The Prince Hall Masons, the oldest chartered black fraternal organization in the country, yesterday awarded $57,500 in college scholarships to 40 graduating seniors from Washington.

The awards ceremony at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, 1630 Vermont Ave. NW, capped one of the biggest days of the year for the Masons organization, commemorating St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. Before the ceremony, more than 1,000 members and friends of Prince Hall Masons, accompanied by an honor guard wearing plumed tricorner hats, marched in a parade through the streets of Shaw.

"This community cares about its young people," said Floretta McKenzie, superintendent of D.C. public schools, who addressed the group. "Kids are the only future of the human race. We must treasure, nurture, discipline and, above all, love them."

The awards given yesterday ranged between $500 and $4,000. Most of the winners plan to major in computer science or business administration and have been accepted at various schools, such as the University of the District of Columbia, the University of Maryland and Brown University.

The Prince Hall Masons was founded when Prince Hall, a black soapmaker and Revolutionary War soldier from Barbados, received a charter from English Masons to set up a Masonic Lodge in 1787. Hall had been denied a charter from white Masons in Massachusetts.

Washington's branch has more than 6,000 male members in 37 lodges and chapters, and 3,000 female members.