A Conversation With Jemille Charlton

Jemille Charlton. Christine Sampson photo

Mr. Charlton, a 37-year-old technical sergeant in the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard out of Westhampton Beach, has been elected the Worshipful Master of Sag Harbor’s Wamponamon Lodge #437 of Free and Accepted Masons. A resident of Noyac and father of three, Mr. Charlton is believed to be the first African American person to be elected the Lodge’s leader.

How are you feeling about being elected the Sag Harbor Masonic Lodge and Temple’s Worshipful Master?

It’s great, actually. It’s been seven years since I’ve been in the lodge. I was brought in here by a family member who lived on Latham Street at the time. You start from the bottom. I guess all the brothers in the lodge thought that the community would benefit from me being at the helm of the lodge this year. We do elections and installations this time of year, and it’s for one year.

To the best of everyone’s knowledge, you’re the first African American to hold this position in the 165-year-old lodge’s history. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s interesting. Growing up out here, I’ve actually been the first for a few different things. It stinks to have to be, but it’s great at the same time. There’s a duality. It’s 2018 and you wouldn’t think there would have to be a first at this point, but there sometimes is.

As I understand it, the Masonic Order in general has had a history of exclusion over the years, with some individual groups not allowing African Americans to join even up to the 1960s, and an entirely separate branch known as the Prince Hall Freemasonry established by a group of African Americans in the 18th century. In your experience, do you think there is any evidence of racial segregation in the Masonic Order remaining today?

Really, it’s all the same thing now. One of the things is to be a Mason you have to be freeborn and of lawful age. That was an issue many years ago. For people who looked like me, there was a possibility you weren’t freeborn. It’s come full circle. Prince Hall lodges and the Blue lodges — that’s just a term for what we’re in — are both comingled now. We see no difference to it now. We are all brothers.

What made you want to join the organization?

It just kind of fit into who I am already. At a very young age I was always trying to help everyone. I have a strong sense of community. I absolutely love being from Bridgehampton. I love having ridden my bike into Main Street in Sag Harbor, being a local kid, and being able to help my community any way I can. I like to leave things better than how I got them.

What are your goals as the new Worshipful Master?

Really trying to get back to having more of a community face, face-to-face work. There’s a program we take part in that Suffolk County does called the Child ID program, with the local police and fire departments. I’m a father, so I think of these things. A lot of times it’s done at the carnivals or firehouse, but I’m going to schedule that here. Also, being in the military and being a veteran, we’ll do work with the Northport VA Hospital, I’m wanting to have more interaction with the local veterans. We need to make sure we take care of our people. Aside from that, we’ll definitely be doing more social events, outreach and work in the community. We’ll also add to our focus the environment. My son has inspired me to do more environmental projects. I know I have lofty goals. I figure if we try to do all this, we’ll at least get something done.

Do you think people have any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the organization?

Absolutely. Look it up online and you’ll see things about people thinking we’re devil worshippers. That’s a rabbit hole. We’re not devil worshippers trying to take over the world. I feel there are a lot of blind spots. It’s all about making your community better. Especially these days. For instance, we have two scholarships at Pierson and we give to the food pantry. If there’s a family in need — which, out here, can happen very quickly — we will try to help them through it. We try to make situations better. And we like to have a good time.

How would one go about joining Sag Harbor’s Masonic Order, if they were interested in doing so?

There’s a process, like there is for anything. If you are looking to do it, you would reach out to one of us in the lodge. It’s all organic. You know someone or someone knows you over time. During our concerts over the winter, there were a few people who wondered what it was about. There’s nothing official, we don’t put up billboards. We look into your character and things like that. If you are the right kind of person on a moral level, there’s a strong possibility that you can become a member. When you join a lodge you’re not just joining this lodge, you’re joining an international fraternity with brothers all over the world. One of the main questions is people’s religious backgrounds. We are completely all inclusive. Everything except for Satanism. I haven’t seen a petition yet with that on it. A lot of us were raised in the church and a lot of people ask if this will replace the church. It won’t, and in fact in might enhance it.