Racism in Freemasonry
By W. Bro. Fred Milliken
First one must admit that there is racism in Freemasonry. For many that is going to be hard. Racism in Freemasonry occurs in pockets around the country but rarely in a whole jurisdiction. While some local Lodges are barring Black African-Americans others are welcoming them. If you haven't witnessed racism in the Craft then you are apt to deny that it exists.
One measure of racial attitude is the recognition of Prince Hall by American Grand Lodges. Today all but thirteen states recognize Prince Hall. The ones who do not are the original eleven states of the Confederacy minus Virginia plus Kentucky, West Virginia and Delaware. Within those states are a sizable minority pushing for recognition. And rightly so because Prince Hall performs ritual and promulgates landmarks or tenets of belief that are a mirror copy of traditional Freemasonry with only minor like differences that occur now from one traditional jurisdiction to another. In fact most Masonic jurisdictions declare Prince Hall regular Freemasonry. Some say regular but clandestine. So how can you be regular but clandestine? I leave the deduction up to the reader.
Some say that the non recognition of Prince hall is a "jurisdictional issue". Don't believe them. It is a racist smoke screen. From its inception and throughout a long period of time Prince Hall requested to be included into traditional Grand Lodges. Over and over again the answer was no. Now that traditional Lodges have kept Prince Hall separate, forced them to form their own Grand Lodges and system rather than incorporate them, they now say if only Prince hall was not a separate Grand Lodge we would recognize them.
Of course not so subtle acts of racism are reported quite often. After a Lodge has blackballed every Black candidate that has ever applied for admission in the last fifty years, it sure does have a track record of exclusion. Also failure to offer any Black men an application, failure to even suggest that they would be a fine addition to one's Lodge is equally exclusionary. Many Black men interested in joining a traditional Lodge are told to go apply at Prince Hall not here. The practice of a secret ballot for the approval of admitting visiting Brethren is a way used in some areas to keep Black Master Masons from another jurisdiction out of the Lodge. Another practice is to admit a Black visitor but refuse to open the Lodge substituting a Masonic education talk instead. The Grand Master of Texas in 2004 expelled The Philalethes Society from the state because its Dallas Chapter asked a Prince Hall Mason to address it.
For those that would still like to deny the charge of racism in Freemasonry let's look at the number of Black Master Masons in a jurisdiction. Now some states have a very low Black population so looking at this statistic would be meaningless in their case. . Let's just take the top five in Black population. New York has 3.5 million blacks. Florida, Texas, California and Georgia all have slightly over 2 million. 895,000 Blacks have been added to Florida's population between July 1, 2003 and July 1, 2004. That is the largest numeric increase of any state in the nation. Georgia and Texas added 61,800 and 45,000 respectively in the same period. (1) These five states account for about 30% of the nations total population of Blacks who are on a statistical average of 13.4 % of the total US population. If we took that 13.4 % figure might we assume that traditional Grand Lodges should reflect 13.4% of their membership being Black? Not really because we need to put Prince Hall in the equation. So let us say for arbitrary purposes that 75% of those Blacks who would be Masons automatically opt for Prince Hall. That leaves us 25% 0f 13.4% or 3.35% that we should find in traditional Lodges. That is a rational and reasonable guess and because it is a guess we will allow for a wide divergence. The only one of these five states I have any experience with is Texas. I have visited numerous Lodges as well as a Grand Lodge Communication. The last year I have membership figures for the Grand Lodge of Texas is 2003 when there were 112,977 Masters Masons. 3.35% would be 3,784. It would be nice if Grand Lodges kept statistics of minority membership. Maybe they do but they are not sharing them with the rank and file . So I leave it to you. Do you believe that there are 3,784 Black Masons in the Grand Lodge of Texas? I do not.
We have made the best case we can make. But how did this come all about? Historically didn't Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King with help from Federal Troops and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 erase separate but equal and institute integration civilly years ago? What happened with Freemasonry? Why are we having this battle 40 years later?
The hypothesis that keeps coming back is that after the Ku Klux Klan lost its mass appeal in the 1930's, it went underground and infiltrated and mated with Freemasonry. The Klan was very emphatic that it was a Christian organization, hence the burning cross. Its white hooded robes were said to imitate the Knights Templars, its secret handshakes and oaths - Freemasonry. It was also billed as a fraternal organization, one which advocated white supremacy, opposed gay rights and was anti Semitic, anti Catholic and anti immigrant. So the KKK was Christian and fraternal and used to secrecy.
In the 1920's the Klan had a membership close to 4 Million; 15% of the eligible population were members. Freemasonry in the same period had a membership around 3 million and at its very peak in the 50's and 60's just barely topped 4 million. By the middle of the 1930's KKK membership had dropped into the thousands. Where did they all go? Is it not possible that they went straight into Freemasonry to legitimize themselves? What would be more attractive to them than a highly regarded organization that made full use of the secret ballot thus enabling them to carry out their mission of a society of only white, Protestant Christian and English speaking people. And isn't this what American Freemasonry has become? - White, Protestant Christian and English speaking. And the way it stays that way is that you black ball everybody else.
Somebody has not been guarding the West Gate. Masonic tolerance has been reformed to tolerate intolerance.
Every attempt at a solution is met with you can't do that. You can't tell another Grand Lodge what to do, to think, how to act. Nor will any higher Masonic Institution ever be created to do just that. Then there are those that say just wait another 40 years for all the old racists to die off. Now there is a brilliant solution. Do nothing and the problem will disappear all by itself. Perhaps the problem is in the lack of a national American Masonic identity and to the abuses of the secret ballot. For a more in depth discussion of solutions see issue no. 4 of Masonic Magazine.
(1) All statistics are from the US Government, Bureau of Census as related to 2004.
- Source: Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary