August 21, 2019

Carl Albert: Speaker of the House and Freemason

By T.S. Akers

  Carl Albert, Speaker of the House
(Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives)

The Little Giant from Little Dixie

While living in the Bolen-Darnell mining camp, a company town, Ernest Homer Albert and Leona Ann Scott gave birth to a son named Carl, after his mother’s father Carlton, on May 10, 1908. Owing to the dangers of coal mining, Carl’s mother directed his father to find a new line of work and the family moved to Bug Tussle.[i] In 1922, the year Carl entered McAlester High School, his parents took him to the courthouse to hear Jack Walton deliver a campaign speech. Carl had developed an interest in public speaking and committed himself to a nationwide oratorical competition. Speaking on the U.S. Constitution, Carl won the district, state, and regional competitions in 1927, and traveled to Washington, DC, for the national competition. Though he did not win the national competition, Carl’s regional title included a grand European tour.[ii]

 Carl Albert at the White House in 1927. His high school classmates dubbed him "The Little Giant" owing to his accomplishments and small stature.
(Courtesy of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center)

Carl Albert entered the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 1927. He continued to enter oratorical contests, some with cash prizes, that helped with expenses. Carl was on a monthly budget of $30 and would wear his ROTC uniform when his one suit was being cleaned. As a freshman, he won a national intercollegiate oratorical competition.[iii] Carl’s oratory skills caught the attention of Senator Thomas P. Gore in 1930. Gore asked Carl to give introductory speeches at his campaign rallies and serve as his driver. [iv] Since beginning college, Carl wanted to win a Rhodes scholarship. In 1931 he was one of thirty-three chosen to receive that prestigious honor.[v] 

Fraternal Bonds


Carl Albert returned from England in 1934 with two law degrees. When the United States entered the Second World War, he obtained a commission as a judge advocate general officer in the US Army Air Forces, ultimately rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel while serving in the Pacific.[vi] Like many returning from the War, Carl sought the fraternal bonds of Freemasonry. He took the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry in South McAlester Lodge No. 96 in 1946. Two years later, Carl received the degrees of the Scottish Rite at McAlester. According to his Scottish Rite petition, Carl’s occupation was “a lawyer employed by the U.S. Congress.”[vii]

Carl Albert wearing the white cap of the 33rd Degree in the Scottish Rite, 1971.
(From the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite)
 
Carl Albert remained a lifelong Freemason, receiving the designation of Knight Commander of the Court of Honour in 1957 and was coroneted a Thirty-Third Degree in 1971. Both distinctions were bestowed upon Carl in Washington, DC. In October of 1971, he received the degrees of the York Rite at Tulsa in a special festival held in his honor.[viii]

Going East

According to Carl Albert, he was a “down-the-line, Franklin Roosevelt, New Deal Democrat.” The effects of the Great Depression on Little Dixie (southeastern Oklahoma) had shaped his beliefs, stating he “had seen too many of Oklahoma’s neediest people to be anything else.”[ix] Having returned to McAlester, Carl saw an opportunity in 1946 to fulfill his lifelong dream and run for Congress. The crowded primary field concerned Carl, as two other contenders could upset his dream. One was the incumbent Paul Stewart, a newspaperman from Antlers, the other was Bill Steger, former Bryan County Attorney and US Navy veteran. Steger was five years younger than Carl and if elected would probably hold a seat in Congress for some time. In a hard-fought primary, Carl came in 2,700 votes behind Steger, but he was advancing to a runoff. There, Carl secured victory over Steger by just 330 votes. Carl’s Republican opponent in the general election was his longtime friend John Fuller, who gave Carl a $100 campaign contribution and withdrew from the race. Carl Albert was soon headed to Washington, DC as the freshman Congressman from Oklahoma’s Third District.[x]

In Congress, Carl Albert caught the attention of Speaker Sam Rayburn. In time, Rayburn would become Carl’s mentor. When the post of House Majority Whip opened in 1955, Carl was appointed to the position. He then ascended to House Majority Leader when Rayburn died in office in 1961. After Speaker John McCormack retired in 1971, Carl Albert was selected as the 46th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.[xi]

Carl Albert with Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller at a luncheon in 1976.
 (Courtesy of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center)

A True Statesman

Lyndon B. Johnson became President of the United States upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Johnson’s legislative agenda included advancing a set of domestic programs that came to be known as the “Great Society.” The programs were designed to expand civil rights, funding for the arts, urban and rural development, as well as Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The “Great Society” of course had to make its way through Congress and needed an appropriate steward to do so. With Kennedy gone, Carl Albert remarked that the whole country needed Lyndon Johnson.[xii] However, Johnson certainly needed Carl. When the civil rights bill was held up in the Rules Committee, it took an exceptional leadership team to advance it to the House floor where it passed by 290 to 130 votes. Carl delivered again with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to combat poverty, which passed the House by 226 to 185 votes.[xiii]

When the Nation was entering one of its darkest hours, Carl Albert again rose to the occasion, this time as Speaker of the House. In 1973 Vice President Spiro Agnew came under investigation for fraud and bribery, ultimately resigning in early October. President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace Agnew, but Nixon had his own troubles with the Watergate Scandal. On the twenty-second of October, Carl referred twenty-five impeachment resolutions for Nixon to the House Committee on the Judiciary. Some in Congress saw an opportunity to forestall Ford’s confirmation as vice president, remove Nixon from office, and have Carl Albert assume the presidency. For Carl, such a path to the White House was never an option. Ford was confirmed as vice president in November and then the Judiciary Committee set to work on the impeachment inquiry. Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974, before the impeachment proceedings concluded.[xiv]

There is one thing I know about the House of Representatives, and I can say this with complete confidence - that when the national interest is really at stake, when we have got something that must be done, that House always rises to the occasion...
Carl Albert [xv]

Carl Albert passed away on February 4, 2000, at the age of 92. He was laid to rest at Oak Hill Memorial Park in McAlester.[xvi] Today, the memory of Carl Albert lives on across Oklahoma with the Carl Albert Parkway in McAlester, Carl Albert State College in Poteau, and the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Statue of Carl Albert at the University of Oklahoma by Paul Moore.


[i]  Carl Albert with Danney Goble, Little Giant: The Life and Times of Speaker Carl Albert (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 11-14.
[ii]  Albert with Goble, Little Giant, 59-69.
[iii]  Ibid., 71-74.
[iv]  Ibid., 77-80.
[v]  Ibid., 87.
[vi]  Erin M. Sloan, “Albert, Carl Bert,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed August 21, 2019, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=AL003.
[vii]  “Albert, Carl” (member profile, McAlester Valley of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite).
[viii]  “Albert, Carl” (member profile).
[ix]  Albert with Goble, Little Giant, 119.
[x]  Ibid., 142-149.
[xi]  Erin M. Sloan, “Albert, Carl Bert.”
[xii]  Albert with Goble, Little Giant, 281.
[xiii]  Ibid., 286-288.
[xiv]  Ibid., 359-366.
[xv]  “Albert, Carl” (member profile).
[xvi]  Carl Bert Albert, Find A Grave, accessed August 21, 2019, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6457039/carl-bert-albert.

June 22, 2019

The Grand Commanders of Knights Templar of Oklahoma: Their Final Resting Places

Past Grand Commander Jewel of Rennie L. Moore, c. 1956
(From the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite)

After completing a "Virtual Cemetery" on the website Find A Grave for the Grand High Priests of Oklahoma Royal Arch Masonry, I felt compelled to memorialize the Grand Commanders of Knights Templar of Oklahoma in the same fashion.

While not all final resting places of each Grand Commander are known, over 100 were identified. To visit the virtual cemetery, please click the link below.


Additionally, a complete listing of Grand Commanders, with portraits, can be found in Knights on the Prairie: A History of Templary in Oklahoma. Please click the image below to purchase a copy.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/trasen-solesmont-akers/knights-on-the-prairie-a-history-of-templary-in-oklahoma/paperback/product-23866687.html

May 9, 2019

Oklahoma Templary: A Virtual Exhibition

When I was a young Grand Commandery officer progressing through the grand line, I set out to write the history of Templary in Oklahoma in 2012. That volume was completed and published as Knights on the Prairie: A History of Templary in Oklahoma. In May of 2012, I was sent to Kansas by my employer and made a stop at an antique store in Blackwell, Oklahoma. It was there that I purchased a Malta jewel and sword case from a defunct Oklahoma Commandery of Knights Templar. That set into motion my desire to collect the memorabilia of the Order, some of which is displayed here. 

Malta Jewels


In American Freemasonry, the Order of the Temple is preceded by the Order of Malta. During the initiation ceremony of the Order of Malta, candidates receive the Order of Malta jewel. In many jurisdictions, bars are attached to the ribbon of the jewel which identifies the state and local commandery the Sir Knight is from.

Templar Regalia 

Sword


When a Sir Knight is first invested with his sword during the Order of the Temple, he is told the following: In the hand of a Valiant and Magnanimous Knight of the Temple, it is endowed with three excellent qualities: its hilt with Justice impartial, its blade with Fortitude undaunted, and its point with Mercy unrestrained.


The color of a Templar sword is used to identify rank: silver is for Sir Knights and gold is for Past Commanders. This sword belonged to Bert D. Ashbrook (1868-1935), a member of Emmanuel Commandery No. 23. Ashbrook served as Grand Commander in 1927-1928.

Sword Cases

    
During the height of fraternalism the major “regalia houses” offered leather sword cases for fraternal swords. They came in three basic varieties:  plain with a small brass name plaque, plain with painted name, and tooled leather with painted name and cross emblem.

Sword Belt


Early Templary in the Twin Territories featured a variety of regalia for the Order. The 1862 uniform regulations of the Grand Encampment called for a red leather sword belt. Some commanderies even had belt plates produced that identified the wearer’s commandery. This belt plate for Oklahoma Commandery No. 2 pre-dates the 1911 merger of the Grand Commanderies of Indian Territory and Oklahoma. When the two grand commanderies merged, Oklahoma Commandery was given the number “3” owing to its date of dispensation being later than that of Muskogee Commandery.

Uniform 


In 1859 the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States first standardized the regalia of the Order. This was followed by an 1862 revision which adopted the frockcoat, seen above. The uniform was similar in style to the Model-1841 Undress Frockcoat of the United States Army. This uniform would serve the Sir Knights of the United States in some form for over 140 years. It was phased out of service in Oklahoma beginning in 1948.

This particular uniform belonged to Sir Knight Reid K. McKim (1896-1975) of Oklahoma Commandery No. 3. McKim became a Freemason in 1923 at Oklahoma City Lodge No. 36. A veteran of the First World War, McKim served as an Oklahoma City Police Officer in 1928.

Drill Badges and Bars


In 1921, the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Oklahoma introduced competitive field drills. Teams from across the state would compete annually for the privilege to compete at the national level. At the 38th Triennial Conclave of the Grand Encampment in 1931, Gethsemane Commandery No. 25 of Okmulgee took Third Place in the field drill competition. Lawton Commandery No. 18 would also earn national honors in 1940 by taking Fourth Place in field drills.

Past Commander Jewels


The presiding officer of a Commandery of Knights Templar is known as the Eminent Commander. Once a Sir Knight has vacated that office, he earns the title of Past Commander. To commemorate this service, a Past Commander jewel exists.

The jewel on the left is a style which was presented by Oklahoma Commandery No. 3 and Bethlehem Commandery No. 45 beginning in the 1920s. This particular jewel belonged Richard E. Swan (1909-2000), the son of well-known Oklahoma Mason Leslie H. Swan.


The jewel on the right was presented to William E. Crowe (1893-1983) by Enid Commandery No. 13 for serving as Eminent Commander in 1928. Crowe became Grand Commander in 1940.
 
Past Grand Commander Jewel
 

This Past Grand Commander jewel issued by the Grand Commandery of Indian Territory is identified by an engraved Indian and “TER” for territory. This jewel was presented to Daniel M. Hailey (1841-1919) who served as Grand Commander in 1902-1903. 

Grand Commandery Annual Conclave Souvenirs


To mark the occasion of the annual conclave of the Grand Commandery, souvenirs were often issued. These ranged from watch fobs, to jewels and ribbons. The pieces illustrated here include a watch fob from 1915 along with jewels from 1917, 1919, and 1921. The ribbons below include one from Indian Territory in 1902 along with others from 1931, 1937, 1938, 1950, and 1957.


Grand Encampment Triennial Conclave Souvenirs 


Every three years, the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar meets in cities across the United States. It was once common for the grand commanderies that comprise the Grand Encampment to issue jewels for their delegations to wear and the Grand Encampment also issued jewels itself. Featured here are jewels from 1913, 1922, and 1946.


Of particular note are these 1910 jewels from the Grand Commandery of Indian Territory and Oklahoma. The two grand commanderies would merge in 1911 making these the last Indian Territory jewels produced for a Triennial.


In 1917, the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Oklahoma adopted a Coat-of-Arms that included the Templar emblems of the Red Cross, Templar Cross, and Maltese Cross. The Coat-of-Arms appeared on all stationery and proceedings of the Grand Commandery then, as it does today. The Coat-of-Arms was even made into two jewels, pictured here, for the 1919 Triennial.