"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Monday, June 11, 2018

No He Isn't, And No It's Not

This photo has been flying around social media all weekend, and already the howling has begun.

Yes, I know, it looks like President Trump is holding a white lambskin Masonic apron.

No, Donald Trump is NOT a Freemason. 

(And no, former president Barack Obama is NOT one either.)

And no, it's NOT an apron, but a diplomatic envelope being delivered to the President by North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol.

And while it's remotely possible that there is a minuscule handful of Freemasons alive in North Korea these days, it's NOT likely, and Kim Yong Chol in particular is one of the last guys on Earth who would be associated with it.

And no, it's NOT "significant" that Thomas Jefferson's photo is hanging in the background, because no, Thomas Jefferson (the THIRD President!!!) was NOT provably a Freemason — much less a 33rd degree one (however, if anybody can dig up an authentic record saying otherwise either from his days in Paris or the lodge in Charlottesville, you'll get extra green beans with your steak dinner).

But for those of you who still believe this nonsense, here you go. The generic foil works just as good as the expensive Reynolds Wrap.

Friday, June 08, 2018

MSA Issues Disaster Appeals For Guatemala and Puerto Rico Masons

The Masonic Service Association of North America has two 
Disaster Relief Appeals currently in effect.

Grand Lodge of Guatemala

The Fuego Volcano in Guatemala erupted with terrible force on June 3rd, killing many and burying hundreds more. Authorities reported at least 109 people were killed when the volcano exploded Sunday, and there are nearly 200 listed as missing so far. Guatemala's government suspended the search for the dead Thursday, saying wet weather and still-hot volcanic material were too dangerous for rescuers. Volcanic ash has fallen over half of Guatemala where agriculture is crucial. Further eruptions and seismic events are expected.

The Grand Master of Guatemala, Brother Estuardo Ordoñez Kocher, has asked the Masonic Service Association of North America to issue a Disaster Relief Appeal to help his afflicted brethren and their families. He reports that six of over 50 burned children have already been sent to the Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas, but, unfortunately, his local resources have been expended.


Click to enlarge

Grand Lodge of Puerto Rico

Meanwhile, as hurricane season begins this month, experts are still trying to count the number of deaths caused by last September's two devastating hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hitting Puerto Rico. The government’s tally of 64 people dead from the storms was a dramatic undercount, and there is widespread evidence for hundreds of storm-related deaths in the weeks after the hurricanes. Winds, flooding and landslides swept away homes and knocked out power, water and cellular service, which remained largely unrepaired for months. There are still large areas of the island today that remain without electricity and water.

Puerto Rico's Grand Master Raúl Rodríguez Quiles contacted the Masonic Service Association of North America last October asking for help for the brethren of his jurisdiction by issuing a Disaster Relief Appeal. That appeal is still active at this time.

If you wish to donate by check, please make checks payable to "MSA Disaster Relief Fund" and send them to: 
Masonic Service Association
3905 National Drive, Suite 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866
When remitting funds to MSA, please mark checks, "Guatemala Disaster Appeal" or "Puerto Rico Disaster Appeal."

The Masonic Service Association is arguably the best and most effective way to provide financial assistance to Guatemalan and Puerto Rican Masons (or to any other jurisdictions that may also request these official Disaster Relief Appeals through MSA). MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That is important to remember, especially if you, your company, or foundation are making a large donation and are in need of a tax deduction in return. The charitable arm of the Masonic Service Association was specifically established for the purpose of raising tax deductible donations, and to effectively distribute and account for the funds provided to Masons who receive assistance.

MSA is often asked if any of your contribution is deducted for administrative expenses, and the answer is "No." All expenses, charges by PayPal, bookkeeping, or cost of acknowledgment letters, everything, is absorbed by MSA in its operating budget. Your entire gross donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it will continue.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

New York's Clemente Center Exhibit on Haitian Freemasonry

The New York Review of Books over the weekend published a notice of an art exhibition going on in New York City at the Clemente Center this month about Freemasonry on the island of Haiti. 

From "Picturing Haiti’s Freemasons" by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro:
"Haiti, good historians agree, is where the Enlightenment came home to roost. France may have been where Rousseau penned The Rights of Man, but it was in France’s most brutal and lucrative plantation colony—the Caribbean sugar island of Saint-Domingue—that a half million enslaved Africans rose up in 1791 to kill their masters and ask the West: How universal, really, is your idea of universal rights?
"Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) was transformed, by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, into a free black nation that France saddled with unpayable debts and whose sovereignty the United States didn’t recognize for decades. But the celebrated “Black Jacobin” revolutionaries were not the whole story of how Haiti came to be. Rousseau’s ideas were not the only influences to shape a society built from the ashes of its old plantations. And among the more mysterious facets of Enlightenment culture to leave their mark here was the secret society that the British artist and documentarian Leah Gordon explores, with several collaborators, in a marvelous exhibition about Haiti’s Masonic tradition, “Vernacular Universalism: Freemasonry in Haiti and Beyond,” now at the Clemente Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side..."

The website of the Clemente Center explains the exhibit this way:
"In Haiti, during the colonial era, the Freemasons were one of the few European institutions that allowed black membership. Freemasonry still thrives in contemporary Haiti, and its visual world pervades the Haitian imaginary. The symbols that recur throughout this exhibition once tethered a web of ideas that stretched across the Atlantic, encrypting the most precious values of the Enlightenment.

"This exhibition aims to visualize the mesh of magic and reason; alchemy and science; trade and metaphysical exchange that has stretched into the 21st century. By focusing on Haiti, this exhibition sheds light on the relationship between colonized peoples and the Enlightenment. It suggests that for some, Freemasonry offered a path to becoming an agent of modernity, rather than its reviled ‘other’. This exhibition will be a timely and significant contribution to an understanding of Freemasonry through the lens of the Black Atlantic."

The island of Hispaniola where Christopher Columbus made first landfall in the Caribbean has had a curious Masonic past. Controlled by Catholic Spain during the early colonial period, the western half of the island was ceded to France in 1697 as San Domingue — later to become Haiti. When Freemasonry took to ships and started to spread around the globe in the 1730s and afterwards, it came to Hispaniola, too. But it took longer on the island than elsewhere because of anti-Masonic policies from the Catholic Church. 

In 1749, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) chartered two lodges in San Domingue, and another ten or so were established across Hispaniola by 1789. Meanwhile, Masons in Pennsylvania wasted no time after American independence was declared, and eventually chartered seven lodges on the island of their own between 1786 and 1806. Lodges opened and closed in quick succession in those days, as the colonizing European nations fought each other in their Caribbean territories, as well as back at home. While the French Revolution and a decade of slave uprisings and fighting on the island finally brought independence to Haiti after 1804, organized Freemasonry on the island wouldn't manage to withstand the combined turmoil of revolution and the Napoleon years. 

Hispaniola was split into two separate countries after 1800, Haiti and San Domingo (later the Dominican Republic in 1844), and Haiti became the first independent nation in the Caribbean and Latin America by 1804.

Between 1809 and 1817, four new English lodges were chartered in Haiti, at first becoming a Provincial Grand Lodge, and then declaring independence as the Grand Lodge of Haiti in 1824.  But just six years later, the Grand Orient de France came back to the island, importing with them the hauts grades — the "higher degrees."  By 1836, there was established a Scottish Rite Supreme Council and the Grand Orient of Haiti, and the competing groups fought for control of the Craft degrees. Remnants of that battle continue to this day. Meanwhile, on the Dominican side of the island, the Grand Lodge of the Dominican Republic was formed in 1865.

From Freemasons of the Caribbean on the Atlas Obscura website:
"When Haiti won its independence, and utterly abolished slavery at the end of the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution, Masonry was so ingrained into local culture that the all-black revolutionary government inherited the Craft amongst their other spoils of war.

"François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, the former slave who led the revolutionary forces against the French, is himself reputed to have been a devout freemason. His own signature seems to attest to the fact, with its combination of two lines and three dots that mimic a popular Masonic shorthand symbol of the time. In fact, some sources claim that Masonry was so integral to Haitian culture and leadership, than any president of the country who was not a Mason prior to office was ordained on the occasion of their election.
"Meanwhile another of Haiti’s founding fathers, Jean-Jacques Dessalines — the self-styled “Emperor Jacques I of Haiti” — was similarly invested in the Craft. The National Museum of History, in the center of Port-au-Prince, houses artifacts such as the slave-turned-emperor’s own sword and scabbard, clearly engraved with square and compass motifs..."
Freemasonry today prospers on Haiti,. The Grand Orient d'Haiti currently lists 50 lodges with 9,700 members on its rolls, and they are widely recognized around the world as regular. They are currently recognized by all US and Canadian grand lodges, and the UGLE.

For a more personal description and photos of the New York exhibition, also have a look at The Art of Haitian Freemasonry by 'acorngrove' on the Steemit site HERE.

The Clemente Center is located at 107 Suffolk Street in New York City. The exhibition runs until June 23rd.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

SRRS' 'The Plumbline' Bound Collection Now Shipping

"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"

I seem to hear variations of this chanting in nearly every Masonic Facebook group, in lodge discussions, Reddit threads, Masonic survey results, and seemingly everywhere else I turn in the fraternity. I've been hearing it since the day I joined Masonry almost twenty years ago, and I keep on hearing it. I fact, I keep being told that men leave the fraternity every day because they didn't find any "education" when they came to lodge a few times. "Nobody is educating me!" comes the plaintive cry.


"Masonic education" is everywhere you look, but YOU HAVE TO LOOK. Freemasonry has been freighted with more than its share of members who just simply refused to read and educate themselves ever since it began, as Albert Mackey lamented in the 1870s. That's a downright shame, because that "Masonic education" members supposedly clamor for is just laying out there, waiting to be picked up and read, if only Brethren would bother to open a book. 

Case in point:

Last week, a five pound box positively crammed full of "Masonic education" thudded onto my doorstep in the form of the latest bonus book of the Scottish Rite Research Society

After 27 years of publication, the SRRS has collected together every single issue of their outstanding quarterly newsletter, The Plumbline 1991-2016, into one complete hardbound, facsimile volume. Every page, every article, every photograph is reproduced, and it fills more than 660 pages of indexed gold. 

SRRS members who were dues current in 2016 should be receiving it, if they haven't already.

This huge volume is a godsend. Because The Plumbline was published for all of these years in a six- or eight-page folded newsletter format, the problem all along has been the ephemeral nature of it. They weren't considered disposable to regular readers, yet they were frequently disposed of — Plumblines all too easily got tossed out with the latest stack of frozen steak catalogues and angry bill collection notices. I myself have been painstakingly piling up old issues of The Plumbline since I first joined the SRRS, because there have been indispensable articles in them I didn't want to lose. But there was never an easy way to access all of them, as they were crammed haphazardly into reams of overstuffed 3-inch binders on an upstairs shelf. 

To call The Plumbline a "newsletter" does it a horrible disservice, as the substantive articles that have filled it all these years are NOT lighthearted announcements of meetings, elections, and event dates. They are sometimes papers that were sometimes considered too short to warrant inclusion in the pages of the annual Heredom, but that doesn't mean they were thinner on quality or research or thought-provoking content. And they are not just about the Scottish Rite, either. 

That said, it should be stressed that most of these papers were specially written for The Plumbline and not simply too short for the SRRS's hard-backed, thicker cousin publication. The editor is always on the lookout for articles and papers, ideally of around 3500-4000 words. Over the years, The Plumbline has been edited by Pete Normand, S. Brent Morris, John Boettjer, Forrest Haggard, Jim Tresner, Michael Halleran, Robert M. Wolfarth, and today by Adam Kendall. Adam can be contacted through the Plumbline's website HERE.
There is WONDERFUL information to be found here, by many of the top Masonic authors and researchers of the last three decades – as well as outstanding brethren you may not have heard of before. 

You want to present "Masonic education" at your next lodge meeting? Open this book to any page and start reading at random: I stopped at Paul M. Bessel's Ten Steps To Interesting Masonic Research; Rex Hutchens' The Place of Tradition in Ritual Integrity; Paul Rich's Count Leo Tolstoy and Freemasonry; David Stafford's Freemasonry and the Development of Greek-Letter Fraternities; Jon Crusoe's References the the Craft in the Works of Robert A. Heinlein; Wayne Simon's two-part article on military lodges in the Civil War; Gary Leazer's Mystery Religions and Freemasonry...

The same can be said of the five (soon to be six) hardbound volumes of all of the collected Short Talk Bulletins of the Masonic Service Association (which were also collected, edited and blessedly indexed into their hardback editions by S. Brent Morris). Every lodge should have these books (or even just one or two of them, if too many thick books in the building terrify your members). 

The point is that Masonic education doesn't mean YOU have to go out, research a topic, and present a well-reasoned original paper on a groundbreaking subject no one's ever done before. Freemasonry is such that you could read the EXACT same article aloud in lodge every three years, and you'll have a whole new audience listening (with a handful of exceptions). 

So do your lodge and yourself a favor: get hold of a copy of this book or the MSA's collections, open to any page, and start reading. I promise, it's like popcorn and you won't stop. Then go share it with your lodge Brethren next month.

GL of Wisconsin Votes To Save and Support Madison Temple

Over the weekend, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin F&AM held their Annual Communication in the historic Madison Masonic Center (MMC), which sits just one block from the state capitol building. The Masonic Center is home to fourteen Masonic bodies and the Scottish Rite Children's Dyslexia Center, and it has been the meeting place for the Wisconsin Annual Communication for many years. The beautiful beaux arts interior features two lodge rooms, a grand ballroom, dining room, offices, lounges, the Robert Monteith Masonic Library and Museum, and the large auditorium that seats approximately 1,000.

Built between 1923 and 1925, the impressive and imposing neo-classical temple is located in Madison's Mansion Hill Historic District and adjacent to the National Register-listed Langdon Street Historic District, an area of impressive homes that that was transformed in the 20th century into "fraternity row" for the nearby University of Wisconsin. Like so many other landmark Masonic buildings across the country, the Madison Temple was part of the 'City Beautiful' movement that swept the nation after the 1893 Chicago Exhibition.

As you might expect these days, the Madison Temple has been having all of the usual big Masonic building problems, and we all know the same old stories: declining membership, deferred maintenance, an ineffective board of directors, years of indecision as squabbling and indecision prevented long-range assurances for future planning and financing.  The same pattern has been repeated all over the country. Things looked very bleak in Madison as 2018 began, but a last minute resolution was submitted by the MMC Board offering to transfer ownership of the center to the Grand Lodge.

Well, after so many important Masonic temples have been thrown overboard in the last two decades by the fraternity, I am happy to report that Wisconsin's voting delegates on Saturday voted to save and substantially support the Madison Masonic Center (MMC). The Grand Lodge is now the full owner, and they added $10 to their annual per capita statewide (for at least the next two years) for all Wisconsin Masons, who will now share a stake in its future.

The following resolution was slightly amended, but passed essentially as proposed:
Resolution Number 8-2018
Submitted By: Executive Committee
Section(s) Affected:
Vote required for Adoption: Majority
Purpose: To Preserve the Madison Masonic Center
RESOLVED, that the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin be authorized to receive the transfer of a clear title from the Madison Masonic Center Foundation of the property known as the Madison Masonic Center, and
That the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin assess each member of the State a minimum of $10.00 per person to facilitate the management and preservation of the property. This is considered an assessment and as such each Regular and Perpetual Member will be assessed the fee as of December 31st of each year. Such fee to be due with the per capita payment.  
Considering that the decision was of such great importance and represented such a substantial increase in per capita, I've been told there was actually quite little discussion, as the vast majority of the brethren had no desire to give up Masonry's magnificent architectural heritage in Wisconsin's capitol city. There is talk that the Grand Lodge offices now may move into the building from the small town of Dousman, Wisconsin. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs into a cheap, uninspiring shed or some anonymous foursquare brick cubicle indistinguishable from a dentist's office, they are sticking with the magnificent home built by their forefathers, and keeping Freemasonry in the center of the community where it belongs.

The description in the National Register listing for the Temple makes this observation:
All other historic fraternal halls [in Madison] have been demolished. This makes the Madison Masonic Temple unique as the only extant historic building related to a social fraternal groups in the city. The Masonic Temple is not only important because it is the only remaining historic building related to Madison's most significant social fraternal societies. It is also significant because the Masons helped define the social structure in Madison during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Masons were some of the most prominent men in the community. And, while the gathering together of important people in the community in a social or fraternal setting may not, in and of itself, be significant, it is well known that important business and political connections were made between the members of fraternal lodges, and that these connections often had an indirect, if not direct, effect on the growth and development the city. There are no written records that establish the Madison Masonic Temple as a place where such connections were made. But since theMasons were the most prominent fraternal group in Madison, it is likely that such connections were made and that they resulted in important economic or political developments in the city."

When you walk up the steps to the main entrance of Madison's temple today, there are two inscriptions on the cornice: "Temple of Freemasonry," and "Let There Be Light." Thankfully, the brethren of Wisconsin have assured that both of those sentiments will be prominently preserved in Madison into the future.

Well done, brethren.

UPDATE JUNE 7, 2018:

A few days have passed since the annual communication now, and some clarification is coming from Wisconsin. The transfer of ownership to the Grand Lodge of the MMC is obviously not a done deal just yet. The passage of Resolution No. 8 gave a strong majority approval for the Grand Lodge to enter into discussions over taking ownership of the building from the current MMC Foundation Board. There is acknowledgement that other income streams need to be investigated, but the building and property are worth many millions of dollars, and the value of the assets far exceed any debts it may have. 

In a Facebook message sent out to members, incoming Grand Master Scott E. Pedley made an important point to members that many might not have considered before. Wisconsin is like Indiana, in that the State does not levy property taxes on Masonic buildings there. This is a fortunate situation not uniformly enjoyed in numerous states. The Madison Masonic Center's location, just a few blocks from the Statehouse, is a daily reminder to legislators of the fraternity, its history, its countless charitable programs, and its importance to society. If the highly visible Temple vanished from their sight tomorrow, it would be all too easy to for the fraternity to fall out of the public mind, especially when politicians decide to go hunting up new things to tax in future.

That is a very real concern for a fraternity that has played such an important role in the growth and development of every state in the U.S. Time and again, Freemasonry predated the formation of state governments, and Freemasons almost uniformly helped to establish those states. 

GM Pedley points out that the Grand Lodge's library and museum just up the street from the Statehouse would be the one place those legislators could find that unique information in future.

As for the $10 per capita increase, if (and only if) the transfer of the building to the Grand Lodge does happen, the assessment will be added for just two years. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Grand Lodge of Florida Issues Statement on Prince Hall Recognition

The following official statement was issued by the Grand Lodge of Florida F&AM concerning Prince Hall recognition on their Facebook page at about 5:30PM on Wednesday, May 30th:

Prince Hall “Recognition” 189th Annual Grand Communication of The Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Florida
At the 189th Annual Grand Communication of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Florida, the Craft voted overwhelmingly to “empower our Grand Master to sign an acceptable agreement extending “Recognition” to the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons, Florida, Belize, Central America & Jurisdiction, Incorporated, Prince Hall Affiliated”.
An exert [sic] of the REPORT OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS 2017-2018 reads:
To the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida
On April 18, 2018, M∴W∴ A.T. Stafford, PGM of Prince Hall reported that at their Grand Lodge session: “The Committee report was presented and well received. The Committee presented 3 wording samples of the recognition agreement; however, a decision on the one to be used was not reached. A vote on which agreement will be used will take place in 90 days at our mid-year meeting. The entire Craft was pleased the dialogue that has taken place, and all are looking forward to the agreement being finalized”
The Prince Hall mid-year meeting will take place in July.
Fraternal “Recognition” has not been extend, it is close, both Grand Masters, Grand Line Officers and Foreign Relations Committees are earnestly and diligently working to finalize extending “Recognition”.
Once a “Recognition Agreement” is finalized, notification will be distributed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

UPDATED: GL of Florida F&AM Votes To Recognize Prince Hall Grand Lodge


I was prematurely informed that mutual recognition in Florida was passed on Tuesday - that's not quite the case just yet.

The Grand Lodge of Florida F&AM voted Tuesday at their 189th Annual Communication to finalize the steps to mutually recognize as regular their Prince Hall counterparts – the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, Prince Hall Affiliated, of Florida and Belize, Central America, Inc.,(established in 1870). 

This comes nearly a decade after Florida's PHA grand lodge first reached out to their mainstream brethren by requesting recognition. The GL of Florida rejected those overtures in the past, and the PHA grand lodge dropped the subject. However, private meetings and off the record conversations reactivated the process in the last few months. 

Following backchannel discussions between the two jurisdictions, the MW Union Grand Lodge of Florida developed options concerning terms by which they could accept recognition from the Grand Lodge of Florida. For their own constitutional reasons, those proposals had to lay over for 90 days – that period has not run its course yet.

So, what the members of the GL of Florida voted in favor of Tuesday was to grant the incoming Grand Master, John Karroum, the final authority to accept or deny terms of recognition after the MWUGLF undertakes their own voting. 

I have not seen any official wording of the motion passed this week (it was NOT a written resolution, but it was passed almost unanimously), so it is unclear to me if there is an additional step required at the 2019 Annual Communication to finalize it. Nevertheless, both GLs appear to be on track to achieve mutual recognition within the coming year.

In several other states, joint recognition has been something like a dog chasing a speeding car who didn't know what to do with it once he caught the thing. A first step has sometimes been to recognize first without visitation, which was then worked out in subsequent years. It was recently that way at first in Texas, and it seems to be the current case in Alabama. 

If Florida succeeds at all of the fine points of Masonic diplomacy, there will remain just seven mainstream, predominantly white grand lodges in the U.S. and Canada that have not recognized their predominantly black Prince Hall Affiliated (PHA) grand lodge counterparts: Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day: Heroes and Giants Walked In Our Midst

Brother Michel Henry Bellon during his stint in the British SAS
If you suddenly found yourself in a society that outlawed Masonic affiliation tomorrow, how important would it be to you to be a Freemason? 

Memorial Day may be the most poignant time of all to pause and reflect upon that question. Of this very special and sombre holiday that makes up part of America's unique "civic religion," the soldier, journalist and poet Joyce Kilmer wrote:

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right. 

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.

Since I started this blog back in 2006, I have very, very rarely ever posted an entire presentation or paper written by anyone else here. Usually it's because of space, and I generally link to an online version elsewhere. But my friend and Brother Shelby Chandler at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in Virginia sent the following story to me this week as Memorial Day approached, and I felt that it was especially timely. 

Fredericksburg, Virginia is home what is believed to be the oldest Masonic cemetery in the United States. For the last 15 years, the brethren of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 (George Washington's own Mother lodge) have held an outdoor Memorial Day presentation at the historic 1784 Old Masonic Cemetery at the corner of Charles and George Streets. Traditionally, the lodge reads off the list of Masons interred there who died in the service of America, and they pay tribute to a noteworthy Brother from the past. 

I've highlighted some deeply troubling anti-Masonic activity in Europe the last few months, and this story today brings up something vital that every Freemason should ask himself: are we Freemasons in our lives and in all we do, or are we just in some club called 'The Freemasons?' As Masons, we must hold ourselves to standards of conduct higher than others so that we may stand as shining examples in society. That is how we change the world one man at a time – whether that world is at peace, at war, or in the brief, chaotic pauses between the two throughout history.

The paper that follows was given on Saturday at the cemetery, but the subject was a bit different this year. The Brother who was the subject of this presentation did not die in battle, but in 2014. He was not an American at the time he fought the fight, he was French. And though his father and step-father were both Masons, he did not join the fraternity of Freemasonry until he was 51 years old. 

And yet, I think you will agree that his story is worth repeating here.

Not every hero wears a helmet, or a cape for that matter. When the fighters and survivors of World War II were our living parents and grandparents, these everyday lionhearts and giants walked silently in our midst every day. Keep their memories alive by telling their stories for them, because the only way we can successfully chart the future is to learn from the past. 

And remember.

Michel Henry Bellon
Michel Henry Bellon

On November 16, 2007, Bro. Michel Henry Bellon gave a presentation on his life as a 14-year old boy within the French Resistance of Nazi-Occupied France and the Masonic leadership that had helped organized these French patriots. Brother Michel Henry Bellon was born in Paris, France on December 19, 1926.

France surrendered to Germany on 22 June 1940, and those who resented Germany occupation and the Vichy government formed cells that were collectively named the French Resistance. His father was a Freemason as was his stepfather, who was one of these underground leaders and Michel was a boy who was invaluable to the Vercors's efforts simply because he spoke English and would become the translator for three American OSS agents who were sent into enemy territory to train them on the use of weapons and ordinance.

At the time of the occupation, France was divided into two zones; the Occupied Zone, which was directly controlled by the Nazis, and the Free Zone, which was the new French Vichy Government who supported the Axis powers. The German Gestapo, or the German secret police controlled the internal operations of the Occupied Zone, while the Milice francaise, or “French militia” (also known as the Milliciens) a paramilitary force trained by the Gestapo who controlled internal operations within the Free Zone. On October 13, 1940, once the Millicien was established and trained, the government of the Vichy Free Zone immediately decreed that all Freemasons were to be arrested and many Brethren went to concentration camps.

As Bro. Michel reported, following this, the Freemasons within the Occupied Zone came together to discuss the idea of the first active-passive Resistance force, and left the meeting agreeing to three active participants per Lodge in this resistance. As a result of this meeting, the natural network of 211 French Masonic Lodges became the core foundation of the newly established French Resistance, the Maquis de Vercors. The agreement of three members was so that if any of the three were caught, the rest would be protected and none would know which others took their place. It was further agreed that the majority of the Masons were to join the various military groups with the intention of returning home to teach others what martial skills they learned.

The decision was made that the Resistance should gather intelligence, rescue downed allied pilots, to assist escaping Jews, and to support allied espionage infiltration. It was also later recognized that some of these Masons would freely volunteer to work within the Vichy and German governments in order to collect information to be sent to London. Michel’s stepfather, Roger Bellon, was a leader of one of these Masonic Lodges and was one of the three selected from his Lodge, and would go on to become a Commander of the Andromeda sector of the Resistance. On June 17, 1941, this group as a whole formed the Provisional Council of French Masonry working out of an apartment in Paris and communicating with London; this would be the decision making committee of action until 1944.

Bro. Michel tells of a story of Bro. Levant, who for a time headed this Provisional Council. He was arrested, sentenced and then sent before some elderly German gentleman of great authority, who repeatedly asked him for his “birthdates.” Shortly thereafter, Bro. Levant realized that his interrogator was a German Freemason who was attempting to learn of his “Masonic birthdates,” and once he established that Bro. Levant was indeed a French Mason, the German Brother not only let him go, but gave him the name of the informer who turned him in; a French Mason who happened to be part of the resistance himself.

While many Freemasons were captured, tortured and killed by the enemy, of those captured, few were imprisoned but most were sent to Germany to be interred into concentration camps. Bro. Michel’s father was one of those Masons who suffered this fate, and after much abuse he would lay down his working tools at Auschwitz. 

Roger Bellon, Michel's step-father, upon his liberation from Buchenwald in 1945 by US forces
Likewise, Michel’s stepfather was eventually captured and sent to Buchenwald, but was later freed by Patton’s army on April 11, 1945 (photo). 

Bro. Michel himself also had his own part to play in this resistance movement. Initially, he was sent to the Free Zone, where he collected information and delivered documents and reports to people going back to England.

Bro. Michel notes that as a kid, he befriended an Italian officer who hated the Germans and Mussolini so much that he would divulge information to him on what the Germans were doing, and young Michel would get this information “to the right people.” Because of this, his stepfather eventually had to come for him, informing him that his name was on the German’s capture list, and that they were coming to arrest him. So he was taken to a school where he would be safe, and which happened to be a central and major part of the French resistance with regard to activity. Michel joined as a soldier of Aster sector.

Bro. Michel reported that when he first got to the school, the British would drop night deliveries of basic-need items to them twice a week. But shortly after the Americans joined the fight, the Americans took over and begin to drop clothes, ammunition, rifles, machine guns, mortars, and explosives nightly at an unprecedented rate. Then one night, three Americans dropped from the sky and informed them that they were agents sent there to train them in the use of these items. They trained in the use of this equipment and worked together to clear the field below the school for incoming gliders and paratroopers.

Over time, they received word that someone reported to the Nazis of strangers in the area, and it was decided that it was time for the Americans to leave. The head of the school informed the Americans that they would need to escape, but someone would have to be their interpreter in their travels. Since Bro. Michel spoke English, he was assigned the duty of getting them out of France. Bro. Michel laughed as he told us that his first assignment in this duty was to get normal French clothes for these Americans to wear, which was difficult because most Frenchmen stood 5’8” to 5’10” and the shortest American was 6’3”. He eventually found them proper attire, and the four of them begun their five day journey to the Spanish border. He informed the Americans that if they were discovered during this journey or if anyone attempted to talk to them, he would excuse them as deaf and dumb and would use sign language. It was during this journey that Michel would see many atrocities done to the people whose bodies were left for others to see by the Germans. Bro. Michel reported that seeing the bodies of rape victims and children was something that he would remember forever and always made him very angry to recall it.

They would eventually make it to the American Embassy in Spain and sent immediately to London where the Americans were separated from him to be officially debriefed.

Before leaving France, his stepfather, Roger Bellon, directed Michel to seek out his godfather in London, who was a French General. Michel was not able to find him, so the British persuaded him to join the British Army SAS or paratroopers. He made his five required jumps and received his wings before his godfather found him and used his influence to process Michel out of the British Army. Michel was then sent to Morocco to recertify as a pilot because Michel was known to have flown planes since he was 12 years of age. While training as a French pilot in Marrakech, he received his pilot’s license and was selected as one of ten French men to enter into a US Army Air Corps program to train French pilots on American fighter planes.

Initially he flew a transport plane while in Marrakech, but the American flying program had him relocate to Casablanca, Morocco, where he was given the opportunity to fly American planes such as the P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt and B-17 Flying Fortress and as a completion of this program, Bro. Michel would likewise fly four combat missions as a bomber pilot. It was during this time that Bro. Michel would meet with the Pasha Thami El Glaoui, Lord of the Atlas, who was a friend of the Bellon family, and gifted Michel with a pair of fighting knives for his bravery during his time in the French Resistance.

When the war ended, Bro. Michel was 21 years old, and for his service in the resistance he received the Croix de Guerre, or Military Cross, which outside of the Legion of Honor is France's highest military citation that any military personnel could receive for acts of bravery and heroism. He received this award for destroying a Nazi fuel and munitions depot when he was 17. Americans who have received this medal are George Patton, Audie Murphy, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Stewart.

His citation reads, in part:
Decision no. 297

Michel Henry Bellon
"In August 1943, as a Liaison Officer of the Aster Network sector of the France Fighting Force (FFC) Nestle. Voluntarily committed at seventeen years of age to the army of the Vercors and took part in the French regions of Rousset, Romans, Vasmieux, Thains and Lyon. He showed great courage and military qualities by successfully destroying at the peril of his own life, a German ammunition depot. After the Liberation he joined the 2nd Airborne Infantry Regiment 4th Battalion of Foot. This quote includes the award of the Military Cross with Bronze Star."
But one of his favorite memories was when he finally came to the United States in 1951 to become an American citizen, he found that his paper work was already processed, and three of his American friends from the war were present to be with him when took upon himself the oath of citizenship.

As for his Masonic record, Brother Michel was initiated, passed and raised in Amity Lodge, Massachusetts: EA 11/4/77, FC 12/9/77, MM 1/17/78. He would later affiliate with Virginia's Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 on 5/8/98.

Brother Michel would go on to become a model American citizen, flying as a pilot for Air France, and he would meet his second wife, Rita and remain with her till his death. He loved being a Freemason and a member of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, and he served as its Tyler from 2004 to 2008, and Masonic Home Ambassador from 2004 to 2010, until his health began to deteriorate. In later years, he was often reported to say that he would miss his time away from his brethren and he enjoyed those moments they would visit him. Brothers would share similar feelings that he was an exemplary Freemason who cared for people and enjoyed the best in each individual and distinguished himself with modesty, humility and curtesy.

He passed to the Celestial Lodge at the age of 88 on August 6, 2014.

As for those of us who called him friend and Brother, it is our lot to honor the courage and love of a good brother and to remind others of his accomplishments which has greatly contributed to the accolades and honor to the whole of our Masonic legacy. Let those who never met him learn from the story of his life that the sacrifices of those before us will never be in vain. Through Brother Michel, let us recognize the Masonic ideas and virtues that we promise to inculcate and to renew ourselves to our obligations. 

Let us remember Brother Michel Bellon.

Research Team on Bro. Michel Bellon: Bros. Dennis David, Christopher Decker PM, Anthony Rudder PM and Shelby Chandler PM

Brother Michel told his story at a meeting of National Sojourners Chapter 545 on November 16th, 2007. You can see a video of that presentation on YouTube below.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day 2018 Video

Never Forgotten video, Black Rifle Coffee Company
Memorial Day 2018
"Brotherhood differs from friendship. Friendship happens in society - the more you like somebody, the more you’d be willing to do for them. Brotherhood has nothing to do with how you feel about the other person. It is a mutual agreement in a group, that you will put the welfare of a group, you will place the safety of everyone in the group, above your own. In effect you’re saying, ‘I love these other people more than I love myself.’"

Was Pardoned Boxer Jack Johnson a Freemason?

For a whole raft of reasons – not least of which being the toxic political climate in the U.S. these days – last week's posthumous presidential pardon of the early 20th century African-American boxing legend Jack Johnson by Donald Trump has gone almost completely unreported in the American press, even in the sports world.

John Arthur "Jack" Johnson was born near Galveston, Texas in 1878, the son of former slaves, and one of nine children. Despite growing up in the segregated South during the most virulent period of Jim Crow laws, Johnson achieved worldwide fame as a boxer, and eventually held the heavyweight title from 1908 to 1915. He was often tagged with the nickname "The Galveston Giant," as he stood 6-feet 6-inches tall, and generally towered over his opponents.

And at the age of 33, he joined Forfar and Kincardine Lodge No. 225 in Scotland.

Jack Johnson spoke of his childhood in Galveston as growing up in a racially mixed community where no one much cared what color anyone was. Economy was the great leveler, and they were all in extreme poverty, regardless of color. Race was hardly an issue to young Jack, but outside of the confines of his neighborhood was a different matter. 

Johnson refused to pay deference to the color line in America. He began boxing in 1898. He achieved national, and then international fame, claiming the title of “World Colored Heavyweight Champion” in 1903, and becoming overall World Heavyweight Champion in 1908 after winning a fight in Australia against Tommy Burns, a white boxer from Canada. Burns was one of the very few white championship fighters at the time who was willing to cross the racial barrier in boxing and take on black opponents. But Johnson's victory over him stunned the world, and especially America.

After Johnson won the heavyweight title, racial animosity against him back home became fierce. He continued to beat a string of opponents, but that was problematic at the time, since many white boxers refused to battle blacks in the ring, especially when championships were on the line. Those who did were quickly purported to be the next "great white hope" who would finally knock out this strutting, arrogant black boxer, who ceaselessly taunted them in and out of the ring.

Johnson continued to enrage and alienate many whites by crossing the color line in his personal life. He dated white women, and eventually went on to marry three of them in his lifetime. He was also the rare black man of his era who was brash and totally unapologetic about his wealth and success. He loved fast cars, and was frequently arrested for speeding (and more than a few times subsequently sued for failing to appear at a fight because he was in jail).

The purported "Fight of the Century" finally took place on July 4, 1910 against James Jeffries at a ring built just for the occasion in downtown Reno, Nevada. Jeffries was a retired former undefeated heavyweight champion who had repeatedly refused to box against Johnson or any other blacks in prior years, but he was ceaselessly pressured to become the ultimate "Great White Hope" who would knock Johnson from his perch. When he finally agreed to the fight, Jeffries was quoted as saying, "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro." 

It didn't work out that way.

James Jeffries and Jack Johnson fight in 1911
The fight was enormously promoted nationwide. Invitations to referee the contest went to public figures as wide ranging as William Howard Taft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The fight itself was scheduled for 45 three-minute rounds, and the day of the fight was a 110° scorcher. The crowd of 20,000 was filled with some of the greatest living boxers of the period who had come from all over the world to see the event. But when things got underway, it was clear that Jeffries had no chance. After fifteen rounds, the beaten and badly out of shape Jeffries was knocked to the ground, and his manager stopped the fight at last. Johnson was declared the winner against the latest Great White Hope

The fight was the basis for both a 1967 play and a 1970 movie (featuring James Earl Jones) entitled The Great White Hope, and the phrase itself entered into the American lexicon.

After the fight ended, word went out by telegraph, and black Americans celebrated nationwide in spontaneous parades. But whites took to the streets in protest, as well. Race riots broke out in 50 cities across 25 states, resulting in at least 26 deaths (all but two of them of blacks). Hundreds more were injured, and police stopped several attempted lynchings. Two high-profile Southern ministers even called for Johnson's own lynching. Attempts were made to prevent the showing of films of the fight and censor Johnson's victory from the public eye, and a federal law forbidding exhibiting boxing films across state lines was soon passed in its wake. That law stood until 1940.

In the wake of the riots, Johnson left the country and traveled to Europe. In 1911, he was fighting in exhibitions across the British Isles. He was visiting Scotland, and it was there that he became an Entered Apprentice in Dundee's Forfar and Kincardine Lodge No. 225 under the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

During his spell on the run he fought in exhibition matches in Newcastle in 1911.
Army officer Sydney McLaglen was also boxing there and told Johnson about his Masonic lodge.
He told Johnson he was due to travel to Dundee to have his second degree conferred and asked if it would be possible to go with him and join the lodge.
The heavyweight champion travelled up from Newcastle and on October 13 1911, became a Freemason in Forfar and Kincardine, No. 225 Lodge, in Dundee.
Past Master Graham Letford said: “Grand Lodge sent a telegram to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Forfarshire ordering them to stop the initiation.
“But the door was locked during Jack Johnson’s initiation and when the telegram arrived the deed had already been done.
“This cost the master at the time a two-year suspension. Two other past masters received one-year suspensions and the lodge had its charter lifted for 18 months.”
Johnson left by train for Newcastle after the ceremony.
A reporter from the Dundee Advertiser spoke to Johnson in Leeds who told him he was proud to belong to the Craft.
Johnson said: “All I want is fair treatment, and I don’t want nothing bestowed on me I don’t deserve, if there is anything to say, well it’s for the Lodge and other people.
“I’m all right.”
“But there is no doubt about it you are a Mason?” asked the reporter.
“Oh certainly,” said Johnson. “They can’t say anything about me”.
He denied that there was any “squabble” and refused to say anything further on that point.
“You have a high opinion of Freemasonry then?” he was asked.
Johnson replied: “It’s the greatest thing in the world, it’s wonderful.
“I have always wanted to be a member and I chose the Dundee lodge because it is one of the oldest and one of the most substantial.
“I am proud I can tell you. I am a Freemason and as long as I live I shall be one. Only God almighty can undo that.”
Johnson concluded by emphatically stating he would certainly go back to Dundee to have his second degree conferred some time in early December.
The champion did not return to Dundee following the 18-month suspension of the Lodge.
So what was the crime for which the President pardoned him last week? Violating the Mann Act in 1912 by taking an unmarried woman across state lines for "immoral purposes" – a law originally designed to curtail prostitution and human trafficking. The federal law was more commonly known as the White Slave Act, and had been passed to save young women from being preyed upon by purportedly perfidious foreigners and lured into prostitution in hard, faceless cities in the early 1900s. This was also the period of Prohibition, and "public decency" was the hot button issue of the moment. 

As originally passed in 1910, the Mann Act made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." But the law was also frequently applied as an all-purpose nuisance charge against interracial couples, and Johnson had a preference for white ladies. 

Jack Johnson and Lucille Cameron
Consequently, on October 14, 1912, Jack Johnson was arrested on the grounds that his relationship with Lucille Cameron (who later became his second wife) violated the White Slave Traffic Act. However, Lucille refused to cooperate with prosecutors (her mother branded her as "insane"), and the case fell apart. Federal agents were desperate to make charges stick against him and kept digging. Johnson was released, but was soon rearrested after investigators found a prostitute named Belle Schreiber from his past willing to testify against him in open court. Within days, a grand jury issued seven Mann Act indictments.

According to the Legal Legacy blog site:
In the courtroom of Kenesaw Mountain Landis (the future Commissioner of Baseball who perpetuated the baseball color line until his death), Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury in June 1913. It took them less than two hours to find Johnson guilty on all counts. Despite the fact that the incidents used to convict Johnson took place before passage of the Mann Act, he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
On June 24, while out on bail pending appeal, Johnson fled the country to Montreal where he met up with Lucille, and then went on to France. He would remain out of the U.S. for seven years, and it was common for American papers to refer to him as “negro pugilist and convicted white slaver.”

At last, on July 20, 1920 Johnson returned, surrendering to federal agents at the Mexican border, and was sent to the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth to serve his sentence. He was released on July 9, 1921.

Johnson had lost the world heavyweight championship title in 1915. After his stint in prison, his boxing career was essentially over and he never recovered his fame. But in a curious connection to history, Johnson opened the original Harlem nightclub in the early 20s that would eventually be sold to gangster Owney Madden, and renamed as the legendary Cotten Club.

Jack Johnson died in a car accident on 
June 10, 1946 near Raleigh, North Carolina after angrily driving off from a white owned diner that refused to serve him. He was 68 years old. 

He was buried in an unmarked grave in Chicago.

The pardon last week was certainly celebrated by the Masonic Brethren in Dundee, and Jack Johnson remains the most famous member of Forfar and Kincardine Lodge as far as they are concerned. According to a 2009 letter in the Daily Mail from Lodge 225's Past Master Gordon Webster, the Grand Lodge of Scotland was pressured by U.S. grand lodges at the time to force the lodge to return Johnson's three guinea initiation fee and nullify his degree. But the lodge's members and officers held fast and refused, even after Johnson's legal problems in the U.S. since he had not violated any British laws. 

However, WB Webster's letter and the article last week in the Courier both conflict with an account by the University of Dundee and their archives. They hold the legal documents pertaining to the dustup between the lodge and their Grand Lodge, and in the December 2009 issue of Contact, the University's magazine, the following account of the events appears (p. 28):
During the closing part of the initiation ceremony a telegram was dispatched to Dundee from the Grand Lodge of Scotland demanding that the proceedings cease immediately before Johnson had beenfully initiated.
However, the local Master decided that it was too late and continued with the ceremony regardless. The Grand Lodge subsequently suspended the Forfarshire Lodge and this led to the legal battle recorded in the documents held by Archive Services.
The Grand Lodge maintained that for reasons relating to masonic protocol the Forfarshire Lodge had acted improperly and irregularlyin admitting Johnson, but the real problem was that some members of the Lodge in Dundee had objected to Johnson’s initiation onthe grounds of his colour. Upon seeing that he was to be admitted anyway, they telegraphed their fellow freemasons in America – and white American feelings ran high about the man who in the boxing ring had defeated several ‘Great White Hopes’.
Most Grand Lodges in the USA threatened to withdraw their Scottish Grand Lodge representation and this was why the Grand Lodge had somewhat frantically attempted to halt Johnson’s initiation ceremony.
The position of the Grand Lodge ultimately prevailed – some members of the local Lodge were suspended and Johnson had his fees returned. Any mention of his acceptance as an Entered Apprentice was removed from the records. However a record of this somewhat shameful episode in Scottish history does survive in the University Archives. Anyone interested in the items is welcome to see them in the Archives search room.
So, there's the conflict in the various claims and counterclaims, and Grand Lodge of Scotland historian Bob Cooper's account agrees with the University's. 

In any case, there is no further evidence that Johnson ever went on to complete his Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees in any mainstream or Prince Hall lodge in the U.S. or outside of the country. 

Nevertheless, Past Master Gordon Webster of his lodge in Dundee said in his letter, 
"As far as Forfar and Kincardine Lodge is concerned, the Great Jack Johnson is, and will forever remain, a Freemason. I'm proud of my past brethren and proud that Jack Johnson was a member of my lodge."

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama passed up numerous requests from Congress and the public to posthumously pardon Jack Johnson starting ten years ago, and the Justice department argued against it for many years (because of Johnson's history of domestic abuse of women throughout his life – his first wife committed suicide, and Lucille divorced him after just three years). Nevertheless, Senator John McCain and Harry Reid both pressed for the pardon, and filmmaker Ken Burns made a documentary about him in an attempt to keep the issue in the public eye. 

Donald Trump finally signed the official full pardon on May 24th in an Oval Office ceremony with Sylvester Stallone, Linda Haywood (a relative of Johnson's), World Boxing Commission president Mauricio Sulaiman Saldivar, former boxer Lennox Lewis, and current champion Deontay Wilder. Counting Johnson's, there have only been three posthumous pardons signed by presidents in U.S. history.

UPDATE May 27, 2018 5:30PM

Simon LaPlace from the Masonic Service Association just passed along a reprinted article I was unable to find from 2009 in the Daily Mail, and later appeared in the Connecticut Freemason magazine. It contains more details of Johnson's introduction to Freemasonry and the lodge while in Scotland, but the accounts are unattributed. Unless someone has firsthand written accounts, it's hard to say whether these are fanciful embellishments after over 100 years or not. And they don't answer the question of whether or not the lodge nullified his EA degree after the Grand Lodge's actions. Click image to enlarge.