Echo's Juneteenth Spotlight's On Community Leader & Masonic Lodge Representative Mr. George E. Jelks
Dear readers, we are about to embark on a truth-telling interview with Mr. George E. Jelks, a member of Fidelity Lodge No.42 F&AM-PHA (Free & Accepted Masons-PHA) in Long Branch, NJ. Before anybody jumps down my throat, I want you to hear his interview on facts, not what you have been fed about the Masonic Lodge by evangelicals and other anti-Black leadership organizations for the last 25 years on TV. This interview will clarify the mission of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge and how these lodges are a part of our Monmouth County Freedom story here in NJ. Prepare to have your minds blown because the truth of the work, mission, and faithfulness of Prince Hall Masonic Lodge will make the walls of ignorance come tumbling down. I introduce to you Mr. George E. Jelks, Worshipful Master of Fidelity Lodge No.42 F&AM-PHA.
Echo: Who was Prince Hall, and what did he play in abolishing Slavery? George E. Jelks: Prince Hall helped Massachusetts abolish and outlawed the slave trade by punishing those who were involved with it in 1788. Prince Hall continued to work for abolition, equal rights, and economic advancement in the Black Society until his death.
Echo: Wow, that’s a piece of Black history we never hear about. That sounds like something that should be taught in school! George Jelks: Correct, we also have a program in NJ called the “Knights of Pythagoras” Program. It’s a place where youth and kids up until they graduate, can participate and learn more about Prince Hall Masonry and a host of other things.
This is really good to know stuff. On a side note, the Masonic Lodge went through a period of being really demonized by evangelicals between the 90s -2000s. The least that the Echo can do is share truthful information about the Masonic Lodge. Especially people like me who had family members who both supported and were members of the Masonic Lodge & Shriners. Ok, we're going to go on to the next question.
(Below is a picture of the 700 Club, a White supremacist racist organization that initiated a smear campaign in the 1990s against Prince Hall Masonic Lodge Members.)
Who are you named after, and were they a member of the Long Branch Masonic Lodge? George E. Jelks: I was named after my uncle on my mother’s side of the family. And no he was not a mason. Echo: What is the difference between a Masonic Lodge Member and a Shriner?
George E. Jelks: Actually, there are two sides to that question. It’s not really correct, I’ll put it like this. It's the easiest way to say it, you have your White Masons and you have your African American Masons. We are both Free and Accepted Masons (F&AM), but African American Masons are (F&AM-PHA) Free and Accepted Masons - Prince Hall Affiliated you can be a member of either one that you choose. There is no difference between being a Shriner or a Master Mason, we are one in the same. First of all, you have to be a Master Mason to be a Shriner. Whatever side you pick, whether White or African American Mason you have to first be a Master Mason. That’s the foundation of the pyramid, on the bottom of it is your Master Mason, which represents the Blue Lodge. On the right side of the pyramid is Red House (HRAM) “Holy Royal Arch Masons'' and that represents the York Rite. On the left side of the pyramid is the “Scottish Rite” Masons to achieve your degrees up to the 32nd, and the 33rd and last degree. So at the top of the pyramid sits the Shrine (A.E.A.O.N.M.S) or “Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine”.
Echo: Thank you and very good.
How does race consciousness affect your work? Do you see yourself as a leader who advances issues of race or society or both? Is there a distinction?
George E. Jelks: I’m currently retired. So race doesn’t affect my work. When I was working I was a Sheriff’s Officer and in the NJ National Guard at the same time, currently, I’m retired from both. Racism is all over the U.S., so you just have to pick your workspace. We as African Americans hit the glass ceiling at one time or another, we just have to break through that glass ceiling to achieve greater heights. I don’t see myself as a leader because in masonry everyone has a chance to be the leader of your lodge which is called the “Worshipful Master.” Once you achieve that title in N.J.. you can only hold that position for no more than two years consecutively, then someone else comes up. This is so everyone has a chance to become the leader of their lodge. Once you have completed your first year you are considered a Past Master, but since I’m still the “Worshipful Master”, I retain this position until June 2023. There’s also a Chain of Command, my Senior Warden is Brother Brandon E. Harris. He will move to the east to become the “Worshipful Master” of the lodge per the (MWPHGLNJ) Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge State of NJ, Book of Constitutions as of June 2023. Echo: What’s your title now?
(Below Fidelity Lodge No.42 F&AM-PHA (Free & Accepted Masons-PHA) of Long Branch, NJ. members)
George E. Jelks I am the Worshipful Master of Fidelity Lodge No.42 F&AM-PHA in Long Branch, NJ. A subordinate lodge in the 4th Masonic District of the (MWPHGLNJ), which is led by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of NJ-PHA Echo: Would you say that this opportunity of being a masonic lodge member provides character-building skills of pride, manhood, ethics, plus leadership building? George E. Jelks: Freemasonry is the oldest Fraternal Organization in the World, my lodge was established on June 2, 1889. Echo: Masonry is the oldest fraternity in the U.S.? George E. Jelks: Yes, and I would say worldwide.
(Picture here is Count Baise of Red Bank. A famous Prince Hall Free Mason Affiliate of Red Bank)
Echo: Wow, I did some research, and I found that historically there were certain institutions where Black men could have and exercise opportunities of authority. Both of those institutions were the Black church and masonic lodges. I had the chance to talk to and interview Trustee Jones of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. He shared great information about the history of the Black church and other institutions such as the Masonic lodges that Black people founded. And that these historical institutions are instrumental in the building of character for coming of age young men. I remember visiting the lodge in Red Bank, seeing Brother Hubbard's picture on the wall, and realizing he goes to Emmanuel Baptist Church. But today's youth aren't utilizing the historical resources their ancestors left them for some reason. Especially young Black men are not participating in these institutions in high numbers as they once did in the 50, 60, the 70s, and 80s. Do you agree with that?
(Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks at the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Columbus, Ga., on July 1, 1958. (Columbus Black History Museum)
George E. Jelks: I agree our ranks have diminished a lot since the founders of my lodge were around. We are trying to accomplish this by introducing the “Knights of Pythagoras” program to enlighten our younger generation, and to educate them in regards to the Masonic Lodge.
Echo: Yes, this is character and leadership building. And even though you do not see yourself as a leader. I'm listening to you on the outside, and I'm saying to myself, "this man is a leader." And just on another side note, we will get back to our questions. You are the type of person with your sheriff and national guard background who would be a perfect candidate for the mayor's office. There are so many positions that you would qualify for and that the Black community can vote for, and know that we got Brother Jelks in that position, and we know he's going to do a good job. Much like we did in the early 90s with Carl Jennings being the recreation director. When I worked with Mrs. Hastings, Frank Pallone, and Brother David Brown, we got Carl Jennings in that position.
And you mean there's a whole team of you guys in Monmouth County. All we had to do was go to the Masonic Lodge and seek out you guys to hold these leadership positions in our communities? Golly Gee! Okay, we will continue with the scheduled questions.
Echo: How do you feel about the plight of Black men & women today?
George E. Jelks: By being raised in NJ, I can only speak on my personal experiences, because that’s a broad question. But I can speak in regards to NJ, and my experience with working in law enforcement and the national guard. All I can say is I’m glad I live in NJ because all of these killings going on across the nation with cops not being charged with Murder would not be so slighted in NJ. I have not seen this in NJ, not that it doesn’t happen you know there’s corruption everywhere. But in regards to the plight of African American men and women in NJ, to me, I wouldn’t live any other place. I feel that New Jersey is the safest place for me as an African American.
Echo: Right, I feel the same way. I had the opportunity to work with National Action Network in Harlem for my Human Services practicum, and I got a broader perspective of how everything was happening regarding violence toward Black citizenship & mass incarceration. Still, although incidents plus bias policies included NJ, it was not as bad as down south, NY, Florida, California, or Missouri.
Echo: What do you see as your most significant contribution as an African American leader? And please forgive me for calling you a leader. Because in my eyes you're a leader.
George E. Jelks: That’s ok, I’m giving back to the community. That’s why I joined Freemasonry to give back to the community. I’ve seen what Masonic Organizations do to give back to the community on both sides of the aisle, and that was my initial reason for wanting to be a member of (F&AM-PHA) Free & Accepted Mason-Prince Hall Affiliated. Annually these are some of the ways we give back.
Christmas Toy Give-Aways
Thanksgiving Basket Give-Aways
Toys for Tots Supporters
Voter Registration Sign-ups
On Sundays, we support other organizations like the Second Baptist Church of Long Branch, NJ by joining in with them to make the participation larger.
Yes, and you mentioned supporting churches to provide more significant participation. That's super important.
Also, as you share that information, I reflect on how essential in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge must have been, along with other historically black institutions that still exist today. Brother Jelks, I get feedback from some of my readers, and they ask, "how come in the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s that Black people own their homes, land, and businesses, but today a Black family has to struggle just to get an apartment?" Black families get blocked for really petty reasons. But now, as I am talking to you, I can see that although lynchings were rampant during the late 1800s' & up to the mid-1900s, Black people had a system that worked despite the odds against them. Black men worked together to build institutions that invested back into the community so Black families could experience stability.
George E. Jelks: Correct Echo: In his book Race Matters, Cornel West writes, “[the crisis of leadership is] a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals, and from a credible sense of political struggle.” (Now you know Brother West that’s how he talks.) smile
Do you see a crisis of leadership in black communities today? If so, what contributes to this? George E. Jelks: The lack of Black leadership? Echo: Yeah like it’s 2022 we should have Black mayors throughout Monmouth County. George Jelks: Yes that’s true but it’s a republican county, there should be a lot of things that should happen fairly but being African Americans we know that we are not treated fairly. So we have to fight and continue to fight, this struggle that has been happening for over 300 years. And they still don't consider us as equals, so I think the struggle continues. Now we have African American leaders, we just need them to move to higher positions.
(U.S. Senator Rev Raphael Gamaliel Warnock. American pastor and politician serving as senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta since 2005)
Echo: Yeah, and we can't forget the scars like, for example, when officer Mayo was running for office in the 70s and a Long Branch police officer shot his son for walking his girlfriend to the door. These type of traumatic incidents leaves scars on our people's psyches. Then we as a community wonder if one of our local leaders runs for office, will that happen to him or her? So the traumatic event causes us to pause, but cowards don't win wars, so we must band together. Because people could have folded up and closed shop and said there's nothing we can do. And just given up under the pressure of "learned helplessness." But you guys didn't do that. Free & Accepted Masons-PHA continued to carry on the community's tradition of community service to the churches and children, no matter how small the number. That's noteworthy, and I think that's a beautiful, incredible thing. http ://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/equity/projects/infantmortality/session2.2.pdf
How do the Masonic Lodge traditions build character in a man? George E. Jelks: In Prince Hall Masonry the Lodge builds character in men to be able to fulfill their duties as a man, a citizen, a husband, and a father humbly. Believing in a Higher Power is firmly founded in our beliefs. Prince Hall Lodge members are able to be benevolent, a dream of Masonic tolerance that no man is regarded for his worldly wealth or honors. It is the “Internal and not the External” qualifications that recommend a man to Masonry. This is why we are looking forward to launching the “Knights of Pythagoras” program for young men. In order to reintroduce them to character-building culturally sensitive activities to empower them to be men of consciousness.
Echo: Who are the people who have been most significant in helping you develop your leadership talents and empathy for your people? George E. Jelks: My mother and my father, Mr. & Mrs. Alphonso Jelks Sr. have been together for over 60 years until my mother passed away last July 2021. My masonic brothers have been with me since I was raised from a dead level to perpendicular. That’s it, my family and my masonic family, US Army, and the Sheriff’s Office.
Echo: Brother Jelks, all I can say is that this interview has been both enlightening and has re-instilled hope in my heart for humanity. It’s good to know that there are a group of men who are able and willing to assist our young people in being the best they can be. As well as continue to serve our local community. In the noble and faithful tradition that our ancestors and Brother Prince Hall did in the past.
Dear readers, please support the “Knights of Pythagoras” Program offered by Free & Accepted Masons-PHA.
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