On the night of Wednesday, March 23, telephone worker Larry Roath took three of his bowling league pals from the Hyattsville area over the College Park to sponsor their memberships at Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 453.
The three friends - painter Tom Jackson, warehouse worker Jimmy Suit and steelworker Kenny Means - seemed to be the type of people Roath's lodge would accept with open arms for weekends of drinking and relaxation. They were white, employed and well-liked in their circle of associates.
But all three were rejected by Moose Lodge 453.
Roath and his friends have never been told why the lodge decided to turn them down. They think it has to do with Kenny Means. They believe it as to do with the fact that Means' mother-in-law dates a black man.
As they see it, their rejection marks the emergence of one of the Moose order's oldest characteristics - racism - some five years after the Supreme Court ordered the Moose to strike the "whites only" clause from its charter.
In this instance, the alleged racism follows a circuitous path: the three men think they were discriminated against not because of their race, or the race of any members of thei family, but because one of them has a mother-in-law who dates a black man.
They base that charge on an incident Roath says occurred on the night of the applicants' interviews. "The guys were sitting near the dance floor with two interviewers when Burt Miller, the governor of the lodge, approached me and asked me to go into the main dining room for a minute," Roath recalled. "He said he wants to talk to me about Kenny Means."
As Roath remembers it, the conversation with Miller lasted for about 40 seconds.
"Miller said the lodge had heard that Kenney's mother-in-law was black," Roath said. "I told him it wasn't true. His mother-in-law is white. I told him her boyfriend was black, but there was no formal relationship there at all.
"Then Miller asked me wheter I understood that the lodge didn't want coloreds coming in here. I told him I knew what his beliefs were and that I wouldn't do anything to screw them up. Miller said he didn't expect any problems and left the room."
About five minutes later, according to Roath and Means, the interviewers closed the conversation with the three applicants and told them that there were too many applicants that month but that Means, Jackson and Suit would be initiated the next month.
"We never heard from the lodge again until I called them up the last week in April and asked someone there what happened. A secretary told me they had all been rejected by a vote of the membership," said Roath. "The only thing we can assume is that they based the rejections on a rumor about Kenny MEans.
miller, whose lodge has about 4,000 members, all of whom are white, said in an interview yesterday that he didn't care what Roath, Means or anyone else thought about the rejections.
"We don't have a white-only clause anymore and we're a private organization," said Miller. What we do is none of your business. The membership holds secret votes on applicants. Sometimes they go up, sometimes they go down."
When asked whether he remembered his conversation with Roath on that night of March 30, Miller responded: "No, I don't remember right off hand. I talk to so many people I can't remember every conversation I've had. But even if it did happen . . . if it was true . . . I couldn't talk about it. This is Moosebusiness, and Moose business only."
Kenny Means, the 27-year-old steel-worker, and his mother-in-law, Betty Rossales, think their experience with Moose Lodge 453 is everybody's business "This is 1977," said Means, and this is a sickening example of racism in Prince George's County."
Roales said she was "outraged but not surprised" by the prejudice that her son-in-law may have encountered at the Moose lodge. She said the whole family has encountered similar incidents for most of the 18 months that she has dated a federal worker, Roosevelt (Judge) Campbell, who is black.
"Most of it resulted from people at that bowling alley," said Rosales, in reference to the Fair Lanes Bowling Center at Capital Flats where she, her son-in-law, and most of his friends bowl. Rosales said the management of the alley has always moved swiftly to settle sporadic recial conflicts. "But Kenny and I have both had dealings with bowlers who don't like black folks down there."
Means and Rosales bowl Friday nights in the Virgil Jackson Memorial league at Capital Plaza. "It's supposed to be open to anyone, but it was the only white league at the bowling alley until last September," said Rosales. "One team came in with a black fellow then and the whole league had a secret vote on wheter he should be allowed to bowl."
Rosales said her son-in-law was "very outspoken" in his support of the black bowler. "He told every one that there was no reason to bar someone because of color," she recalled. "The league voted to let him in, but there was some trouble the night of the vote. A few members quit and some people called Kenny names."
Kenny Means said he was called a "nigger lover" that night. It was a new experience for him. "I was raised in a really prejudiced house," he said. "I had trouble with blacks when i was at Bladensburg High School. But now I accept them just like I accept anyone on the street."