Moose of a Different Color?

February 18, 1994

In Hagerstown, there are more members of the Moose Lodge (7,500) than there are registered Republicans (5,500). Since the Washington County seat has a male population of about 16,000, roughly one of every two Hagerstown men is a Moose.

One of every two white Hagerstown men, that is.

There are no black members of the Hagerstown Moose Lodge, despite the fact that it is the nation's largest chapter of that fraternal organization.

Despite the fact that 2,200 blacks comprise 6 percent of Hagerstown's population.

Despite the contention in a 1992 federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that four white ACLU "testers" could walk into the Moose lodge, get served lunch and be offered memberships on the spot, while four black "testers" were asked to leave.

The national Moose leadership considers the questions about discrimination at the Hagerstown lodge an embarrassment and wants practices there to change. This situation of a parent organization asking a local chapter to clean up racial discrimination is a mirror image of another case of fraternal discrimination in Maryland. In that case, the Annapolis Elks club has implored its national board to scrub discriminatory language from the organization's bylaws. Because the bylaws remain discriminatory, the Annapolis Elks are in the process of losing their city liquor license and relocating outside Annapolis proper.

The crux of the Hagerstown Moose matter is in the distinction between a private club and a place of public accommodation. The local Moose is an integral part of the community. It is a forum for many of the town's business relationships. It allows walk-in lunch trade and, thus, public access.

On Wednesday night, less than one percent of the Hagerstown Moose -- only 71 of the 7,500 members -- voted overwhelmingly to reject for membership a 43-year-old black mechanic, James Yates, who had been recommended by a 15-year club member. Mr. Yates said afterwards he felt the situation was "embarrassing."

It should not have been for him. It is the Hagerstown Moose that should be embarrassed.

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