"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South... Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow... Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave... Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind..."
Would that that were true.
Longtime readers of this blog know how I feel about bigotry in Freemasonry. In my view, there is no place in a fraternity that prides itself on universal brotherhood, that hides its head in the sand when any of its members or lodges engage in racism. I fought it in my lodge. I've had Masons from the South tell me my lodge was destroying the Craft by allowing black men to join. I've seen a Prince Hall Grand Master shut down visitations with mainstream lodges because my lodge "stole" black candidates he felt his Grand Lodge "owned." I've had a Georgia Mason who was a cop jab me in the chest and tell me in no uncertain terms that a black man could not be a Mason, period.
Gate City Lodge No. 2 in Atlanta has been gaining national attention for its outstanding programming this year. Its officers and members are showing what dedication to Freemasonry and to Masonic education can do to make a difference in their community. And as the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.
Earlier this year, Gate City Lodge received a petition from, and properly voted, initiated, passed and raised a black member. This brother came to the lodge of his own free will - he was not steered or coerced into joining Gate City. His initiation and subsequent degrees were a milestone in the history of the mainstream Grand Lodge of Georgia—while non-whites have become members of GLofGa lodges over the years, this was different. Because Brother Victor Marshall was the first African American.
The event caused enough controversy in the state that the Grand Master of Georgia, MWbro. J. Edward Jennings, Jr., issued an official statement that Brother Marshall had indeed been properly made a Freemason in Gate City Lodge No. 2.
On June 2nd, 2009, WBro. Michael J. Bjelajac, the Worshipful Master of Gate City No. 2 was served with official charges filed with the Grand Lodge by two other lodges in connection with the membership of Brother Marshall. WBro. Sterling A. Hicks, Master of Philologia Lodge No. 178, on behalf of his lodge, charged Bjelajac with violating "moral laws of Free and Accepted Masons and the moral duties as Worshipful Master" by allowing Brother Victor Marshall to be raised as a Master Mason. Specifically in the charges, the violation of this "moral law" came from allowing a "non-white" to be raised in Gate City Lodge.
WBro. Douglas Hubert Ethridge, Master of Metro Daylight Lodge No. 743, likewise charged WBro. Bjelajac with secretly forming a "Cabal" to overturn the "constitution, laws, ancient landmarks, customs and traditions of Free & Accepted Masons" in Georgia. Ethridge asserts in his charges that non-whites have "never" been raised in a lodge under the Grand Lodge of Georgia, and that Bjelajac "paraded" Brother Marshall into other lodges, shielded by Grand Master Jennings' official letter. Ethridge concludes that Bjelajac committed acts that conflicted with the "ancient customs and traditions which are the immemorial usages and fundamentals of the Craft which have existed from time immemorial and are unchangeable."
In an age when black Masons are Masters of mainstream lodges in states like Florida and North Carolina, as well as the Grand master of the District of Columbia (to say nothing of a black man occupying the most powerful political office in the world), and especially in light of the fact that the Grand Master of Georgia has already weighed in on the regularity and authenticity of Brother Marshall's raising, these charges should have been laughed out of the Grand Secretary's office with an extra helping of derision. But they weren't. The charges were properly filed, and WBro. Bjelajac was duly served. If found guilty of the charges, Bjelajac could be suspended. Worse, because Philologia Lodge No. 178 filed charges against Gate City itself, they could lose their charter, effectively suspending their entire membership.
All of this might have remained private, but Bjelajac and Gate City have decided to fight back in the courts, and the documents are now public record. They are requesting an injunction by the court to stop the Grand Lodge's trial commission from proceeding further. Curiously, the trial commission moved its initial hearing to a tiny venue, too small to hold more than a handful of people, and scheduled on a day when Bjelajac and others were known to be on vacation, with less than 30 days notice. Gate City obviously felt backed into a corner.
An examination of their complaint for a restraining order shows a massive and detailed answering of the charges against Bjelajac and Gate City. Not the least of which is the assertion that "non-whites" (Asians, Native Americans, etc) have long been accepted as members in Georgia, without complaint. No, these charges are strictly about the Peculiar Institution and efforts of a few bigots to keep black men out of mainstream Freemasonry in the Old South. ("Ancient customs" and "immemorial usages"? if that were true, how did an English Military lodge initiate, pass and raise Prince Hall and his 14 black friends in 1776? And why would the Premiere Grand Lodge in London issue a lodge of black Masons a charter, which they still have in their possession?)
I wish Gate City had not involved the courts, but they unquestionably felt squeezed. It could very well have been that Grand Master Jennings allowed the charges to go to a trial commission specifically in order to finally expose this bigotry for what it is, and definitively make the point that there is no written law prohibiting black men from joining Georgia lodges. I HOPE that was his reasoning. To risk a trial commission yanking Bjelajac's dues card and Gate City's charter is a risky way to make a point. With the civil courts involved now, it takes things to a new level. Not the least of which is the endangerment of the Grand Lodge's tax status as a Georgia corporation, if it is found that they engage in institutional racism.
I am on the road in South Dakota, and will update this post later with link to the court public documents. My deepest hope is that this sad event will drag grand lodges that discriminate openly or covertly into the 21st century (or at least 1972). It is abhorrent that men no longer find institutional discrimination in their jobs, housing, restaurants, transportation, or banking, yet can still find it within the lodge rooms of a fraternal organization that ostensibly teaches brotherly love, relief and truth to its members. The time has come to pitch the bigots out and make it known far and wide there's no place in Freemasonry for them.
Another question to be answered is, what will be the reaction of grand masters and grand lodges around the world if the Grand Lodge of Georgia (or any other grand lodge) takes the unbelievable position that black men cannot be mainstream Freemasons? Surely that's more important than which French grand lodge Minnesota chose to recognize a few years ago, or whether the GLofDC invaded the GL of New York's territory in Lebanon last year.
I'm home at last on Sunday evening. By now, many of you have seen the Masonic charges and the civil court filing in the Gate City Lodge situation—I had intended to post the now-public documents, but being on the road precluded me from doing so. In the meantime, Greg over at Freemason Information has done so. See them here.