Friday, September 29, 2006

ALABAMA GOVERNOR, GRAND LODGE UNDER SCRUTINY

An Associated Press article is making the rounds today concerning the Masonic membership of Governor Robert Riley in an Alabama lodge. Specifically, it takes him to task over the apparent "whites only" makeup of the Grand Lodge of Alabama.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Gov. Bob Riley is defending his membership in a Masonic organization that critics say excludes blacks.

Riley, a Republican who is running for re-election against Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, is a member of a Masonic lodge in his east Alabama hometown of Ashland that is affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Alabama, a statewide group with no known blacks among more than 30,000 members.

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Riley said he did not know whether his lodge had any black members. But Riley denied that the Masonic group is racist, as did two leaders of the organization in interviews Friday.

Riley's membership in the Masons has been mentioned on Internet blogs and was a hot topic on a Birmingham-based talk show hosted by Russ and Dee Fine, Baxley supporters who claim they were fired earlier this week partly for pointing out Riley's membership in the Masons.

In an interview, Dee Fine said a governor shouldn't be a member of an all-white group, particularly since Grand Lodge documents dating to 1876 show it bars blacks as members.


The Governor went on to say,

Riley said the comments about his ties to Masonry are "bordering on ridiculous." He said that he knows some black Masons.

"Both Shriners and Masons do a lot of good."


Yes, he may very well know some black Masons. They are Prince Hall Masons, and he is prohibbited by his Grand Lodge from communicating Masonically with them. They certainly aren't members of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, at least not according to the Grand Master.

The head of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, Grand Master Frank W. Little, said he knows of no blacks among the 32,000 members of the state organization, which has 318 lodges and accepts new members by applications and referrals from other members.

But Little denied that there is anything in the organization's current constitution or edicts to prevent a black from joining.

"To my knowledge I don't know of any black who's ever applied for membership in the Grand Lodge," he said. "Is there anything that would prevent them? No. As the grand master, if I heard of any lodge that denied a man membership because of his race they wouldn't be a lodge for long."


But since Masonic law says that no Mason can be asked whether he voted against a petitioner or not, or why he would have voted against a petitioner, and that to ask about such things is a violation of Masonic laws, the Grand Master couldn't possibly hear of such things.

Another state Masonic official, Grand Secretary Jerry M. Underwood, said the group has an ethnically diverse membership even though critics say it has no blacks.

"We have Hispanics and Indians," he said. "In fact, we brought in an Iranian here in Montgomery a few weeks ago."


Why does this sound like a Lenny Bruce routine? Or a scene from Blazing Saddles?

I don't for one second believe that Brother Riley is a bigot. It's also likely that he doesn't know the first thing about Prince Hall Masonry - I suspect the subject doesn't come up very often in lodges there. But I absolutely believe that the press will seize on this as an October Surprise during the last six weeks before the election in the Governor's race in Alabama. Undoubtedly the Democratic challenger will make some dramatic statement over the weekend denouncing the Masons as a bunch of old racists. I wouldn't even be surprised if the Governor demitted from his lodge on live television by Monday morning. In fact, I'll bet it pops up somewhere on a Sunday Morning pundit show. All about how the Freemasons are a bunch of racists.

My Brothers, de jure (maybe even de facto, in some states) segregation continues to exist in Freemasonry in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and West Virginia. In Canada, Prince Hall recognition has not been extended in Ontario. Certainly, some few lodges in these states may very well have black members, but those Grand Lodges that have failed to recognize their Prince Hall counterparts will besmirch the rest of us by their passive silence or their attempts to construct legalistic barriers to recognition.

People are funny social animals. We all tend to associate with people we feel comfortable with. In states where Grand Lodges have extended joint recognition with their Prince Hall brethren, the Prince Hall lodges have not ceased to be. And there are plenty of Prince Hall Masons who want nothing to do with their white counterparts, either. There has been no talk of mergers, and probably never will. Prince Hall Masonry has a 225 year heritage, older than many other US Grand Lodges, and they are not going away anytime soon. Visitation between lodges has been by mutual agreement, and no Mason has given up his right to object to the visit of a stranger. Lodges that have no problem with joint meetings and degree work have engaged in these events happily, but no one has forced anyone to do so.

Unfortunately, now that this story has hit the fan, the rest of us will have to answer the criticism. "Gee, I read that Freemasonry is made up of a bunch of racists."

It isn't.

It was never meant to be.

It only is in a small, isolated part of the world. And the rest of us are ashamed. "Separate but equal" died in this country with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, my Brothers.

1954.

The time has come to put this shameful issue to rest once and for all. A fraternity that espouses universal brotherhood either means it or it doesn't. The time has come to put aside the fear, put aside the rhetoric and extend the hand of brotherly love and friendship on both sides of the color barrier.

16 comments:

Mary and the Widow's Son said...

Bro. Chris wrote:

Unfortunately, now that this story has hit the fan, the rest of us will have to answer the criticism. "Gee, I read that Freemasonry is made up of a bunch of racists.

Fortunately, this story HAS hit the fan and has exposed that Freemasonry IS, in the south, made up mostly of a bunch of racists, and hopefully now we non-racist southern Masons who have been raising hell at our Grand Lodges for the past few years about racism and non-recognition will get some assistance from the rest of the Grand Lodges and brothers outside the South!

On Sept. 19, the Burning Taper called upon Georgia Grand Master M. W. Bro. F. Ray Jackson to issue an edict recognizing Prince Hall Masonry, or to tell us why he wouldn't. We haven't heard from him, and probably won't, as his term of office expires in less than three weeks.

Widow's Son
BurningTaper.com

Anonymous said...

why can't alot of you just accept the fact that prince hall masonry is not going to be recognized in a lot of states. prince hall is a fraternity of it's own. now some of you want to dogg Gov. Riley about him being a mason here in Alabama. ya'll should look at the way he does his job for alabama, not what organizations he belongs too. I think he is a great govenor and freemason.

NCPHAMason said...

No one is asking to take over the mainstream lodges. PHA Masons are not beating down the doors saying Let us in. It's a simple request from members of both sides. Lets act upon the square and meet on the level and say, Brother I will recognize the work you do as a "MASON". Just as one could declare PHA as "irregular" So could PHA declare mainstream irregular for not following Masonic teachings as a result of Racism. Masonic law uses language like "A Worthy Brother" Lets not forget that.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how all of you want to critisize us here in alabama because we don't recognize prince hall. would about all the other states that don't recognize prince hall either? ya'll sure don't have much to say about them. complaining about it and dogging them will only make things worse.

Chris Hodapp said...

Alabama's just in the Masonic news right now.

anonymous wrote: why can't alot of you just accept the fact that prince hall masonry is not going to be recognized in a lot of states. prince hall is a fraternity of it's own. now some of you want to dogg Gov. Riley about him being a mason here in Alabama.

I have no problem with Brother Riley being a Mason, and I am in no way attempting to besmirch his reputation or tag him as a segregationist. I know nothing about his political accomplishments, and I am not dragging politics into this discussion. To be honest, the way this issue was hauled before the public by Russ & Dee and the UGLA guys played out like a pathetic election-year October surprise, that got thwarted by the Mark Foley scandal's bigger headlines. If the UGLA wanted to go on the attack against the GL of Alabama, playing politics was no way to win converts.

Prince Hall Masonry is NOT unrecognized in "a lot of states." It is unrecognized in eleven states, all of which were formerly in the Confederacy. And no, sorry, I am NOT willing to "just accept the fact." Prince Hall Freemasonry is NOT its own fraternity. They are Freemasons, and thirty nine states, the United Grand Lodge of England, and most of Canada agree. The mainstream Grand Lodges of the South are alone on this issue.

It used to be that communication on this subject was slow, imperfect and difficult. But like everything else today, the Internet now makes it easier than ever to communicate with brethren all around the world. If you think that us uppity Northerners (sorry, all my people are from Louisville, and I lived many years in Virginia) are all up here "doggin'" on you in the South, you need to wake up to the fact that you are in growing isolation.

North Carolina gets closer to recognition every year, in spite of the shameful rule change three years ago that was designed to prevent it. It will pass there because it is the right thing to do, in spite of the same 400 men who fight it year after year.

When the GL of Minnesota briefly granted recognition to the Grande Loge de France four years ago, a noisy part of the Masonic world isolated them, pulled recognition, and denied its members the right to visit other lodges. Much of that instantaneous action happened because of this little box you're staring into.

The Masonic world does not need division at this point in time - not that it ever did. It is a pathetic statement that Freemasonry formed into separate black and white organizations in the United States, almost from the date of its Independence. Nowhere else in the world will you find this shameful situation in the fraternity. Even in England's colonies in Africa and India, certainly there were lodges predominantly made up of different ethnic groups. But there was no separate organization for them. They were all Freemasons, all brethren - as the design of the fraternity was meant to be from the very beginning.

No, only in America did we ignore the landmarks and claim universal brotherhood, oh, but not if you're black.

And I'm not letting our Prince Hall brethren off the hook. When young black men join a mainstream lodge instead of a Prince Hall one, there is a certain resentment by some that the "white" lodges are stealing members that should be coming to them.

Joint recognition is not something to be feared. No lodge will lose its identity or heritage. No one ever seriously suggested a merger between mainstream and PHA GLs. No Mason gives up the right to be a jerk and deny a sojourning brother entrance to his lodge. Nothing will stop anyone's secret vote at the ballot box. Nothing forces one side to take the other's members into their retirement homes. And the regularity of Prince Hall origin has been investigated and declared proper by what would otherwise be considered some of the most respected sources on Masonic jurisprudence in the world.

So where is the problem? What is the objection?

Because if it ONLY comes down to the refusal to take another brother by the hand because of pigment, you should be ashamed. I feel the same about brethren in my own jurisdiction, and in my own lodge.

Anonymous said...

we are not growing in isolation. our membership is growing more and more everyday.

Mary and the Widow's Son said...

Your most recent comment was excellent, Bro. Chris. You pointed out facts that people often want to ignore.

I've never pushed for merger between Prince Hall and regular Antient Freemasonry, either. What I simply want to see is brotherly love prevail, and that begins by recognizing ALL Masons as Masons, no matter what color their skin tone.

I thought the Russ & Dee attack on Gov. Riley for being a Mason was a bit cheesy, too. While it did draw attention to the fact that Masonry in the south is still racist and bigoted (and it is), it besmirched Masonry, in general, even more than it deserved. I don't think Russ & Dee ever understood even the basics of how Masonry is set up — they just used its racist heritage in the South as a weapon to swing at Riley.

All that said, it did also show that a lot of Masons pick and choose which obligations they uphold. I understand that Russ & Dee have received numerous threats by phone and email from people purporting to be Masons, warning them that they "shouldn't have messed with the Masons."


Widow's Son
BurningTaper.com

DubC357 said...

Brothers, I am a Prince Hall Mason from Florida, and I admit, there is as much resistance to joint recognition on the "Prince Hall" side of Freemasonry as there is on the "Mainstream" side. I have talked to a lot of different brothers, WM, and PM, to try and understand why there is such a need or want for this division in 2006. And brother's I'm here to tell you its not about race, it not about heritage, it is about POWER and Titles. I can't speak for my white brothers, but as for my black brothers, you have some who are in the position of power and realize that with a merger, they might lose that power, and thats scares them to death.

Like situations in Congress, that absolute power the Congressmen/Senators have gained has corrupted some of them from doing what is good for the majority. The same problem with the Craft as a Whole in the US. The powers that are in position to change Freemasonry for the better don't want to change for fear of losing power, power they put in time to get.

I'm totally for bringing everyone one together as one, no prince hall, no mainstream, no international, etc. Freemasonry in America is bleeding, and this is the time to come togther to stop the bleeding and being healing and growing.

If any of the Brothers or Sistars reading this blog have access to Facebook, there is a group on there call "1st Annual Masonic/OES Reunion Weekend". And this was a group started by some brothers who are of the same mind set a lot of you guys are you posted to this blog; Coming Together and Ending the Seperation. I ask all of you to join the group and submit ideas, the event is still in its infancy and all help we can gain would be greatly appericated.
We are Freemasonry of the New Generation of this country and we need to grasp that opportunity and make Freemasonry as it should be. ONE.

Chris Hodapp said...

Brother,
I agree that fear of losing power is a motivating force behind some Grand Lodge brethren. However, what I have personally witnessed on the Prince Hall side in Indiana has been a greater fear of becoming irrelevant. If young, black professional men begin joining mainstream lodges, as has happened at my own, there is little reason for the existence of a predominantly black, separate Masonic organization. The most useful simile is the negro baseball leagues. When major league baseball integrated, the black leagues lost their raison d'etre and died - very quickly.

Racism is a two-way street. We had a situation in our lodge where a young black man joined us, and was confronted by Prince Hall Masons several months later, who laid him out for joining a "white" lodge. It seems that dong so was "acting white" (a charge, by the way, that was once leveled at a friend of mine by his neighbors because he picked up the trash that was dumped in his front yard). Obviously, this was not an institutional response by Prince Hall Freemasonry, but by a group of brothers who can't see beyond racial issues.

On the other hand, a PHA lodge we have an excellent relationship with has several white members. Why? Because people socialize with people whom they feel comfortable with. A group of these Masons all work at the same place. They have been friends for years. So when they joined a lodge, they all joined together. Which is the way lodge traditionally grew. Which is as it should be.

Prince Hall is not "entitled" to every black man who wants to be a Mason, just as mainstream lodges are not designed to be the last bastion of white supremacy. This is my gripe with the methods and the militancy of the UGLA guys. We can't legislate the end of individual bigotry, and we can't force men to mingle and socialize with other men with whom they do not wish to associate. Demanding Grand Lodge officers to get up and say, like recovering alcoholics, "Yes, we are racists" is an absurd notion. It presupposes that this is the overwhelming position of the organization itself, and ignores the work that many men are doing behind the scenes. It also presupposes that it is a one-sided question, and that Prince Hall Grand Lodges will welcome recognition with open arms.

I am personally offended by the situation myself. I joined what I thought was an organization dedicated to the concept of universal brotherhood, and discovered political barriers that were erected in the way of that noble concept. Political barriers keep me from sitting in the same lodge with my co-author of the French edition of Freemasons For Dummies. It is another side of the same lamentable coin. But noisy confrontation, high-visibility demands and threats will never change the situation.

Instead of walking away in disgust, the men who believe in solving these issues need to roll up their sleeves and get to work INSIDE of the organization. It takes patience, and planning and dedication over a very long time.

Become the leaders who will usher in these changes.

Prove you can do more than bitch and hurl bombs.

Be someone that other brethren admire and are willing to follow into these battles.

And get the job done

NCPHAMason said...

"North Carolina gets closer to recognition every year, in spite of the shameful rule change three years ago that was designed to prevent it. It will pass there because it is the right thing to do, in spite of the same 400 men who fight it year after year"

****The mainstream WM for NC stated that he was disappointed that the vote did not pass, and not to worry, that NC Masonry will get there one funeral at a time. Stating that it's only a matter of time as the older hold outs are dying at a fast rate, and soon they're votes will be obsolete. We can continue to recognize whethere a Grand Lodge says we can't or not. In a short while we will be able to openly recognize each other and visit each other. Only a matter of time brothers, only a matter of time.

Chris Hodapp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Hodapp said...

I think onoe of the most important allegories to this tale is the difference in attitude among the many competing Grand Lodges that operate in Europe. They don't recognize each other either, but they also don't obsess over it on an individual basis. Grande Loge de France members have sat in Grant Orient de France lodges, Grande Loge Nationale de France members have visited the other two, and vice versa. A brother there once pointed out to me that it may very well have been because Freemasonry in occupied Europe was persecuted under the Nazis. Masons were rounded up and put into concentration camps, singled out by Hitler's henchmen right after the Jews. The SS didn't ask Masons if they were "regular" or "recognized." They were simply arrested, imprisoned, and many were put to death.

After that kind of experience, the question of rtecognition and regularity seems mighty trivial in comparison.

There's a lesson in that, if we'd only pay attention to it.

Tubulcain420 said...

amen brother

Anonymous said...

There is simply no way to dodge the fact of hypocrisy. If people of different colors can't meet in the same lodge then it is segregation. Segregation still exists it's just not as blatant. It exists in the public's hearts and minds.

I was going to join my father's lodge but decided against it upon learning of these hypocritical practices. You can't teach tolerance and brotherly love refuse a mass of people based on race. It spits in the face of human morality.

Anonymous said...

If any of you were true Masons, PHA or "Mainstream" you wouldn't be blogging arguments about this. If Gov. Riley is a mason, he won't admit it because he doesn't have to. Furthermore, I think the Grand Lodge doesn't want to recognize PHA because half of the PHA's I know don't act like Masons. It is strictly a social club to them, just like some of the Mainstream brethren I know. I also know a lot of PHA lodges that don't want Whites in their lodge. It's a 50/50 game, no one is right and no one is wrong. Just try to live like a Mason should and you won't have to worry about the rest because God will handle it, but don't bad mouth what you don't understand is how I feel about this. - Anonymous

Devyn Christopher Gillette said...

I recently learned that the Grand Lodge of Maine developed and sells the "Kente Tie," a multicolored bow tie that is worn to show support and advocacy for diversity and toleration in Masonry. The tie draws together cultural African colors from Ghana which reflect symbolic death, renewal and intense spiritual energies with spiritual purity and purification.