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


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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Italian Masons Fight Anti-Masonic Political Foes

I'm not sure how seriously the average American Mason really takes it when I say that Brethren in other countries are badly discriminated against and are often under siege—frequently from their own governments.

In February last year, I reported on anti-Masonic activity taking place at the hands of the Italian government (see Italian Government Attempting Anti-Masonic Actions...Again HERE). The Italians keep at it by twisting anti-Mafia laws to use against Freemasonry (in much the same way RICO laws in the U.S. originally designed to fight organized crime got contorted and exploited and expanded back in the early 2000s to prevent anti-abortion protesters from marching in front of Planned Parenthood clinics). This sort of institutionalized anti-Masonry has briefly succeeded before in Italy after the notorious P2 scandal in the 1980s, and in England under then-Home Secretary Jack Straw. It was only stopped by a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2009 that decided laws demanding Freemasons turn over their lists of membership or personally declare their membership publicly as a requirement for employment or public office violated Article 41 of the European Union's Convention on Human Rights regarding free association and non-discrimmination against specifically Masonic organizations.

Last year, leaders of the three major Masonic obediences in Italy testified before a Parliamentary anti-Mafia Commission, chaired by a Ms. Rosy Bindi. Bindi insisted that Italy's Freemasons turn over their membership records to her Commission, but Stefano Bisi, Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy (23,000 members in 850 lodges), refused on the grounds of freedom of association and respect for privacy. Antonio Binnie, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Italy (8,000 members, 40% women, with 510 lodges), also refused to comply on behalf of his members. Only Fabio Venzi, Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy (3,500 members with 310 lodges) was willing to comply with the government Commission's demand.

To clarify: the Grand Orient of Italy is the largest obedience in that country, and it is the body that the overwhelming majority of U.S. grand lodges recognize.  And as implied above, the Grand Lodge of Italy is the second largest group, a mixed body that admits both men and women, and is not deemed regular by the overwhelming majority of the Masonic world. But in a rarity, the United Grand Lodge of England—from whom many U.S. grand lodges seek clarity and guidance—recognizes the much smaller and newer Regular Grand Lodge of Italy. The U.S. did not uniformly follow UGLE's action, and continues not to do so.

In March 2017, the AntiMafia Commission issued a search warrant demanding the turnover of computer servers and hard drives of the grand lodges and the grand orient—not just confined to the two provinces of Italy that were under investigation, but nationwide. Italian Freemasons are well aware from previous experiences just how damaging to their careers and public reputations it can be to have their Masonic memberships publicly declared in the press or other channels of communications. The country still has a strong anti-Masonic sentiment, so this is not a trivial concern.

The recent national elections of March 2018 decided 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 315 Senators. A center-right coalition emerged between two political parties—the League, and the Five-Star Movement—and they now comprise the majority in both the Chamber and the Senate. As part of their coalition agreement, the two parties signed a "Government Treaty" to share power. And a noteworthy part of that agreement is an Anti-Masonic clause that is believed by many observers to be clearly unconstitutional.

On Monday this week, May 21st, Stefano Bisi (photo right), Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy, wrote an appeal to the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, strongly objecting to the coalition treaty's anti-Masonic declaration. He will hold a press conference on Wednesday, and has invited the anti-Mafia Commission's new secretary, Marco di Lello to attend.

Bisi has circulated a letter to grand lodges throughout the world to shine a light on this new threat to the Masons of Italy, and can be read below (click image to enlarge).

Monday, May 21, 2018

Update On Japan

In March, I reported on recent actions within the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan (see Turmoil In Japan) that included expulsions, a charter being suspended, the resignation of the Grand Secretary, and more. 

Norihiro Inmata, PGM
Word has come this weekend out of Japan that the Grand Lodge convened an extraordinary Communication on Friday, May 18th in order to handle some of the fallout from their annual meeting back in March. The result is that MW Norihiro Inmata, Past Grand Master (2016), has just been reinstated, and the charges against him, along with his expulsion, have been thrown out.

Additionally, the charter of historic Far East Lodge No. 1 has been reinstated by the Grand Lodge. 

The current Grand Lodge of Japan website has not yet been updated to reflect the changes, but it's early yet.

Philip A. Ambrose, PGM, PGS

Meanwhile, the immediate Past Grand Secretary and Past Grand Master (2002), Philip A. Ambrose (photo at left), has reportedly left Japan.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Thank You, Indiana


THAT was a surprise!

The Caleb B. Smith Medal of Honor is considered the highest award the Grand Lodge of Indiana can bestow. It was established in 1963, and has been given to a huge variety of impressive Freemasons over the years - as varied as J. Edgar Hoover, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut, Dwight L. Smith, Red Skelton, CNN’s David Goodnow, many Past Grand Masters, and more.

The medal's namesake, Caleb Blood Smith, was a journalist, Indiana Speaker of the House, and a member of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet during the Civil War. One of the most eloquent orators of his day and known for his stentorian voice, he also served as Indiana's Grand Master in 1837, as the state's fraternity was endangered by the ongoing Morgan anti-Masonic fervor. He was credited with helping to sustain Freemasonry in the Hoosier state during this dark period.

So I was truly blindsided tonight when Grand Master Rodney A Mann called me to the dais along with Richard Hickam, our senior-most Past Grand Master (1970-71) who proceeded to pin this year’s medal on me.

When I turned to look behind me, I was surrounded by an impressive group of eminent brethren who have been previously so honored, all grinning like Cheshire cats.

To be awarded this medal tonight and in such a surprising way, surrounded by Masons and friends I have admired throughout my fraternal life, is one of the greatest moments I’ve had the privilege to experience. 

My heartfelt thanks to Rodney and to the members of the awards committee. I will strive to to live up to their confidence and to continue to do all I can to serve Indiana’s brethren each and every day.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thinking Differently About Lodge Locations

"From East to West;
From North to South;
From the Earth to the Heavens;
From its Surface to its Center;
To show the Universality of Masonry..."

Lodge meeting in a cave in Bisbee, Arizona in 1897

Freemasons, especially in the United States, have a long and colorful history of meeting and conferring degrees in unusual locations. In the earliest days of the Craft when permanent Masonic halls were not yet built, lodges most commonly met in taverns and inns that had a large, private meeting or dining room. Such public houses were frequently the center of their communities by virtue of having the biggest available meeting spaces. But Masonic lodges would also convene in school houses, court houses, private homes, attics, mills, caves, and countless other ingenious or shared locations. Traveling Military lodges had to be especially adaptable.

California's Volcano Lodge No. 56 in 1921

In the 20th and 21st centuries, these types of unique locations were resurrected and used more for dramatic effect than out of necessity.

This past week in Austin, Texas, a Master Mason degree was conferred in the State Capital's historic House Chamber by Texana Lodge No. 123, thanks to a Brother there who is also a State Representative.

Texas State Capitol in Austin

Brethren of Texana Lodge 123

Despite its early-sounding lodge number, Texana Lodge 123 was actually a reconstituted lodge that received its new charter in 2010.

Its much older namesake was originally chartered in 1852, but went defunct in 1883. The new lodge is headquartered in Texas' capital city of Austin, and so they take advantage of that strategic location and their very old heritage by using the statehouse's impressive facilities for special occasions (photos above and right).

The Grand Lodge of Kansas similarly holds various sessions and events like their Leadership Academies frequently in the Kansas Statehouse House chamber in Topeka (below).

And Washington, D.C.'s Naval Lodge No. 4 regularly confers the Entered Apprentice degree each year in a private room inside the U.S. Capitol (below).

Naval Lodge No. 4 at the U.S. Capitol

The International Peace Garden is a 2,300 acre botanical park straddling the U.S. and Canadian border between Dunseith, North Dakota and Manitoba. Opened in 1932, the Garden is a non-profit organization which is supported by several groups and fraternal organizations, including the Freemasons, Order of Eastern Star, American and Canadian Junior Red Cross, the Women’s Federated Institute of Canada, Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Daughters of the British Empire (IODE), and the Knights of Columbus.

The distinctively shaped Masonic Auditorium was built in 1981, and sponsored by the Grand Lodge of North Dakota AF&AM and the Grand Lodge of Manitoba AF&AM. The combined 20,000 Masons of the two grand lodges at that time initiated the $775,000 project for concerts and practice sessions for the young people of the International Music Camp. The Masonic Auditorium is one of the many shared projects in the International Peace Garden that encourages friendship between people of the United States and Canada.

The International Peace Garden Lodge of Freemasons was formed in 1993 with joint warrants granted by the Grand Lodges of Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota. The Grand Lodge of Saskatchewan became a fourth chartering Grand Lodge in 2000. Its purpose is "to promote and enhance fraternal relations among Freemasons of North America and to assist in the expansion and maintenance of the International Peace Garden." It meets once a year in this special and very unique setting.

Outdoor degrees have long been a tradition practiced all over the U.S. I wrote last month about Freemasons and rock quarry degrees, but numerous jurisdictions have set aside special locations in unique settings for conferring degrees or holding meetings, sometimes tied to noteworthy dates or historic events.

Mullen Pass Historic Lodge No. 1862, near the Continental Divide, was the location of the first meeting of Freemasons in Montana in 1862. The outdoor site (above) is used every summer to commemorate that historic occasion.

Also in Montana is Bannack Historic Lodge 3-7-77 (above)that holds its meetings in Bannack State Park, the ghost town that was the original state capital.

But last weekend, brethren in Edmonton, Alberta sent me a video of an outdoor setting they spent several months creating for conferring the Master Mason degree, with their permission to share it here. The brethren were obviously having fun by playing up the spookiness of being deep in the woods in their 'making-of' video (lest non-Masons get the wrong impression of what really happens in our degrees). But have a look at some of their outdoor decorating and staging ideas.

I know there are countless other jurisdictions where these types of innovative locations and many, many more are used. It's unfortunate when they get abused and contorted into purportedly "fun degrees" that use these unusual locations as an excuse to confer degrees in a decidedly un-serious, un-solemn manner (such as "mountain man" style, and the like). Masonic degrees are first and foremost designed to make an indelible impression upon the candidate in his once-in-a-lifetime experience, not to entertain and amuse the onlookers. But as long as everybody keeps that in mind, I think it's tremendous when excited brethren let their imaginations run wild with inventive staging.

As we often said in advertising, where do ideas come from? Somebody else! Steal it and claim it as your own.