California Freemason: Prince Hall, Then and Now

Better Together: California's Masonic Neighbors Partner Up

Across the state, Masons from Prince Hall and the Grand Lodge of California are reaching out across lodge lines.

By Ian A. Stewart

Above: Members of the Prince Hall Smooth Ashlar Lodge No 119 hosted an intralodge barbecue in Temecula in May—one of several such cross-jurisdictional events.

“This is the whole basis of what our fraternity is supposed to be about,” begins Ruben Soto, growing more and more animated as he describes the unique Masonic culture that’s developed in his hometown of Bakersfield. “It’s about brotherly love. Having each other’s back. Pushing each other forward.”

Those are heady words, considering that what Soto is describing is the “Burn-n-Brew”—a casual annual backyard barbecue to which local Masons and their families are invited. And yet to the Masons of Green Dragon Fellowship Lodge № 857 and the Prince Hall–affiliated San Joaquin Lodge № 11, the event is more than an excuse to overindulge in burnt ends and bourbon. It is, he explains, emblematic of a partnership that transcends jurisdictions and exemplifies what’s best about the fraternity.

For two organizations that have not always enjoyed a perfectly simpatico relationship, the Grand Lodge of California and the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California have in recent years grown closer, blurring what for generations had been a bright line between the groups by working together on a slew of philanthropic endeavors, scholarships, and social gatherings. Much of that movement has happened at the state level, but increasingly—and perhaps most profoundly—it’s between local lodges that such partnerships have emerged. And nowhere is that more evident than in Bakersfield, where the Prince Hall and Grand Lodge of California Masons have become each other’s greatest supporters. “We’re more than close—we’re beyond family,” Soto says. “They have shown me the essence of what it is we’re all about. That may be a cliche, but it’s the truth.”

Stephen Hubble, the master of Green Dragon Fellowship № 857, agrees wholeheartedly. “We’re like-minded,” he says. “The one thing we all share is brotherly love.”

While the annual cookout, held each year at the home of Gary Jackson, a founding member of Green Dragons, may be one of the highlights of the lodges’ crosstown partnership, their fraternization runs much deeper than just that. In fact, the Dragons’ relationship with the local Prince Hall group predates their own chartering. In 2015, as Green Dragon was being formed from members of several Kern County lodges, it was San Joaquin № 11 that opened its hall doors to the nascent group, who were charged a paltry $50 a month in rent. That helped the group get off the ground. “Our lodge got started out of a lot of adversity, so I guess you’d say we were drawn together,” Jackson explains.

Over time, that bond grew stronger: The groups have since joined up on efforts to feed the homeless, commandeered a section of the Bakersfield VillageFest to table together and raise money for local charities, and joined one another to assist elderly members of both lodges. A monthly roundtable meeting, dubbed the Smoke-n-Joke, provides a venue for members of both lodges to propose new charitable projects, raise funds, and simply stay up to date on each other’s activities. They’ve come together to restore a Masonic memorial at the local cemetery, partnered on children’s toy drives, and assisted with Children’s Advocates Resource Endowment programs. And of course there’s the Burn-n-Brew, which the grand masters of both orders have attended, and where funds are raised for the local bethel of Job’s Daughters.


Above: The grand masters of the Grand Lodge of California, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California, and the Grand Lodge of Iran in Exile cohosted the 2015 World Conference on Freemasonry.

Within California Masonry, a Culture of Change

That kind of cooperation is intensely local—but also a reflection of many years of hard work at the state level between the two grand lodges. That’s something leaders say had been a long time coming. 

In 1995, the Grand Lodge of California and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California formally recognized each other, an important Masonic procedure that ultimately allowed for members of both fraternities to sit and work together in lodge, even though members cannot belong to both jurisdictions simultaneously.

For Jason Sevier, a district inspector in San Diego and a member of the Prince Hall Fidelity Lodge № 10, even after the recognition was formalized, there remained a sense of trepidation about what intralodge activities would be like. “I was kind of skeptical, like, I wonder if we’ll be received there,” he recalls. But a visit to Santa Maria № 580 for a third-degree conferral put those concerns to rest. “Once we got there, I’ve never seen the kind of respect and love we were shown,” he says. “It was like we’d been friends forever.”

That kind of response has led the two groups to join together on projects outside the lodge hall, too. Since 2012, that’s included teaming up on the Masons4Mitts fundraising drive, for which Masons from both groups gather for yearly Masons’ Night at the Ballpark events with their Major League Baseball partners. In 2014, more than 400 members of the two groups gathered to ceremonially bless the cornerstone of what is now the Golden 1 Center basketball arena in downtown Sacramento. The following year, the groups again congregated to lay the cornerstone for Willie L. Brown Jr. Middle School in San Francisco, alongside its namesake (himself a Prince Hall Mason). Since 2019, the California Masonic Foundation has partnered with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge to administer the C.E. Towne Scholarship Fund, which has awarded $710,000 for higher education to more than 100 deserving students.

Beyond that, leaders of both organizations are now frequent guests at one another’s gatherings, presenting a unified face for Masonry in California. Never was that more clearly or dramatically on display than at the 2015 World Conference on Freemasonry in San Francisco, when the grand masters of the Grand Lodge of California, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California, and the Grand Lodge of Iran in Exile (headquartered in Los Angeles) shared the stage as co-hosts.

On that occasion, the partnership was a powerful demonstration of Masonic cooperation—a reminder that despite their different histories and a legacy rooted in racial discrimination, California Masons of all stripes share an essential bond.

Masons including Grand Lodge of California Grand Master Randy Brill (second from left) at the 2023 Burn-n- Brew in Bakersfield.
Members of the Prince Hall Smooth Ashlar Lodge No 119 hosted an intralodge barbecue in Temecula in May—one of several such cross-jurisdictional events.
Prince Hall and Masons of California lay the cornerstone for the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
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Many Lodges, One Impact

But it isn’t on convention hall stages where that bond is put into practice. Rather, it’s in places like Oakland, where Prince Hall’s Eli Baker № 62 and Oakland № 61 gather each year for a joint St. John’s Day festive board. Or in Temecula, where the members of Temecula–Catalina Island № 524 and the Prince Hall Smooth Ashlar № 119 have held joint toy drives and homeless outreach efforts. Says Maurice Paschall, the Prince Hall senior grand deacon and a member of Smooth Ashlar, “When we’re together and people ask us what we’re doing, we’re just Masons hanging out. There’s no us and them. This is us. We’re Masons, on the square, hanging out.”

And it’s there in places like San Diego, where four Prince Hall lodges and their Grand Lodge of California counterparts visit one another’s degree conferrals and hold an annual golf tournament. Where the Bakersfield groups are concerned, that kind of fellowship can be found in Jackson’s backyard, meat on the grill and ice clinking in glasses.

Soto says the relationship has become more meaningful to him than he ever imagined it would. A few years ago, when he lost his job, Hubble called him with an invitation: “‘Come to work with me, I need you,’” Soto recalls. “I showed up. He gave me a truck with tools, and said, ‘I need you to repair some doors on this house. I know you, I trust you. Let’s get to work.’ In all my years in Masonry, I’d heard stories about things like that. But for it to happen to me, it blew my mind.”

Photography by:
Brandon Trodick
Gary Jackson

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