Gov. Bob Riley and the Masons, redux
Friday, October 27, 2006
Some folks say that the most segregated hour of the week is Sunday morning at 11 a.m. That's when most folks go to church, and most - even in this new century and millennium - don't worship with people of other races on a regular basis.
Seems church folks have something in common with Masons, who are as segregated as Sunday morning. Most white Masons are members of the Grand Lodge. Blacks become Prince Hall Masons.
If both groups merely were self-segregating as most churches are, it would be bad enough. But this is worse because by charter or tradition, Grand Lodges across the South won't allow Prince Hall Masons to become members or even visit their meetings.
In turn, some Prince Hall Masons have reportedly done the same thing.
Why does any of this matter? Because it's an election year, and the rap on Gov. Bob Riley is that he is a racist because he is a member of Alabama's Grand Lodge.
I don't think Riley is a racist, but I understand why others do. What's the old saying? Lay down with dogs and ... .
In Riley's defense, he said he hasn't attended a meeting since he was in his 20s.
"I don't even know who the head of the Masons in Alabama is," he told The Times editorial board Tuesday afternoon. Well, the head Mason knows who Riley is.
In May 2005, Riley's Grand Lodge brothers gave him the rank of Knight Commander of the Court of Honor. When I asked Riley about this a month or so ago, he dismissed the honor as ceremonial.
Nevertheless, active or not, he didn't turn it down.
Other Alabama Masons have been more decisive. After a failed attempt to integrate Alabama's Grand Lodge in 1999, some members left it.
White Masons in Alabama now can be affiliated with the United Grand Lodge of America, which was formed specifically to ensure that Masonry does not discriminate based on race or religion.
Most Grand Lodges across the nation now practice what is called "mutual recognition," meaning that they accept blacks as members and visitors. The Associated Press reported that Masonry is segregated only in the South - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
The governor's responses to this issue have been somewhat tepid, but his campaign's have been worse. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that campaign spokesman Josh Blades outed lieutenant governor candidate and former Gov. Jim Folsom as a Mason, along with House Speaker Seth Hammett and state Sen. Lowell Barron, both of whom are running for re-election.
If the message from the Riley campaign is that we should get off the governor's back because Democrats are in the Grand Lodge too, that's the wrong message.
Masons refusing to accept members based on race is wrong, whether white or black, Republican or Democrat. Riley knows this, as does the head of Alabama's Grand Lodge, Grand Master Frank W. Little.
To his credit, Little told The Advertiser that while he doesn't know of any blacks among the 32,000 Masons in his Lodge, "if I heard of any lodge that denied a man membership because of his race they wouldn't be a lodge for long."
Riley, to his credit, told The Times editorial board that he agreed.
"I think that's where you go," he said.
However, we all know that saying the right thing isn't the same as doing it. Little needs to investigate what his lodges are - or are not - doing. And the governor needs to back up his words with action.
If Riley doesn't believe that Masons should be discriminating - if he truly believes that mutual recognition is the way to go - then he ought to use his bully pulpit to get loud and pushy about it.
If the Grand Lodge won't budge, Riley should disassociate himself with it. And so should Folsom, Hammett, Barron and any other Grand Lodge member who wants to be elected to public office.
Riley should also renounce the rank the Grand Lodge gave him. Knight Commander of the Court of Honor sounds mighty royal. But there's no royalty in racism.
David Person's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; voice mail: 532-4362