Members of the Lodge Morality, No.1362 (Ghana), 1930
Freemasonry admits men regardless of race, creed, colour, faith or nationality so why should an e-mail accuse the Grand Lodge of Scotland of racism? Answering the e-mail was simple. The sender was directed to that part of the Grand Lodge web site which shows pictures of Scottish Freemasons from all parts of the world.
The e-mail was deleted and forgotten about until a couple of weeks later when a telephone call was received asking much the same question: “Why don’t the Masons let blacks in?” A reply regarding the pictures on the Grand Lodge web site was given but the immediate retort was: “the pictures on the web site mean nothing because the individuals were not wearing Masonic regalia – they could be anybody.”
When a national Sunday newspaper contacted Grand Lodge soon after, asking the same question, one did begin to wonder exactly what was going on. For a variety of reasons the newspaper could not publish (in the newspaper) the intended article (domestic and international new events move so quickly that it is common for stories to be ‘squeezed out’ as happened in this instance). Here then, is what one might imagine the article would have been had it actually seen the light of day.
Freemasonry and Racism
In the minds of many, Freemasonry is linked with elitism and secrecy yet a little research and asking simple questions produced information that belies the preconceived prejudices of many. Recent research carried out by the Curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library, Robert Cooper, has established that the Masons blazed a trail in the field of race relations – a trail they pursue to this day.
Black men admitted to an Edinburgh Masonic Lodge in 1904
Cooper has discovered a remarkable photograph what shows that Freemasons in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, were welcoming black men exactly 100 years ago. The photograph shows 10 black men, all members of the Williams & Walker Co, a touring vaudeville act after having been Initiated into Freemasonry in Lodge Waverley, No.597, on 2nd May 1904. They were subsequently Passed on 16th May and Raised on 1st June of that year. “The principals of Freemasonry”, said Cooper, “dictate that there can be no discrimination on the grounds of race and this is but one example.” The picture, and many others, also showing black Freemasons, are held by the Grand Lodge Museum in the Masons’ George Street headquarters. “Thank goodness for the camera” said Cooper. “Because Freemasonry per se is not interested in anyone’s religion, race, or politics our records contain no details as to the race etc. of the individuals concerned. These images show that Scottish Freemasonry has been admitting black men since, at least, the invention of photography.”
But further research revealed that admission of black men into Freemasonry had been taking place even earlier. “More than 100 years before slavery was officially abolished black men were being admitted into the fraternity,” explained Mark Tabbart, Curator of Fraternal Collections at the Museum of National Heritage in Lexington Massachusetts. “This is a story little known to non-Freemasons and it shows how egalitarian Freemasonry was and continues to be” said Tabbert.
Francis Cogliano. Lecturer in American history at the University of Edinburgh, said that inviting black men to join the Masons would have been a controversial move, given that British soldiers were figures of hate.
“In 1904 there was a lot of discrimination in Scotland, a totally obvious kind of discrimination, because that was the height of the British Empire. People of other races from Africa and the Indian subcontinent were regarded as servants and subjects,” he said.
“Most people are simply unaware of the egalitarian nature of Freemasonry,” said Cooper, “when one is aware that there are Scottish Lodges all over the world, including Africa and the
Indian subcontinent, all of them admitting natives of each country regardless of race it shows how ridiculous is any suggestion of racism.”