You will never be alone in this organization.Worshipful Master Bailey Gaines
RINCON — Fed by roots that run extremely deep, Effingham County’s Black Masonic organizations have produced a bumper crop of outstanding citizens.
“We try to build character but we look for people with good character to start with,” said Freddie Goldwire, the worshipful master (highest-ranking member) at Widow Son Lodge 396 in Guyton.
The Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic appendant body, has high membership standards, too. Applicants must have specific relationships with Masons.
“We have to do an investigation,” said Ruth Brown, a member of Pride of Guyton Chapter 292 and McKinley Lodge 11. “Our groups are strong on character so candidates have to meet certain criteria. We have a group that is selected to do the investigation.”
Originally, a woman would have to be the daughter, widow, wife, sister or mother of a Master Mason to join the Order, but now it allows other relatives.
“It seems to me that (Masonic membership) has always been community oriented,” Goldwire said. “To do whatever will benefit the community — that’s what the lodges are there for. Whenever there is a church anniversary or anything — and we know about it — we are going to contribute some kind of way even if we can’t make it (to the event).”
“We send fruit baskets and certain things,” Brown added.
Masonic membership required a belief in a supreme being, but not necessarily God.
“When I was in Saudi Arabia (serving in the military, I was probably one of the first people to be in a Masonic lodge where the Bible wasn’t the holy book,” Goldwire said. “I didn’t understand a thing they were saying but they invited me to initiations. It was a challenge to me ... but it showed, as a Mason, if I needed help I could get it.”
Goldwire has been a proud member of Guyton’s Widow Son Lodge since 1970. He has led it proudly as its worshipful master, having been elected to numerous one-year terms.
“I had no desire to be a worshipful master. I didn’t even vote for myself,” he joked.
The responsibility of being a Mason is no laughing matter, he added.
“You tend to respect people by the way they carry themselves,” he said. “That’s what makes a Mason different. You can tell who they are by the way they carry themselves.”
Bailey Gaines is a member of Clyo Lodge 262. He joined in 2007, the lodge’s 100th anniversary year, and became its worshipful master in 2016 at the age of 35.
“That’s not the way it usually works,” Gaines said.
Clyo is represented in the Order of the Eastern Star by Chapter 297, which was founded in 1963 by Mattie Dingle. She died in 2009.
Brown, who joined the Order of the Eastern Star in 1976, said she has seen documents dating her groups to 1934. She believes they have been around since the late 1800s, however.
“We had our charter but we couldn’t make out anything on it,” said Margaret Griffin, who joined Pride of Guyton Chapter 292 and McKinley Lodge 11 in 1992. “It was all faded out.”
“We’ve still got records of where people paid their dues but all of them have gone on,” added Brown, who, like Griffin, is a former grand matron (the highest local position in the Order of the Eastern Star).
Despite their passing, the original local Order of the Eastern Star members left an impressive legacy. Many of the current members are putting one together now.
“A lot of people who are not part of our group don’t realize its importance,” Brown said. “Even though we are local, you can go anywhere in the world — if they recognize you as a member of the Eastern Star, they are supposed to give you a hand if you break down beside the road — and they will.”
Lula Seabrooks, a member of the Heroines of Jericho — the oldest female Masonic organization — and other groups, shared a humorous story about encountering a Mason she didn’t know. She has participated in Masonic activity, even nationally, since 1971.
“I was in the Millen area after having to go to a meeting in the Atlanta area that morning,” she recalled. “I was coming back that night and — to make a long story short — I was flying. When I looked up, I thought, ‘Oh, my Lord.’
“When the state trooper got to me — I had on my Masonic shirt — he wanted to know where I was going. I told him the truth of the matter, that I was trying to get home after a long day.
“He said, ‘Well, sister, you need to slow down because I don’t know what you are going to run into a little bit further down (the highway). Have a good one!’ ”
People as young as 18 can join the organizations.
“Actually, we started in a youth group,” Brown said, referring to herself and Griffin. “An old lady named Lizzie Morrell started it in Guyton.”
Brown said local Eastern Star participation has declined in recent years.
“But the main members — we have been consistent,” she said.
There is always work for Eastern Star members to do.
“One of the biggest things we do is give out scholarships,” Brown said. “The national (Eastern Star) organization sends back money and we give out scholarships (to two high school students annually).”
Eastern Star members raise funds in a variety of ways, including the yearly Queen Contest.
“The one that raises the most money is the queen,” Brown said. “All that money goes to a scholarship fund.”
Goldwire said the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted his lodge’s activities but its membership is strong.
“COVID kind of put us on hold but we have quite a few good candidates (for membership),” he said. “We will start interviewing them next month.”
Widow Son Lodge projects are funded in part by donations from a church that uses part of the lodge for its services. There is no rental fee.
The lodge, which features many veterans, has a variety of projects.
“Of course, we lay the wreath (for the annual remembrance of the 1864 Ebenezer Creek tragedy),” Goldwire said. “We also sponsor the VFW flag at the Veterans Park of Effingham County. At the beginning of the school year, we always give out supplies for a school.”
Goldwire and Seabrooks said Masonic lodges don’t mind working together.
“Since I’ve been worshipful master, my policy is — Masons are universal — so I am going to do whatever I can do to help your lodge,” he said. “That’s the way I am.”
“We support each other,” Seabrooks added.
Masons tend to learn their helpful ways from their parents.
“I followed my mom (Past Matron Geneva Daughtry),” Brown said. “She had been in (the Order of the Eastern Star) for so long. My sister and I were determined to follow in her footsteps.
“That’s why I wanted to be in it. My mom set the path and my daddy was a Mason.”
Griffin and Seabrooks’ parents were active in Masonic projects, too.
Goldwire’s parents were members of the Clyo Lodge.
“I don’t know how I ended up in Guyton but I did,” he said. “All the Goldwires were in Clyo.”
Gaines followed the footsteps of his father and other men he respects into Masonry.
“You just sit back and listen to their history,” Gaines said. “They were loggers and worked in the shipyards during the old times. They talked about how hard it was coming up then and trying to provide for their families.
“The history of that reminds me of — I don’t want to say easier — but how different things are now.”
“You’ve heard ‘the fear of God.’ That’s what those old men did for (Gaines),” Goldwire said with a laugh. “When those old men come in, you shut up and listen.”
The ladies admitted to learning a lot from their elders, too.
“Like (Gaines) was saying, those older people were so strict,” she said. “We had a dress code and you had to follow it. When you came to meetings, you had to wear a certain color from the inside out.”
“You are not going to see true Eastern Star ladies going out any kind of way,” Seabrooks added. “They dress and carry themselves appropriately on a daily basis.”
Goldwire, Brown, Griffin, Seabrooks and Gaines agree that the building of healthy, reliable relationships is a major reason for people to get involved with Masonry.
“I would tell (prospective members) about the sisterhood,” said Brown, whose daughters recently decided to join the Order. “I would tell them about the good that we do in the community. It’s just a wonderful organization.”
“You can grow at the local level and go on up the ladder (to state and national participation,” the former national matron said. “It offers travel, meeting a lot people and working with a lot of diverse people.”
Goldwire echoed those sentiments.
“We always say that the purpose of the Masons is to make good men better,” he said. “If you join, we want people to know that you are a Mason by the way that you carry yourself.”
Goldwire and Gaines echoed those sentiments.
“You will never be alone in this organization,” Gaines added.