William H. Upton

by Wor. Bro. Frederic L. Milliken

My Grand Lodge Sessions are usually just the most inspiring moments of my year. They are well run, move right along and have many interspersed social times, like an awards luncheon and a Family Banquet with a special guest speaker. It makes it seem much more clannish as the Heroines of Jericho and Eastern Star have their Grand Sessions at the same time and in the same building and/or hotel that we all use. So when we get together the whole Masonic family gathers and on the last day of Summer Session installations for the three are done together all in one place.

And my Grand Master Wilbert M. Curtis is the kindest, most soft spoken man I have met that has ever sat in any Grand East I have been associated with. And he is always very accessible to everyone. At summer session I happened in conversation with Grand Master Curtis to mention that I was doing some research on William H. Upton and his eyes instantly lit up. "I have something for you," he said but as if it was a Christmas present that I couldn't open until that special day had arrived, he said no more.

I had forgotten all about that brief conversation but Grand Master Curtis had not. We had just adjourned winter session when I heard my name called. "Brother Milliken" echoed in the hall but I couldn't fathom where the voice was coming from. Finally the Brother next to me nudged me and pointed to the Grand Master. And when I went up to the East to see what he wanted he handed me a DVD and said, "Here is that information on William Upton". I stammered, "But when am I going to be able to get this back to you?" "Don't worry about that, whenever we next meet", he replied.

Now this was really something quite special. It was a DVD of the joint Prince Hall/Mainstream Masonic Memorial Ceremony and monument dedication of June 8, 1991 in Walla Walla, Washington.

By now perhaps you are asking who was William H. Upton and why was a monument being dedicated to him? This remarkable man was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Washington State Mainstream Masonry in 1898 who first recognized Prince Hall Masonry. Yes I said 1898! To let you know how long ago that was, William McKinley was President and we had declared war on Spain. Teddy Roosevelt led the charge up San Juan Hill and the Buffalo Soldiers were in the thick of the battle.

But tremendous pressure was brought on the Grand Lodge of Washington including losing Mainstream recognition in many other states. So the recognition of Prince Hall was rescinded. But William Upton never ceased working to try to reinstitute the recognition. When he died his will stated that there was not to be any marker on his grave until such time as Black Masonry and White Masonry had joined in mutual recognition in Washington state.

It took almost a hundred years but in 1990 the two Grand Lodges were joined in mutual recognition. And on June 8, 1991 Both Grand Lodges gathered to now lay a marker on William Upton's grave.

The DVD which the Grand Master gave me showed the full ceremony that day. Both Grand Lodges marching down the road to the cemetery in full Masonic dress, Prince Hall members on one side of the road and Mainstream on the other. Side by side they marched in this huge long line.

And when they got to the cemetery there were speeches and prayers and hugs and recognition of William Upton's surviving family that were there that day.

And above all there was the ceremony of the tombstone dedication where members of both Grand Lodges using the working tools of a Master Mason declared the work of engraved stone square, level and plumb. And as the veil was lifted from the stone all could read these words inscribed on it.

"This memorial commerates the fruition of the last will and testament of William H. Upton MW Past Grand Master Wash. F & AM who desired that all Masons regardless of color, should dwell together as recognized Masonic Brethren. This was accomplished in 1990 by actions of both Grand Lodges MW GL F&AM of Wash. and MW Prince Hall GL F&AM of Wash. Dedicated June 8, 1991 AL 5991"

If you go to the Internet you will find very little information about William H. Upton even though he authored the work "Light On A Dark Subject". Neither the Grand Lodge of Washington Mainstream or The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington show any material to this man on their websites. One of the few places that has anything solid on the man is Phoenixmasonry, that well run repository of so much fraternal history and objects. See:

That's a crime. This Mason that should be revered and talked about and written about so that his story is within easy reach of any casual observer. As I sit here burning this DVD into copies, I know that this will be one of my Masonic treasures and I thank a thoughtful, kind Grand Master who follows in the footsteps of such a great man as William H. Upton. Thank you Grand Master Curtis!





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