Remembering Alex R. Jernigan, an Involved Freemason during Black History Month
He graduated from high school in Shreveport where his father, Rev. Samuel Jernigan Sr. was principal and completed an apprenticeship course in steam fitting fundamentals at Tuskegee Institute.
For four years, he was a boilermaker apprentice at the former Lockport Naval Yard in Louisiana. Afterwards, Southern Pacific Railroad offered him employment as a mechanical boilermaker in Algiers, La.
In 1912, he was transferred to Houston and became the first Black to serve as a mechanical boilermaker of a round house, moving to San Antonio at short while later.
During WWI, he served in the U.S. Army attaining the rank of master sergeant and served as the non-commission officer-in-charge of American locomotives (boilermaker section) while in France. After the war, he returned to the railroad.
In 1922, the Masonic Hall located at 220 Chestnut St, now the headquarters of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), was declared by the San Antonio Building and Zoning Commission to be in such disrepair it would have to be demolished or repaired within the next 10 years.
The hall was the home of the Beacon Light Hall Association and meeting place for Beacon Light Lodge No. 50, Lone Star Consistory No. 113, Moussa Temple No. 106 (Prince Hall Shriners) and many other Masonic organizations.
Jernigan purchased the property and renovated the structure to meet building code standards and sold shares to Masonic organizations.
“This lodge hall is perhaps the only building in the area built by Blacks and continuously occupied as a lodge hall from 1908 to present,” said Jernigan’s daughter, Lena Jernigan Smith of San Diego. “The building stands on land deeded to a mulatto from Louisiana by the Spanish governor in the early 1800s.”
Jernigan’s long career in Freemasonry began because of his father who served as the Deputy Grand Master of Prince Hall Masons in Louisiana. Through his father’s urging, Jernigan petitioned and was made a Mason in Keystone Lodge No. 639 of New Orleans in 1908, further serving as Master of the Lodge.
When Jernigan relocated to San Antonio, he joined H.M. Turner Lodge No. 303 of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas where he served as Master of the Lodge for 53 years. A 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, Jernigan was a member of Lone Star Consistory No. 113 and served as District Deputy Grand Master of the 19th Masonic District for 20 years.
In May 1981, Jernigan decided to step down as Master of H.M. Turner Lodge No. 303 at the age of 92.
On Jan. 28, 1984, Jernigan was given a testimonial dinner by 33rd Degree Masons of John Griggs Commanders of the Rite.
He was quoted saying,
“I decided to accept the fact that a man must be what he is, and life must be lived as it is. You cannot live at all if you do not learn to adapt yourself to your life as it happens to be.”
Jernigan was a member of Antioch Baptist Church, senior deacon of the trustee board and a Sunday school teacher for more than 35 years.
After Jernigan’s first wife, Mary, died, he married the former Mattie Taylor of Giddings, Texas.
Jernigan died at the age of 97 on March 21, 1985.
He was survived by his wife; another daughter, Lena Belle McMillan; sister, Rachel Jernigan; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Jernigan’s funeral services were held at Antioch Baptist Church with Rev. Claude W. Black of San Antonio Lodge No. 1 on program with Rev. J.J. Rector delivering the eulogy. He was buried with full Masonic honors in Southern Memorial Park. The arrangements were made by Lewis Funeral Home then located on 1207 South Hackberry Street.
According to Honorary Past Grand Master William Woods of San Antonio Lodge No. 1, Jernigan was a very influential figure in San Antonio and a Masonic legend.
“He was the lead on numerous Masonic ceremonies, laying many cornerstones throughout the city. He also served as the president of the District Past Master’s Council,” said Woods, who served as Deputy Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas. “Nothing happened masonically in San Antonio without him being involved. He was quite a Mason.”
H.M. Turner Lodge No. 303 was consolidated with San Antonio Lodge No. 1 on April 26, 2002.
Information derived from obituaries.