FORT WORTH -- Treasures from the 136-year history of African-American Freemasonry in Texas will be unveiled today with the grand opening of the Wilbert M. Curtis Texas Prince Hall Library Museum.
The museum in the Prince Hall Grand Masonic Temple, 3433 Martin Luther King Freeway, opens at 9:15 a.m. with a ribbon cutting.
For more than a year Curtis, the lodge's grand master, led the effort to create and fill the museum, said Frank Jackson, the lodge's grand junior warden.
"Everyone who wants to preserve artifacts from their Texas lodges can send them here," Jackson said.
Plenty of people have, said Willie High Coleman Jr., chairman of the lodge's charitable foundation. Some of it is genealogical gold.
"We have records of membership applications," he said. "The applicants would have to tell everything about their families. For some of them, there's no other record that thorough."
The Lodge Room displays ornate furnishings and ritual items used by Prince Hall members for more than 60 years.
The collection includes an 1876 charter for San Antonio Lodge No. 1, the first lodge in Texas. Along one wall are massive portraits of past grand masters.
Smaller portraits depict such lodge members as William "Gooseneck Bill" McDonald, the first African-American millionaire in Texas.
"Gooseneck is probably the reason that the Prince Hall Grand Lodge is in Fort Worth," Coleman said.
African-American Freemasonry was born when Prince Hall received a charter in 1776 from the Grand Lodge of England and established the first lodge, in Massachusetts, Jackson said.
"He was the first leader of African-American Masonry," he said.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization with charitable endeavors, said Burrell Parmer, senior warden for San Antonio Lodge No. 1.
"But it's for the individual person to look into their heart and decide whether they want to exemplify the principles of Masonry: relief for widows and orphans, morality and being a stand-up individual and brotherly love," he said.
For all of its existence in Texas, Freemasonry has also been a rallying point for men and women of character, Jackson said.
"Preachers, teachers, lawyers, doctors and bankers who helped develop communities and led their neighbors during catastrophes," he said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620