Moose close down Hagerstown lodge

February 25, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Marcia Myers contributed to this article.

National leaders of the Loyal Order of Moose permanently closed yesterday the organization's huge Hagerstown lodge, which last week rejected a black applicant trying to become its first minority member.

The action came on the same day that the lodge's rejection of the black applicant came under informal scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division.

Kurt Wehrmeister, a national Moose spokesman, said the all-white lodge was shut down and its charter revoked for "repeated violations" of Moose policies. The lodge is the Moose's largest in North America, claiming about 7,500 members.

Mr. Wehrmeister said that all members in "good standing" of Hagerstown Lodge No. 212 could retain international membership through a Moose facility near Chicago, set up for those who have lost lodges, or transfer to other clubs.

He described the lodge's closing as "not unprecedented, but unusual."

The Hagerstown lodge was closed temporarily last summer for serving nonmembers and also is the subject of a discrimination suit pending in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The closing of the lodge resulted from its action last week when members -- on a 52-19 vote, less than 1 percent of its claimed membership -- rejected a black man's membership application, stunning national Moose leaders and prompting charges of racism from civil rights leaders and politicians.

James Yates, a 43-year-old auto-preparation technician, was among several prospective members up for consideration. The others -- all white -- were accepted. Mr. Wehrmeister said a lodge investigating committee had found no problems with Mr. Yates' character.

Lodge administrator David Krueger denied last week that Mr. Yates was rejected because of racism. He said members voted against Mr. Yates because he and his sponsor had publicly discussed Moose affairs.

Mr. Yates, who is considering applying for membership at another Moose lodge, expressed shock yesterday at the closing of the club.

"It's unbelievable. I didn't think it would go that far. I thought maybe they would get a 30- to 60-day suspension and then things would be back to normal," he said.

Mr. Yates, a newly elected sergeant in the mostly white Hagerstown Fire Police, said he wanted to join the Moose club because of its public service record and its efforts to help disadvantaged children.

"It's a shame what they did," he said. "I didn't bring it on them. They brought it on themselves. I would like to have gotten in there and been a part of the good things they do."

Mr. Wehrmeister said yesterday that Moose leaders were still discussing how to accommodate Mr. Yates' application.

Donald L. Edwards Sr., a 15-year Moose member who sponsored his friend, Mr. Yates, for membership, could not be reached for comment.

Civil rights leaders and politicians expressed surprise at the club's closing but commended the decision.

"I think they have acted admirably," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden. "I applaud their swift action and hope this sends a clear message to other Moose lodges throughout the nation that racism will not be tolerated."

Mr. Snowden had called on civil rights organizations and other groups to pressure lawmakers to pass legislation that would bar private groups from discriminating because of race, gender or religion.

Under the legislation, now before a Senate committee, violators could lose their liquor licenses. Mr. Snowden said the Hagerstown Moose lodge controversy has triggered support for the measure.

Teri Gross, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in Washington, also applauded the national Moose action.

"I think it demonstrates the national organization's commitment to ending discrimination," she said.

Moose leaders arrived at the lodge yesterday to announce the closing to Hagerstown directors. The building was closed at noon, and details of its sale were still being worked out, Mr. Wehrmeister said.

Neither lodge Gov. Maurice Jenkins nor Mr. Krueger could be zTC reached for comment on the closing.

Not everyone was satisfied with the decision.

"I think it's a shame they're trying to solve a problem by closing a building down," said Del. Peter G. Callas, a Democrat who chairs the Washington County delegation. "They should be given an opportunity to have another vote and get at the problem. The problem is still there."

Sen. John W. Derr, a Republican representing Washington and Frederick counties, said he was "pleasantly surprised and pleased" Moose leaders acted so quickly.

"If it is in fact true that [the lodge] had repeated violations and weren't correcting them and they did definitely vote down this man strictly on the basis of race, then I'm delighted the charter was revoked," he said.

Mr. Derr, however, said he was concerned about Moose employees who may have lost their jobs. He estimated there were about 20 workers.

"Those employees in all likelihood had nothing to do with the vote," he said.

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