Johnny O. Pitts, Sr.
William A. Method
Frederick E. Kelly
The first stated communication of St. Mark’s Lodge No. 7 was held on January 16, 1852. The Grand Master at that time was M.W. Griffin T. Watson, who granted the Brethren permission to create the first Prince Hall Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, in the city of Columbus. St. Mark’s was the fourth Prince Hall Lodge founded in the State of Ohio, (the lodge numbers were consecutive for only the first three lodges due to other lodges being warranted outside the State by the Grand Lodge of Ohio.) The first officers of St. Mark’s were; Charles M. Langston, Worshipful Master, David Jenkins, Senior Warden and Hanson Johnson, Junior Warden.
Bro. Langston and Bro. Jenkins were both involved in the early abolitionist movement in Ohio. Bro. David Jenkins was born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1811. At various times in his life he was a farmer, barber, paperhanger and painter, as well as an energetic operator in the local Underground Railroad. Bro. Jenkins was a recruiter for the 127th Ohio Infantry during the Civil War and was then appointed to the Freedmen's Bureau in Mississippi. He came to Columbus in 1837 where he became a leading participant in local civil rights activities. He attended sessions of the Legislature so regularly that he became known as "The member at large." He also published the The Palladium of Liberty in 1843 with a group of free blacks in the Columbus area. The paper had a strong antislavery stance and lent editorial support to the education of African-American children, temperance, moral reform, and the elective franchise. Bro. Jenkins served as President of the Black State convention held in Columbus, Ohio in 1851.
Our first Worshipful Master was also very active in the antislavery movement. Bro. Charles Langston was born in Louisa County, Virginia in 1817, the son of Ralph Quarles, a white plantation owner, and Lucy Langston, a former slave, emancipated by her husband, of mixed African and Native American background. After his parents died, he and his brothers, moved to Oberlin, Ohio, to live with family friends. His youngest Brother John Mercer Langston (also a Prince Hall Freemason) was also actively involved in the Abolitionist movement, organizing antislavery societies locally and at the state level. Bro. Charles Langston in 1836 established a school in Chillicothe, Ohio for African-American children. He was a member of the Liberty Party and the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. Bro. Langston was appointed principal of the Columbus Colored School in 1856. He was also a conductor on the Underground Railroad and in 1858 was convicted for breaking the Fugitive Slave Act. Twenty Oberlin residents including Bro. Langston was arrested and put on trial for their roles in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, which involved assisting a fugitive slave to escape to Canada. After the Civil War Langston moved to Kansas where he became principal of the Quindaro Colored School. He also served as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Kansas. Bro. Langston died in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1892. His brother John Langston wrote about his brother in an editorial in the Cleveland Gazette. He stated, “No man of this nation, white or black was ever moved by a deeper love of the Negro, or a greater self-sacrificing devotion to him and his freedom than my brother.”
To understand and appreciate the accomplishments that our early Brethren such as Bro. Langston and Bro Denkins achieved, you must place the creation of our Lodge into historical context. During the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published in 1852, focused national attention on the cruelties of slavery. This brutal institution was still ingrained into the American culture. The Supreme Court decided in the Dred Scott case that an African-American could not be a citizen of the U. S., and thus had no rights of citizenship. President Millard Filmore signed a new Fugitive Slave Law into law. This law established a $2,000 fine and 6 months in prison for anyone harboring fugitive slaves. It also permitted kidnapping of free blacks in the north to "return" to bondage. Thousands of free blacks fled to safety in Canada within months after the Fugitive Slave Bill became law.
Columbus, Ohio in the mid-nineteenth century had approximately 1,277 Blacks in the city. During that time, many African-Americans were engaged as laborers, barbers, cooks waiters, laundresses, teamsters, shoemakers, stable owners and auctioneers. As Lenwood G. Davis wrote, one of the reasons Blacks settled in Columbus prior to 1850 was the relative security of its central location. It was such conditions both on a National and local level that motivated our early Brethren to establish a Masonic Lodge in Columbus.
While building its foundation in the Columbus community, St. Mark’s members also played a role in the development of the Grand Lodge. Bro. John H. Bowles who served as Worshipful Master of St. Mark’s in 1893, also served the Grand Lodge as Senior Grand Warden, Grand Lecturer, Grand Representative and Deputy Grand Master.
Good men have always been attracted to St. Mark’s. A look at the roster of our membership over the years may be compared to a “who’s who” list of Black Columbus. Two early individuals who were on both lists were Bro. Hanson Johnson and Bro. James Poindexter. Bro. Johnson served as Worshipful Master from 1871-1873. Past Master Johnson was a barber and he was said to be the wealthiest Black community member in Columbus with property valued at $12,000.00 in 1860. His expertise served our lodge well. Bro. James Poindexter was another member who stood tall in the face of adversity by participating in the Underground Railroad movement. He supplied horses and materials to escaped slaves and assisted them in their journey towards freedom. During the Civil War, Bro. Poindexter and his wife formed the Colored Soldiers Relief Society due to the lack of support for African-American Soldiers by the State of Ohio. In 1880, he became the first African-American elected to the city council. He was also appointed to the Columbus Board of Education in 1884, named to the Board of Directors of the State Forestry Bureau and in 1896 appointed to the Board of Trustees of Wilberforce University.
As the turn of the century approached, St. Mark’s played a vital role in the Black community in Columbus. Because of the oppression that still existed in this country, African-Americans found themselves with few outlets for entertainment and recreation. The Masonic Lodge along with the Black church in those days held the only activities in which Blacks could participate. Prince Hall Freemasonry and the Black church have always had a special relationship.
With a new century upon us, St. Mark’s continued to thrive and help spread Freemasonry in this Jurisdiction. On November 18, 1913, St. Mark's inaugurated the first of the Masonic Schools. Brothers from all around the jurisdiction had come to Columbus to learn the proper way to do degree work. As Charles Wesley wrote in our Grand Lodge History book, “The hall of St. Mark’s set a high standard for degree proficiency that has been passed down to the Brothers who now fill our beloved Lodge Hall.”
Between the years of 1914 and 1915, St. Mark’s helped found two lodges in the jurisdiction, Menelek Lodge of Marietta, OH. and B.K. Bruce Lodge of Athens, OH. The Grand Lodge presented an invitation to St. Mark’s Lodge to confer the degrees on the members of B.K. Bruce Lodge on Jan. 30, 1915. Bro. John C. Logan, who was Worshipful Master at that time, accepted the invitation. In the history book of our Grand Lodge, it was said that at this event, there was a Brother Mason from Scotland, Bro. George Peter Flemings, who had been invited to observe the work. After St. Mark’s finished the degree work, Bro. Flemings stated, “He had witnessed work of the highest standard and equal to any that he had witnessed by the Irish Brethren at his home.”
Also during this time in our history, Grand Master Cory Adams wanted to have one uniform ritual for the Jurisdiction. He appointed a committee of Brothers to undertake the writing of a standard ritual. One of the Brethren on the committee was Bro. Ray E. Hughes, who had served, as Worshipful Master of St. Mark’s from 1918-1919. Along with helping write our ritual, St. Mark’s also helped write the funeral ritual we use to perform the last rites over a fallen Brother.
In 1919, Bro. John C. Logan who had served our lodge as Worshipful Master from 1913-1915, was elected to the highest office in our mystic circle, that of Grand Master of Masons. He served in this capacity from 1919-1921. Past Grand Master Logan was described as a “man of keen understanding, executive ability, good fellowship and with the confidence the Masons in Ohio reposed in him, he brought this Grand Jurisdiction up to the standard that was the peer of any organization.”
A project that St. Mark’s began in 1919 was the building of a Masonic Hall. Before our present building, the Brethren met on the second and third floors of the building then located at 247 N. 4th St. A Go-Getter’s club was organized in the early part of 1919. It consisted of the younger members of the Lodge, with Bro. John P. Bowles, P.M. Chairing the committee. The Brothers had raised $4,000.000 by 1920, which was enough to make a down payment on a site. The committee then began looking for an appropriate site to build our temple, E. Long St. and Miami was chosen. The owner of the property advised the committee that in no case would he make a direct sale to the Brethren due to their race, but that he would sell through some third person of the opposite race, through whom the title could be passed to the lodge. The committee did find such a person, on July 28, 1920, the deal for the purchase of the property was completed, and the deed turned over to St. Mark’s subject to a mortgage, which was cleared of debt a short time later.
The Brothers then interviewed architects to design the building. The committee chose the plans submitted by a Mr. Neff, whose designs cost $30,000.00 to build. A loan of $20,000.00 was negotiated with the trustees of the Wm. H. Litchford Fund. It was thought that this loan plus the pledges that would be forthcoming would be sufficient to pay for the building. It probably would have been, but the pledges were not forthcoming, and hence the necessity of procuring a larger loan. At this time, the temple was not more than two-thirds completed and the $20,000.00 all spent. In this exigency through the acquaintance of Brothers J.J. Lee and J. Foster Lewis with Mr. Elmer Jenkins, the then secretary of the Clintonville Savings and Loan Company, a loan of $30,000.00 was negotiated. The money from this loan was used to pay off the mortgage and complete the construction of the temple. The building was completed and the Lodge room was dedicated on Jan 15, 1927, 75 years after our Lodge was founded. The $30,000.00 mortgage was canceled and released in 1943. At the time of its construction, our Lodge hall was the first newly constructed Masonic temple in Ohio.
St. Mark’s Members continued to care about the Black community in Columbus. Bro William A. Method was a Harvard-trained surgeon. Bro. Method could not practice at certain hospitals in Columbus due to his race. This forced him and other Black Physicians to turn over their patients to White Doctors if they needed any type of surgical procedures. In 1920, he opened Alpha Hospital, which was located on Long St. to serve the Black community. Dr. Method was known as the “Dean of Negro Physicians”, training several students in the practice of medicine. He employed several people in the area as well as the best Negro surgeons of the city. Alpha Hospital expanded to a social agency, thus the Alpha Hospital Association was formed with Dr. William Method as Chief of Staff. The hospital Association conducted a nurses’ training school which was “the only place in the city where any girl of good moral character and education can complete a course in nurse’s training”. Dr. Method also helped to establish the Spring St. YMCA at 5th and Spring, now known as the Eldon W. Ward YMCA on Woodland Avenue.
In 1928, a young man decided to petition St. Mark’s and was found worthy of admission. Bro. Hathaway Meadows began his Masonic career in this year. Bro Meadows was active in our Fraternity for over 70 years. Bro. Meadows entered the Grand Lodge above on June 10, 2003, he was 105 years young at the time of is passing. At the time of his death, he was the oldest Prince Hall Mason in the State of Ohio.
On May 7, 1935 at the request of Most Worshipful Homer H. Collins, St. Mark’s held a program to commemorate African Lodge no. 459, the first lodge of Prince Hall Masons. The program consisted of brief lectures by the Brethren of the Lodge, “Banner of our faith” by Bro. A. Berry, “How, when and where of Negro Masonry in America” by Bro. W.H. Williams, “Proposal of Prince Hall Affiliation Grand Lodge for recognition” by Bro. Ray Hughes, “Ohio Grand Lodge in the National Compact” by H.H. Gillard, and also a short talk by Bro. Robert F. Jones. This program helped spread more light among the Brethren who attended.
During the decade of the 40s, World War II dominated the world’s attention. Many of the Brethren of St. Mark’s went overseas to fight for democracy that they themselves were denied in this country. Many of the Brethren wrote the Lodge detailing their experiences in Europe.
In 1949, St. Mark’s once again had the pleasure of having one of its members elected as Grand Master. Bro. A.J. Worsham, who served as Worshipful Master of St. Mark’s from 1931-1933, was elected at the 100th Grand Communication of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio. Prior to his election as Grand Master, he served as Grand Secretary 1932-1944; Grand Attorney 1944-1946; Senior Grand Warden 1946-1947; and Deputy Grand Master 1947-1949. Past Grand Master Worsham once stated, “Every Prince Hall Mason ought to be an informed Mason, schooled in his history and tradition as well as in his rituals.” Following Grand Master Worsham’s advice, St. Mark’ s No.7, Glory No. 9 and Pride of the Hilltop No. 110 published a two-page spread in the Ohio State News about Prince Hall Masonry in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1952, St. Mark’s celebrated a milestone in Masonic History, its 100th Anniversary. This event was held on May 17. According to the Grand Lodge History book, there were four Grand Masters present at the banquet from the jurisdictions of Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Past Grand Master Worsham was the general chairperson of the celebration and Grand Attorney Ray Hughes delivered the address. The Brethren and guest filled our ballroom to capacity to celebrate the founding of one of Columbus’ oldest institutions.
The Brethren in the 50s placed an emphasis on strengthening the St. Mark’s Degree Team. We were receiving requests throughout the surrounding areas to confer degrees in other lodges. During this time, the degree team was very organized electing a Captain and a Secretary from amongst the Brethren. Also during this time, St. Mark’s membership reached an all time high with 630 Brothers.
The turbulent 60s saw the Lodge play a vital role in the Columbus community. We participated in several voter registration drives, and contributed to theN.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund.
At the 122nd Grand Communication for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio, Bro. K.K. Williams was elected to serve as Most Worshipful Grand Master. Bro. Williams served as Worshipful Master of St. Mark’s in 1957; he also served as secretary of the lodge for an extended period of time. He became the third member of our Lodge to serve in this Grand capacity. Bro. Williams instituted the protocol manual that we use in our lodges throughout the State. He also passed an edict during his administration that stated a Master Mason most wait six months after he is raised to petition a Consistory. Bro. Williams during his tenure demanded a high degree of excellence in our ritualistic work.
St. Mark’s during the 70s tried to build upon that mystique that our Brethren had created in the mid 19th and early 20th centuries. As Past Master Ernest W. Scott stated, “St. Marks (in the 70s) was in a process of re initiating among the members and officers the closeness, pride and dignity which brought us through to this point.” On December 2, 1977, St. Marks celebrated its 125th Anniversary with a banquet that was attended by many.
In the 80s, the Brethren once again carried the eagerness to recapture that St. Mark’s splendor. We raised many good men during the 80s. The Brothers once again accepted the challenge of preserving our rich traditions and improving on them.
The 90s saw a renewed interest in St. Marks by the Columbus community. Once again, men decided to knock at the door of the Lodge praying for admission. At the 146th Grand Communication held in Columbus, Ohio, St. Mark’s again had one of its members, Bro. Frederick E. Kelly, elected to the office of Most Worshipful Grand Master. In 1997, St. Mark’s became one of the first Lodges within the State of Ohio to have its own website. Since it was designed and went online, www.stmarks7.org has kept the Lodge’s membership up-to-date on Lodge functions and news. With the majority of people now getting their information via the World Wide Web, our website has informed the general public on our extensive history in addition to serving as the first interaction that potential members have with the Lodge. It has been a tool that we have used to move St. Mark’s into the current times.
During the 2010 Masonic year, St. Mark’s inaugurated The John A. James Multiple Sclerosis 5K Run/Walk in Columbus, Ohio. Bro. John A. James who is a long and dedicated member was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis which is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The Lodge worked with the National MS Society to bring awareness to this disease.
During the 162nd Communication of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio in 2011, Bro. Johnny O. Pitts, Sr. was elected the 60th Most Worshipful Grand Master. MW Bro. Pitts became the fifth Past Master of our Lodge elected to this high honor.
From the time St. Mark’s was founded in 1852, there have been 114 Worshipful Masters. Currently in its third century of existence, St. Mark’s is once again prepared to accept the challenges of building on the accomplishments of our early Brethren. As Past Grand Master K.K. Williams No. 7 remarked during a Grand Lodge session “Prince Hall Masons cannot live by our past alone, we must revise and update our thinking, so that it fits today’s needs.” Indeed, with new programs being instituted to help the Lodge and the community, the brethren are prepared to carry on our tradition.
By W. Bro. Antonio O. Caffey, PM
© 2017 St. Mark's Lodge No. 7
John C. Logan