Ala. Governor Defends White Masonic Unit
By JAY REEVES
Friday, September 29, 2006
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Gov. Bob Riley is defending his membership in a Masonic organization that critics say excludes blacks.
Riley, a Republican running for re-election against Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, is a member of a Masonic lodge in his east Alabama hometown of Ashland. It is affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Alabama, a statewide group.
Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Riley said he did not know whether his lodge had any black members. But Riley denied that the Masonic group is racist.
Riley's membership in the Masons has been mentioned on Internet blogs and was a hot topic on a Birmingham-based radio talk show hosted by Russ and Dee Fine, Baxley supporters who claim they were fired earlier this week in part because they pointed it out.
Dee Fine said a governor shouldn't be a member of an all-white group, adding, "If nothing else it's surely not politically astute."
The head of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, Grand Master Frank W. Little, said he knows of no blacks among its 32,000 members. The group has 318 lodges and accepts new members by applications and referrals from other members. The organization has an affiliated women's group called the Order of the Eastern Star.
Little denied that there is anything in the organization's current constitution or edicts to prevent a black from joining.
"To my knowledge I don't know of any black who's ever applied for membership in the Grand Lodge," he said. "Is there anything that would prevent them? No. As the grand master, if I heard of any lodge that denied a man membership because of his race, they wouldn't be a lodge for long."
A separate Masonic organization, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, is composed almost exclusively of blacks and has chapters all over the country, including Alabama.
A poll published Sept. 10 showed Riley, who is seeking a second term, with a 21 percentage point lead over Baxley, 55 percent to 34 percent. The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Sept. 5-7 for The Birmingham News, WBRC-TV and WAFF-TV, and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.