Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Masons in the 'City of Brotherly Love' remain as racially segregated as in 'The Heart of Dixie'

Usually when there's a local news story about a Masonic lodge or event, it's standard fodder. The reporter quotes a member, usually a Worshipful Master or Past Master, who says "we're not a secret society, we're a society with secrets." A joke is made about ruling the world or secret handshakes, Masonic charity and good works are cited, the average age of a Mason and the dwindling membership is mentioned, and reference is made to some famous Freemason, usually a U.S. president. Basically, if you've read one of these articles, you've read them all. Only the names and locations change.

So I was surprised by a brief statement buried in what otherwise was just another of the same ol' same ol'.

This article is from suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, once a hotbed of revolutionary Masonic thought. Philly's nickname, "The City of Brotherly Love," is an obvious Masonic reference.

The article is about a local lodge planning to put up a new, larger lodge building. Mixed in with the standard yadda-yadda was this rather unexpected statement:

"The lodge currently has 300 members, all of them white men. Traditionally, the Masons have encouraged blacks and women to form their own groups."

Philadelphia is 45% white and 43% black. Why in this city of 1.5 million people, famous for freedom, liberty and brotherly love, are white Masons and black Masons not sitting together in lodge as brothers? I thought it was just us here in the South who hadn't gotten past the race thing. I thought enlightenment had already spread across the northeast.

Guess not.

| | | | |


  1. Dear Br. WS,

    great to have you back! I missed your comments very much.

    "City of Brotherly Love" is not only a nickname but the translation into English of "Philadelphia" (which is derived from Greek "philein"=to love and "adelphos"=brother). I assume that it is rather the general tolerance of a man of good character, kind heart and level mind than a Masonic affiliation 'avant la lettre' that, in 1682, made William Penn, who treated everyone as a human being regardless of race, religion, and nationality, and who in England had himself suffered persecution because of his Quaker beliefs, name the place for what he desired most. That he has not been a Mason makes the fact that present-day "Brotherlovers", as you describe, do not live up to his standards even more deplorable.

    Greetings from Germany,

    Br. Ludwig

  2. "[...] Traditionally, the Masons have encouraged blacks and women to form their own groups."

    To be fair, WS, this is what the author of the article wrote, and is not necessarily a quote from anyone he interviewed.

    I thought enlightenment had already spread across the northeast.

    Having been one of those who has given interviews for the local paper (and yes, they were pretty much as you described) I have seen quotes taken out of context, and items that were wrong - which I assumed to be a mis-understanding on the part of the writer.

    While it's certainly possible that the Housemen Lodge is all white, I'm sure that it does not reflect the makeup of the many other lodges in the area. In fact, I'm not sure how anyone would even make that kind of a statement, since Grand Lodges do not ask for that kind of data on the petitions or enrollment forms.

  3. Br. Ludwig is correct about the derivation of least that is how I learned Greek in divinity school. What surprises me is that geography would be related to integrated minds and spirits. I can find racism anywhere...its seething below the surface in all of us. It truly is ourgrowing edge both within and without the craft. Within the craft the external only reflects how deep our teachings have grown. As Masons its time to live our teachings and not just recite our ritual. It matters little whether its Pensacola, Phoenix or Philadelphia...geography is inconsequential to the state of one's heart.

    Greetings from Iowa,

    Br. Bill

  4. Tom has it right. The author of the piece took a whopping gratuitous swipe for his own personal reason. I'll guarantee you that's not the GL of Pennsylvania's stance on the matter, probably not the position of the brethren of the lodge in question, and assuredly not the position of the vast majority of Masons in Pennsylvania. But don't expect a hack to do any digging beyond a Wikipedia listing anymore.

    The Bucks County Courier Times doesn't really pop into my head as one of the great papers of this, or any other day. Anyone in need of fish wrap or cage liner?

  5. not to besmirch the reputation of the City of Philadelphia, but this is the same town that boo-ed Santa Claus

  6. Looking over the rows of photos of Past Masters in my lodge in Texas, they're all some shade of white from what I can tell. However, that will change soon enough—our most recent Past Master is black, as are our currently sitting Junior and Senior Wardens. One of the reasons I chose my lodge was because of it's diversity, with a good number of black, jewish, gay, or other "groups" that would not normally be allowed in a "good old boy's" club. My only complaint is the continued bias against "stupid atheists", but I guess that's another argument entirely.

  7. The author of the piece took a whopping gratuitous swipe for his own personal reason.

    Chris, I've noticed that some reporters or columnists tend to make a point over mentioning that women are not allowed into the fraternity. Some years ago, a local newspaper columnist made a habit of this, right before the Elks changed their own policy.

    And certainly, you can imagine the dinner party conversations I've had about the mainstream AF&AM lodges not allowing women. :-\

    I tend not to attribute to evil that which could be attributed to ignorance, so I like to think that this was simply a point that was not clear to the reporter.

    But WS, I am disappointed that you appeared to perceive it in such a light. Perhaps it's a result of your own experiences?

  8. Bro. Tom,

    What? You mean you can't believe everything you read on the Internet?

    But seriously, if the report that this particular lodge has 300 white members and zero any other race is true, then asking why is a legitimate question. Is this lodge representative of mainstream Masonry in Pennsylvania? Does recognition between Prince Hall and mainstream lodges increase integrated membership in either group, or is the recognition just for political effect, with the brethren remaining un-mingled?

    — W.S.

  9. The problem is that many people try to look for racism in places where it simply doesn't exist, yet they ignore it when it blatantly could. While a 300:0 race ratio in a city closer to 50:50 may SEEM racist, why is it necessarily a racist issue? It certainly isn't too difficult to find unintentionally racially-separated groups, yet those groups are never considered racist. Just look around, and you'll find churches that are 100% black, stores that have 100% Hispanic patronage, and countless other groups that are 100% white, black, Asian, or whatever. Just because a group is comprised of one race does not make the group racist (though obviously, some of its members might be racist.)

    In Freemasonry, ANY man can petition ANY lodge--he just needs to be unanimously voted in.

  10. The post above says it well. Even in workplace and school cafeterias in the South, people of the same color sit together and sit to themselves. Yet, situations similar to the Philly lodge like black churches and hospitals, black colleges and black businesses are NEVER criticized for being racist, many overtly so I might add. Our nation has set a double standard in this respect. It's OK for non-whites to segregate but whites must integrate or be punished, if not legally, at least in the court of public opinion.

    The situation in the Philly lodge is not really a racial issue if (and only if) the lodge allows ALL colors to petition. I'm all for diversity insofar as diversification may (emphasis on "may") have tangible merit for an organization, e.g., bringing different skills or perspectives to the table. Forcing people together does nothing more than perpetuate racial, gender and sexual cliques and cabals that are detrimental to the advancement of the organization.

    Next time we ask why a lodge isn't integrated, let's have a good reason WHY it should integrate. Is it because we will simply maintain the membership/revenue base or because the quality of petitioners will be enhanced? The latter is a good reason, the former is not.

    Diversity for diversity's sake is a big DEAD END. It's about damned time this country realizes that.

    Fraternally yours,
    The Libertarian

  11. For those in denial of Masonic racism all one need do is look at Georgia, Alabama, etc. African Americans are not welcome period. The are not allowed to petition and instead sent to the Prince Hall or King Solomon's lodge down the street. Racism is alive and well in some parts of Freemasonry.

  12. Next time we ask why a lodge isn't integrated, let's have a good reason WHY it should integrate.

    Let me make this clear: In Connecticut, there is NO spot on the petition or investigation forms that indicates a candidate's race. The idea of integration does not come up because there is nothing preventing men of any color from joining.


    In the almost six years that I've been a member of the fraternity, I have not seen or even heard of any lodge in my area "steering" anyone toward a Prince Hall lodge.

    Prince Hall masonry in this state is very strong, and we have quite a few lodges doing joint events with the PH lodges in their area. We have a state-wide event coming up, and we just had a joint "Grand Masters Day in June.

    That said, let's consider that lodges tend to attract members from a) the surrounding community, and b) from other members. In a nearby city, the PH lodge meets in the same building as two other lodges. In the black community in that city, black attorneys, bankers, insurance agents, and other business types tend to belong to that PH lodge, and it should be no surprise that they tend to recommend that lodge to their friends. This is not racism, but what we call "freedom of association."

    Hmm. Would you accuse the PH Masons of "steering" their friends toward PH Masonry and away from AF&AM Masonry?

    I have helped other lodges with joint degrees in which PH guests have joined in. Unfortunately, while some PH brothers are habitual visitors at the AF&AM lodges, they can not affiliate because in Conn, PH does not allow affiliate memberships.

    But seriously, if the report that this particular lodge has 300 white members and zero any other race is true, then asking why is a legitimate question.

    And there could be a dozen reasons that have nothing to do with racism.

    My own lodge has a high percentage of computer geeks. Why? Because five years ago, a bunch of them joined, and have recommended it to their friends. Fifteen or twenty years ago, our lodge had a high influx of engineers. Why? Because a handful of engineers at the local industries joined and began mentioning it to their friends. As it happens, we have only a handful of brothers who are black. Why? Because until recently, our suburban town was actually a rural community, with very few families of color in the area. As that changed, so did our lodge composition.

    I have to echo what several other brothers have written: it's possible to find racism where none exists. As I have stated earlier, I tend not to attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance; personally, I have as difficult a time believing in deliberate racism as you seem to have in believing in more innocent and unintentional explanations.

  13. Bro. Ludwig: Thanks for your "welcome back." It's good to be back.

    Obviously, I didn't know Philadelphia was Greek for "to love brother." Interesting.

    Is there evidence Penn chose that name for its etymological significance, or was it simply the Christian tendency to name everything after religious historical place names? Just as many California towns are named for the Spanish names for Catholic saints, many east coast states are heavy with Biblical town names. There is a Philadelphia community just down the road from me. Tucked up against it are the communities of Macedonia and Jerusalem.

    — W.S.

  14. Bro. Tom,

    Yes, I probably colored (pun intended) the article with thoughts of how it is in Georgia. In fact, I was asking, I guess, to have someone "tell me it ain't so" when I read the article about Pennsylvania's all-white lodge...
    because the racism is institutionalized here in Georgia Grand Lodge Freemasonry.

    Not too many minutes after I was raised, a brother joined me behind the altar to ceremonially explain to me the obligations I had just taken. I can close my eyes and still see it, and hear what he said:

    " a clandestine lodge. Brother, the only clandestine lodges that we know of are the black lodges."

    He was telling me, directly and officially, to avoid Masonic contact with "negro Masons."

    At that moment, I remember thinking, "Oh, $#!+, have I inadvertently joined the Klan?"

    — W.S.

  15. I don't know how "official" a response it was, but when I asked a PM from South Carolina about this issue, he stated that ANY man can petition ANY Masonic lodge in South Carolina. HOWEVER, the candidate must have two signatures on his petition, and he must be unanimously voted in.

    Procedurally, this is all above board, but the way he said the statement "unanimously voted in" clearly implied that a black man receiving a unanimous vote was unlikely.

    Again, this does not make Freemasonry in and of itself racist, it just means that the "status quo" will remain just that until such time that individual racism is removed.

    Freemasonry, like so many other organizations, suffers from the EFFECTS of individual racism, but is not itself racist.

  16. Br. W.S.,

    on the basis of my rather limited knowledge of William Penn's life I can only guess at whether he named Philadelphia for the meaning of the name or after the Philadelphia mentioned in Revelation 1:11 (modern-day Alashehir in Turkey -- from Arabic "allah"=God and Persian "shehr"=city, thus "City of God" -- I liked the other name better...). I am quite sure that, as the son of one of the wealthiest men in Britain, Penn received a very good schooling (he attended Christ Church college, Oxford, until being expelled for being a Quaker) and had at least a reading knowledge of Greek. I tend to believe that it was a combination of both reasons that made him name the capital of his experimental community "Brotherly Love".

    Br. Ludwig

  17. Having lived in that particular area for a short time and the philadelphia area my entire life, I can tell you that it is a predominantly white area. Most people in the far NE of Philly are of Irish and Polish descent. You've also got a lot of Jewish people especially farther NE and into Bensalem. And the Courier Post is hardly a newspaper, rinky-dink at best. I don't doubt however, that there are some lodges all across the country who wouldn't vote in a black member-sad as that is. Perhaps african american men would rather join a Prince Hall lodge anyway in Philadelphia-there are 44 PH lodges in the city with a few in the same area as the one in the article. Philadelphia is a large city with racial tensions like any other. Hopefully by joining the lodge, all men will be encouraged to work together more across that divide. A good starting point might be pushing for more intervisitation between PH and the traditional lodges. I agree that Masonry should be the first thing to encourage men of all color to share the same lodge.

  18. This should make you feel better... this is a link from that lodge's webiste, check out these pictures.

  19. Here is an idea.....

    how about everyone joins the HUMAN RACE and stops separating into all these different groups, religions, and political parties, and clubs, etc.....

    Then all the stupid name calling, fighting, and arguing about who is better than whom just might STOP.

    And then MAYBE, if we are really lucky, we will have the dignity of this country back and can TRULY call ourselves......


    People seem to forget that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

    As a result, this country is quickly heading for another revolution, which will probably be started, in part, by all the ignorant in-fighting.

    Then those of us who have more intelligence and insight, and who remember that the word "United" comes before the word "States" for a reason that others have forgotten........ will put a stop to it.

    - Emma

  20. What the hell are you talking about? Human beings have separated into groups since we've been on the planet. We're tribal in nature. However that has nothing to do of this issue. This is a result of bad reporting, when the truth is that those Brothers in Pennsylvania ARE reaching across previous divides and associating and visiting each other! Certainly isn't anything wrong with being in a "club" -as you say- where men encourage each other to be better.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.