In an era of knockdown, drag-out litigation, in which leaders often seem to eschew decisive action in difficult situations, the national headquarters of the fraternal Moose organization wasted no time in delivering the coup de grace to its recalcitrant chapter in Hagerstown.
Moose International, appropriately based in Mooseheart, Ill., last week revoked the charter of the Hagerstown club -- the largest in North America with 7,500 members. That killing blow came just a few days after the chapter voted not to induct its first black member. James Yates, whose prospective membership was sponsored by a white friend, had met the muster of a lodge investigating committee. But he was rejected overwhelmingly by minuscule portion of the lodge that showed up for the vote.
We suspect that some of those who voted against Mr. Yates are not racists, but were irritated that the media and others were applying pressure on a matter they perceived to be internal business. But the fact is, this was more than a private affair. It was an outrage that an organization so integral to the social and business fabric of the Washington County seat would have no black members, especially with a membership that was the equivalent of one-fifth the population of Hagerstown. On determining civil rights violations, jurists often say "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck." In this case, though, it was a Moose, and a discriminatory one at that.
While several civil rights leaders and politicians in Maryland expressed a mixture of surprise and admiration at the Moose International's swift action, we also suspect that Mr. Yates' rejection was but the last straw. Both in earlier statements and in its announcement about the club closing, Moose leaders indicated that they were fed up with past practices by their rogue satellite in Hagerstown.
As bold and appropriate as was the organization's action, the truly difficult challenge now faces Hagerstown. Does the community get ripped apart, in the way a controversy over a Ku Klux Klan car in a demolition derby dogged Frederick last fall? Or does it put this episode behind it and come together to rub out racism and bigotry in its midst?