M.W. Cabell F. Cobbs

Grand Master  Grand Lodge A.F & A.M. Of Virginia

Recently, it was necessary to set aside the ballot in a Northern Virginia Lodge and order the acceptance of a black petitioner who met every moral and character test for admission in the Lodge and Craft.  Brethren who had voted adversely to him both inside and outside Lodge declared that their rejection was motivated by racism.

On appeal by the Worshipful Master, I personally investigated the matter, set aside the law and directed a reballot.  I attended the stated communication at which the petition was once more called up for action.  No one present other than the vouchers and the investigating committee knew the petitioner.  The committee report was favorable.  I called upon anyone present to give any reason for the rejection of this man - - an officer in our armed forces, a Sunday School teacher in a large white church and a man whose probity seemed beyond question.  No reason was forthcoming.  Once again, he was rejected, and it was clear the sole reason was his color.  Accordingly, I again set the ballot aside and directed the Secretary to record the individual’s election to receive the degrees in Masonry.  On August 7, he was initiated an Entered Apprentice in the presence of some seventy Brethren and now is being instructed on his catechism.

Our ballot is both secret and sacred, and I regard it as such.  But when it is deliberately cast, not for reasons of morality or fitness, but as a tool of bigotry and prejudice, the ballot looses its sacred character and is properly subject to cancellation.  Here, it was evident it had been so misused.

As we approach the ballot box, we each make our dueguard to remind ourselves of our Masonic obligations, the seriousness of our vote and the principles by which we, as RAISED men, have voluntarily elected to be governed.

First and foremost among these tenets is BROTHERLY LOVE, and by its exercise, our beautiful ritual declares:

“...we are taught to regard the whole human species as one common family - the high, the low, the rich and poor, who as created by one Almighty Parent, are sent into the world to aid, support and protect each other. On this principal, Freemasonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise remain at a perpetual distance.”

If brotherly love has any vitality; if our teachings are meaningful to us; if hypocrisy and deceit are truly unknown among us, then racism can play no part in our balloting.  The blackball cannot be used as a shield behind which to hide our prejudices, our petty quarrels, or that splenetic hatred which seems so often to infect our deliberative processes.  On the other hand, if we merely intend to pay lip service to the tenets of our profession and to make the noble works of our ritual a meaningless recitation, then we will neither survive, nor deserve to survive.

Many Brethren disagree.  They look upon the ballot as a sword with which to strike out at supposed enemies, an instrument of retribution against those at whom they are angered, and as a say of secretly evening the score against some unsuspecting Brother.  Thus, we have seen Lodges in which every candidate is blackballed - sometimes for years; Lodges in which some old curmudgeon seeks either to have his way or to punish a supposed transgression by blackballing innocent persons.  Of course, he always lets the Lodge know what he is doing!  It is no fun unless everyone is aware of why the blackball is cast.  And that is the case here, how many Brethren we have who do not seem to have the least knowledge or attachment to the principles of our Order!

If the foregoing does not satisfy these Brethren (And I do not expect it will), then let me state that Federal law prohibits a tax-exempt organization from discriminating against applicants on the grounds of race, color, or creed.  We are such an organization and, if we lose our tax-exempt status, our Masonic Home, our Grand Lodge, our Lodges, and all our income, be it from dues, donations, or what have you, will be subjected to taxation.  The Home’s Endowment presently stands at $22,000,000, its physical plant in the tens of millions, our Grand Lodge in the millions, and the buildings, etc. of our various subordinate Lodges in the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions.

Loss of our tax-exemptions would be ruinous, and I will not risk it happening in order to pander to the prejudices of a few.  If, therefor, one cannot accept my setting aside the ballot adverse to a black petitioner on the grounds of Freemasonry’s universal brotherhood, then let him accept it on the basis of Federal law and the stringent penalties to be incurred if discrimination is permitted.  Take your choice, either way, the evidence of discrimination was apparent.  My duty was clear, and whenever is established that the ballot is being so grossly misused, I shall not hesitate to set it aside.


From the Virginia Masonic Herald October, 1989