Riley defends Masonic membership
October 7, 2006
By Jay Reeves
BIRMINGHAM -- Gov. Bob Riley is defending his membership in a Masonic organization that critics say excludes blacks.
Riley, a Republican who is running for re-election against Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, is a member of a Masonic lodge in his east Alabama hometown of Ashland that is affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Alabama, a statewide group with no known blacks among more than 30,000 members.
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, as did two leaders of the organization in interviews Friday.
Riley's membership in the Masons has been mentioned on Internet blogs and was a hot topic on a Birmingham-based talk show hosted by Russ and Dee Fine, Baxley supporters who claim they were fired earlier this week partly for pointing out Riley's membership in the Masons.
In an interview, Dee Fine said a governor shouldn't be a member of an all-white group, particularly since Grand Lodge documents dating to 1876 show it bars blacks as members.
"If nothing else it's surely not politically astute," she said.
Riley said the comments about his ties to Masonry are "bordering on ridiculous." He said that he knows some black Masons.
"Both Shriners and Masons do a lot of good," Riley said in the interview Thursday after a campaign fundraiser with President Bush.
The head of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, Grand Master Frank W. Little, said he knows of no blacks among the 32,000 members of the state organization, which has 318 lodges and accepts new members by applications and referrals from other members.
"To my knowledge I don't know of any black who's ever applied for membership in the Grand Lodge," he said. "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."
Riley campaign spokesman Josh Blades said plenty of Democrats also are Masons, including former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. of Cullman, who is running for lieutenant governor, plus House Speaker Seth Hammett of Andalusia and Senate Pro Tem Lowell Barron of Fyffe.
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.