This beautifully crisp photo depicts a gathering of Prince Hall Masons in front of Saint John A.M.E. Zion‘s distinctive Gothic arches during the church’s construction. Dated 1914-1915, I do not know who took the photograph (though it seems to have passed through the hands of Wilton M. Bethel), the specific occasion for the photograph, or whether it features only members of Mount Hebron Lodge No. 42, whose lodge was just across Smith Street. I do know that it is fantastic in every detail.
Though my focus is on the men assembled at center, the edges of the image are rich with detail as well — the boy in a newsboy cap perched on the scaffolding; the boys peering over the heads of the suited men; the few girls clustered at right, with a woman in a magnificent hat just behind them; another woman at extreme left, visible only as an eye under the wide brim of her hat.
Of the 36 men depicted, as of now, I have only been able to identify only eleven certain and a few possibles. Do you recognize any others?
And a question to any Prince Hall Masons, do the medallions, swords, aprons, or other regalia disclose anything public about the wearer’s status or office within the lodge?
Rev. Halley B. Taylor (1879-??), Worshipful Master, Presbyterian minister.
Julius F. Freeman Sr. (1844-1927), carpenter.
Roderick Taylor Sr. (1883-1947), barber.
William Hines (1883-1981), businessman, hospital administrator.
Camillus L. Darden (1884-1956), businessman, funeral director.
Rev. Bryant P. Coward (1864-1940), pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church.
Short W. Barnes (1860-1943), carpenter.
Samuel H. Vick (1861-1947), educator, businessman.
Charles H. Darden (1854-1931), blacksmith, funeral director.
John H. Clark (1863-1949), postal employee.
Probably, Arthur N. Darden (1889-1948), mortician.
Probably, Leonard L. Barnes (1888-1952).
Probably, Edgar H. Diggs (1890-1970), barber.
Possibly, Darcy C. Yancey (1883-1957), pharmacist.
[Sidenote: There is something incredibly moving about seeing these men in the early part of what arguably was Black Wilson’s Golden Age in the 1910s and ’20s. Though the photograph was staged, their expressions (other than Sam Vick, who was obviously accustomed to formal portrait-posing) are almost candid. They are a mix of old heads, born in the final days of slavery, and a new generation of young lions. I was surprised by my instant recognition of Charles and Camillus Darden and William Hines. It took me longer to realize my own grandfather stood at far left. My identification of Arthur N. Darden is based in part on his close resemblance to his mother, Dinah Scarborough Darden. Most of the others I was able to name only after reviewing other photos of men I know to have been Masons. Leonard Barnes, astonishingly, I recognized because of his close resemblance to his grandson, who was my childhood playmate.]
Many thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the copy of this photograph. And a special shout-out to Stanley Horton, Past Worshipful Master, Foundation Lodge #592, Prince Hall Affiliated, for his help in identifying offices and emblems.
[Updates: Rev. Halley B. Taylor and the Jones brothers added 3 September 2020.]