Sunday, March 25, 2007

Former slave city's first black cop, perhaps first black Mason in Texas

There are many Masonic symbols seldom used anymore, at least around here — the beehive, for example. I'm sure there are many other symbols once common but now unused.

Perhaps someone more scholarly in these matters can tell me this: Are or were swinging gates a Masonic symbol?

There's a fascinating story in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram (and other news sites, including the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, where I read this story) about the Texas city's first black police officer.

Until recently, it had been assumed that the city, like most other towns in the southern U.S., had hired its first black cops in the 1950s or later.

Police Sgt. Kevin Foster, who is research director for the proposed Fort Worth Police and Firefighters Memorial, discovered something interesting as he went though old police and city documents looking for records of officers and firefighters who had died in the line of duty.

He came across an old roster that had the abbreviation "Col." after some of the names. He assumed these were men who had served in the military, perhaps the Civil War, before becoming police officers.

He later figured out that "Col." stood for colored.

One of those "coloreds" was Hagar Tucker, who had been born a slave in 1842. Freed in 1865, by 1867 he was a property owner and a registered voter, an amazing thing for a black man living in the KKK-days of 19th century Texas.

Tucker's former owner was a Fort Worth city alderman, and in the early 1870s, he used his influence to have Tucker hired as a policeman. The city was looking for a "big buck Negro" who could police black neighborhoods, one who could command the respect of both blacks and whites.

Tucker died in 1892. His headstone, found in a section reserved for blacks in a large Fort Worth cemetery, was deteriorating, so recently, the Fort Worth Police Historical Association, with the help of several police officers' organizations, duplicated the Tucker headstone markings and had them reproduced onto a granite stone that has been placed at the grave. That marker was formally dedicated yesterday during a special ceremony that included a re-enactment of Tucker receiving his badge.

The article calls the symbols on Tucker's tombstone Masonic, but doesn't discuss whether any research has been done into whether Tucker was actually a Freemason. If so, and if he was a member of a regular "white" lodge in Texas, this would be even more unusual and unexpected than finding a black police officer in Texas in the 1870s.

Do any of our Texas brethren have access to old Grand Lodge records? Could you check to see if Hagar Tucker was ever a member?

Though the writer of the news story, Bob Ray Sanders, thinks the tombstone markings are Masonic, I'm not convinced. Two columns and a star — of course these could be Masonic. But swinging doors instead of a square and compasses?

It sounds like Tucker was an industrious soul. After his stint as a police officer, he worked as a porter, then a grocer and finally as a "room washer and cleaner." But could he, or his survivors, have afforded what was certainly an expensive headstone? Or did his former master and benefactor William B. Tucker, Sr., pay for it?

And was William B. Tucker, Sr., a Freemason?

Do the swinging doors represent freedom, either into the afterlife, or, perhaps, freedom from slavery?

Your ideas?

Image: Hagar Tucker's headstone. Photo by Tom Pennington, Star-Telegram.

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  1. Opens gates are a common feature of old Jewish headstones, many of which lead to an arch of laurel, flowers or clouds. Many are crested with the Star of David but I've seen none with a pentacle.

    Some info can be found here:

  2. All of my research has shown that Gates or Doors usually represent passage into the afterlife or Heavenly entrance.

    There were several towns with black policeman in Reconstruction era Texas. Most were not popular as you can imagine and were considered puppets of the Union Army/Occupation forces. For more information I point you to

    By 1935 there were so many Black Policeman in Texas they formed the Texas Negro Peace Officers Association, the first of its kind in the nation...

  3. There is no symbolic tradition I can find concerning the Craft and depictions of swinging, or open, gates. I agree with the earlier comment that it is sometimes found on Jewish headstones.


    Here is a picture of me with a headstone in Idaho City, Idaho, for Brother Wilhelm Lass, a member of my lodge who was a Knight Templar. There is a Masonic section to this cemetary, from the 1860s-1900ish, and the headstones are almost always decorated masonically somehow. This one, which is hard to see the design on, it was one of the first rubbings I had done, shows columns with an arch, between the columns/gates to heaven, it shows, which the picture doesnt seem to, a heavenly new jerusalem city.

    it is most definitely masonic. you are taking the masonic pictures too specifically.


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