S.C. Freemasons gather at Statehouse to celebrate George Washington’s 283rd birthday
By Harrison Cahill
COLUMBIA, SC — They aren’t a secret society, but they are a society that has secrets. The largest public gathering of Freemasons in South Carolina paraded Sunday down Main Street to the steps of the State House to celebrate George Washington’s 283rd birthday.
Members of Acacia Lodge #94 hosted nearly 150 Freemasons who traveled from around the state to lay a wreath at the feet of the George Washington statue in front of the State House and present a portrait of the United States’ first president to state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington.
Although a shroud of secrecy often covers the fraternity’s rituals, practices and symbols, David Stuard said the fraternity is actually not secretive at all.
“Whenever you have three Masons together and they draw a circle on the ground, that’s a lodge,” Stuard, a past master at Acacia Lodge 94, said. “What we hope to dispel today is that we are not so secretive as everyone may have you think.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who became a Freemason in 1992, addressed the crowd on the importance of such an organization, which counted Washington as a member.
“(George Washington) took an obligation over 200 years ago, the same obligation that we have taken. Those obligations have stood the test of time,” Lott said. “That’s what Masonry stands for, taking care of the community and God and country.”
The first Masonic Lodge in South Carolina was established in Charleston in 1735 just after the fraternal organization first arrived in the United States in 1715, in Pennsylvania. Soon enough, the fraternity would welcome in other American icons including Benjamin Franklin, William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Davy Crockett and many more.
However, Freemasons do not have to be American. In fact, the fraternity welcomes brothers from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds and religions.
Those interested in joining the fraternity must be 20 years old, acknowledge there is a superior being or power, get a petition signed by two brothers and go through an extensive background check before being voted in or rejected.
Once inductees meet those requirements and are inducted, they are trained in the “33 degrees” of how to live a fuller and enlightened life, according to Master Thomas “Jack” Coker, a past senior and former grand deacon of Acacia Lodge 94.
Some of those degrees are lessons in love, trust and honesty, Coker said.
“What we try to do is try to take a good man and make them better. That’s our aim, our goal,” Coker, who became a Freemason in 1963, said. “It’s a little hard to explain unless you are a part of it.”