
The Prince Hall Story
Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masonry