Livingstone here. A recent thread popped up on /r/freemasonry under this thread “This misinformation needs to stop spreading immediately”. Like groundhog day, Christmas, spring break, and Halloween, there are certainly yearly events that we Masons come to expect. One being the yearly Masonic tradition of Freemasons posted that Martin Luther King was a Freemason. Here is the Facebook image.
The reality is Martin Luther King was never a Freemason. There are always rumors but the quality of the rumors matches anyone else who reached position of power. Many members of MLK’s inner circle were Freemasons, and the black leaders who continued his legacy, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, are both Freemasons. But that is it. There are rumors about his father being a Freemasons a little google sleuthing will show you that it is all fiction. MLK was never a Freemason and is still not a Freemason.
Yet why do we have this conversation then? Because Prince Hall Most Worshipful Brother Freemason Benjamin Barksdale, Grand Master of Georgia, made MLK a Freemason on Sight…and MLK was dead.
This act has zero historical precedence in Masonry and is completely irregular in mainstream Masonry. Sure, anyone can claim they’re a Freemason and so all sorts of things. But they’re not a recognized Mason. So when a recognized Mason decides to perform a ritual that has no legality, the first thing to do is to unrecognized that Masonic Lodge. Except this isn’t just some random lodge, It’s the Grand Lodge of Georgia. Too big to fail was already happening way back in 1999.
Barksdale’s motives are obvious and in some ways benign. For African-Americans in the United States, to have someone as renowned, upright, on the level, and legendary as Martin Luther King on your side is no small element. They are understandably proud to be associated with him. So it’s no surprise that Freemasons, who have a long history of upstanding men with good square morality and great feats would want to have MLK associated with them. And considering it is well known that Mormons baptise the dead, I’m sure Barksdale saw a golden opportunity. A sizable element of Masonic teaching involves following the journey of others in their shoes to learn great moral and philosophical perspective. And because Mormonism has it’s members stand in for the dead and get baptized as them, the Masonic connection seemed obvious.
Theoretically there are no barriers to this. Masonry doesn’t deny this practice. Also the practice is relatively harmless, unless people feel disturbed that their dead relative is now considered a Mason by a few million Masons and members of the profane who consider the ritual to be official Masonic practice. If the president made a non-American an honorary American because they believed in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, most Americans would consider it an honorable title. Other people around the world would consider it honorable. But people who hate America, or dislike American’s actual actions may not. Many might take offense. However typically that person would be alive. But maybe they wouldn’t be alive. What’s the harm in it then?
It’s a strange line if you think about it. If someone made someone an honorary Jew, or honorary Gay, or honorary White, or honorary Black, it would raise eyebrows for many and also wouldn’t raise eyebrows for many. The Urban Daily has a list of honorary Blacks. But that is Urban Daily, not the NAACP. If a Masonic newspaper or affiliated organization did it, it might not have raised so much of a ruckas. But when you have an official person who does it, then it rocks the boat. However because of Masonry’s de-centralized nature these things are bound to happen. Masonry benefits greatly from the eclectic ability of Masons to have a powerful through-line of identity, while at the same time thinking and acting on their own without a powerful force determining things for them. Sure they have Grand Lodges, but there are hundreds of Grand Lodges across the world. But the tricky problem is, what does that mean for the Masonic identity when a Masonic lodge or Lodge jurisdiction decides to create now Masonic practice? For Masonry is not an organization that relies on innovation. Far from it. Masonry is a iron tower in the constantly changing winds of society.
Masonry sits on the fence in it’s identity which makes figuring out this practice much harder. Being an organization steeped in spiritual and religious nature it seems like it would amount to exactly the same practice as what Mormons do. But because of Masonry’s secular nature that is very much an educational institute, it could classify itself as something along the same lines as a charity or educational institute. The Boy Scouts require you to believe in God to join and they have made US presidents honorary presidents every time. Perception is critical in many ways. However the list of institutions and organizations that list honorary status to the dead is pretty much zilch. I looked all over the net and found nothing.
Now doing something others don’t is also a hallmark of Masonry. We are used to being the leaders of new ideas and concepts in many areas so to throw this off because others don’t isn’t how Masonry has historically worked. So then the question comes down to two things. Can you be a Mason without taking the Obligation, and is this within the “compass” of our work.
To be a Mason on Sight, you need to go through the degree process and take the obligations. Essentially the things you say are a key component of the process. It’s a common misconception that being a Mason on Sight means the person being made a Mason doesn’t have to do anything. They are going through it as any normal candidate would. So if you can’t speak, you can’t make your obligation. Case closed. But for humor’s sake, let’s say we invented a new practice and you could make a dead person a Mason.
So now the question comes down to identity, and choice. This person while alive chose not to be a Mason. They could have even made references to being a Mason. But they didn’t. We Masons know that there are specific elements of Masonry that address this choice. To think that we can ignore what the first degree conveys to us abut this says a lot about how your heart views Masonry. And this goes right to my second point. MLK chose to have his identity be that of the profane. He chose to be who he was. To change his identity because you wanted to boost The Fraternity or because you were excited about the prospect is suspect. You’re not keeping your passions within due bounds and you were not circumscribing your desires.
We hav to respect each man and woman for who they were in this world and their own individual journey they took in it. For the vast majority of people, they will not be Masons. And we have to stop trying to reach outside of the fraternity for great men and instead worry about the ones inside our walls. Masonry is doing just fine without Martin Luther King. And his addition may change a few hearts but those hearts will have been changed in deception and for motives that aren’t squared.
So from henceforth, MLK was NOT a Mason and we must not tell the world he was a Mason. No one can prevent anyone from posting your photos or words about a fictional MLK Masonic connection, only the person in their heart can do that. Because being a Mason is a journey that must be taken while alive and by traveling upon the level of time. For we will one day be at that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, and we must enter it as a Brother.