Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Unequal Geography of Freemasons in Atlanta



Posted by Austin Stewart, ATLANTA, GA -- Buckhead, East Atlanta, and Bankhead have one thing in common. They all have or have had a Masonic Lodge present in their neighborhoods. In Georgia, the Masonic Fraternal Organization  is very strong, and Atlanta is no exception.  The Masonic Center in Buckhead, a predominantly white area, is massive and well kept. There is no sense of the Masonic Brotherhood dying off when one looks at building. In such a commercial and affluent part of town, it is no wonder that the site was chosen for what seems to be a thriving center for Masonry. Masonry was brought to the United States in the 1700s from the United Kingdom. Historically, Masonry was segregated by race here. In 1784 the first African American lodge was officially chartered in Boston.


In contrast, the shuttered Smooth Ashlar Lodge at 525 Moreland in East Atlanta shares a parking lot with a cheap Chinese restaurant and is covered in graffiti and a charming mural. Above the impressive concrete name plaque, the rectangular Masonic windows have been spray painted with the words “Free China”, and the Gothic style lights at the entrance have been shattered. The Lodge opened in 1984, though the date of closure is not clear. 



Likewise, at 1992 Bankhead Highway, what used to be a tattoo parlor (and is now empty space) there is a “bogus” Prince Hall Mason Lodge listed. I called the Citgo next door to the building and the gentleman told me that all he can remember being there before was a cell-phone store. I have a hunch that maybe the leader of the Lodge held meetings at his place of business. There is no way to be sure, but Bankhead is a poor African American area and there is good reason to believe that someone may have been taking advantage of the area residents. I saw no trace of anything that would indicate a Masonic meeting place, but nonetheless it was a listed Prince Hall Lodge location.


Atlanta remains a city with pervasive racial segregation and poverty. The Masonic “scene” in Atlanta is indirectly a part of these features. If we look at the shuttered Lodge on Moreland, or the anonymous listing in Bankhead, we can determine that these predominantly Black organizations hit hard times. But if we look at the Buckhead lodge we might conclude that this perhaps mostly white organization is going strong. These buildings, their conditions and locations, are reflections of the unequal social structure within the city.

Austin Stewart is a graduate student in the Andrew Young School of Public Policy at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at astewart34@student.gsu.edu or on Twitter at @Touchofgrey88.



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