JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—It was a dark hidden secret in an already secretive fraternity, until now.
"I felt like that is not right," says Walter Hammond.
Hammond, a Mason since 1961, is fighting to restore his membership and to change an 1893 law that allows racial discrimination.
"It did surprise me," says Hammond. "To me, it runs against the principles of free masonry where we all are in the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God."
Attorney Kevin Sanders represents Hammond.
"You're looking at about 13 million people that are disenfranchised by Florida Statute," says Sanders, "under this law that they cannot be a part."
Sanders discovered the 123-year-old Jim Crow law while preparing his case to restore Hammond's membership.
"This statute has not been repealed, this statute has not been overturned," he says. "As far as I know, this is the first time this statute has been challenged for its unconstitutionality."
He's asking the courts to make it null and void not just for Hammond, but for everyone.
"I'm asking the courts to make it a class action,' said Sanders.
He's confident they can win, but first they have to clear a hurdle of motions to stop the suit from moving forward.
"Kevin thinks we're going to win the case, I hope we do," says Hammond.
The law, Chapter 4281 of the Florida Statues, incorporates the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida. And the language reads, "consisting of Masons exclusively of the white race."
Grand Secretary Richard Lynn says they are aware of the Jim Crow Law and, in 1993, one hundred years later, the Lodge approved a Declaration of Principles to, as he said, negate the 1893 law.
It reads, in part:
"The Digest of Masonic Law of Florida does not authorize a member of a particular lodge to object to the petition for membership to receive the Three Degrees of masonry, or to visitation by an otherwise qualified visiting Mason, if the objection is based upon the grounds of race, creed, color...
...Such objections are illegal under the State and Federal law and Masons are bound to abide by such laws."
Lynn says they would agree to have the language removed from the 1893 law, but they're against dissolving the corporation to accomplish the change.
He says such a move would impact the organization financially.
The case has been filed in Federal Court and goes to trial in November.