Abdu’l-Baha’s Race Amity Work in America in 1910 – 1921 and the Black Intelligentsia Who Took Notice


Baha’is of the United States

Dr. Cornel West Praises Work of Baha’is in Establishing Racial Unity: Watch Video
Dr. West states, ‘What I’ve always been taken by is the very genuine universalism of the Baha’i Faith, one of the first religious groups to really hit racism and white supremacy head on, decades ago. By decades, I mean many decades ago and remain consistent about it. …” “When you talk about race and the legacy of white supremacy, there’s no doubt that when the history is written, the true history is written, the history of this country, the Baha’i Faith will be one of the leaven in the American loaf that allowed the democratic loaf to expand because of the anti-racist witness of those of Baha’i faith. So that there is a real sense in which a Christian like myself is profoundly humbled before Baha’i brothers and sisters and the Dizzy Gillespie’s and the Alain Locke’s and so forth.”

Black History in the Baha’i Faith:

Personal Story Hour Topics

Abdu’l-Baha’s Radical Approach to Race Unity Abdu’l-Baha unfolded a new vision of racial unity in America, supported by scientific, social and moral arguments, dramatic personal actions and social gestures — and, especially, a new language of racial imagery — to help black and white Americans heal centuries of mistrust.

In 1912 Abdu’l-Baha encouraged interracial marriage among the Baha’is as an expression of the Oneness of Humanity,“the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve”.

An Ennobling Racial Metaphor: Abdu’l-Baha referred to Blacks as “The Pupil of the Eye.”  Abdu’l-Baha ascribed this metaphor to his Father: “Baha’u’llah once compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth.”

W.E.B. Du Bois names Abdu’l-Baha one of The Crisis’s “Men of the Month” May, 1912. On 4 May 1912, The Chicago Defender reported that the Baha’i leader, Abdu’l-Baha, addressed the NAACP delegates twice. In the June 1912 issue, Du Bois published one of Abdu’l-Baha’s speeches presented at the Fourth Annual Conference of the NAACP.

When Abdu’l Baha passed away in 1921, Du Bois wrote in The Crisis, “[t]wo men sit high before the world today—Eugene Debs and Abdul Baha.” One is free of chains which should never have bound him — the other [‘Abdu’l-Baha] of Life which he tried to free of race and national prejudice.”

Alain Locke, one of the Bahá’í Faith’s most notable African American adherents in 1918. (the first African American Rhodes Scholar (1907) and acknowledged “Dean”of the Harlem Renaissance)

The 1921 race amity conference in Washington D.C. initiated at the suggestion of Abdu’l-Baha attended by over a thousand people, half black and half white. The Race Amity Convention of 1921 was a result of the united efforts of blacks and whites in the city of Washington, DC. Principally organized by Ms. Agnes Parsons, a white Washington socialite, and Coralee Cooke, an African-American Howard University professor. This groundbreaking event was aided by well-known political and thought leaders such as Senator Moses Clapp and Alain Locke. (This took place just two years after the Red Summer of 1919.)

In 1922 Louis G. Gregory was elected to the nine-member National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. He was repeatedly re-elected to that position. In 1951 Gregory was posthumously appointed as a Hand of the Cause, the highest appointed rank in the Baha’i Faith. Louis Gregory was among the elite group of highly educated African Americans whom W.E.B. Du Bois called the “talented tenth,”  

Washington DC Times, April 26, 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Baha made two addresses yesterday, the first at the Howard University, and the second at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church. At Howard University an audience of about 1,000 persons crowded Rankin Chapel and listened to the Persian speaker expound the doctrine of the oneness of the human races.

How the Founder of America’s Most Important Black Newspaper, The Chicago Defender, Became a Baha’i. Robert Abbott, personally wrote three articles directly about the Faith and is prominently mentioned in seven articles. In one of the articles he wrote he said: “The frontiers of civilization will not, appreciably, be advanced and the souls of nations will not be retrieved from the abomination into which they have sunk, unless the fundamental principles embodied in the teachings of Abdu’l-Baha are faithfully and fervently embraced.”

The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, which still takes place annually in Chicago, was started  by Bahá’ís Robert Abbott and David Kellum in conjunction with the Chicago Defender. David Kellum was a long-time member of the Chicago Bahá’í community, an editor at the Chicago Defender, and a civil rights leader dedicated to inspiring young people and improving relations between the races.

In 1916, Professor George W. Henderson established Henderson Business College in Memphis, Tennessee, with its promise, “Where Dreams Come True,” and its mottos, “He Profits Most Who Serves Best” and “Accuracy, Speed, Neatness”—reflecting its high ethical standards. Henderson became known as the “World Famous Typist and Shorthand Wizard.” His success and his service to others became a national inspiration to other African Americans.  

In December 1920, the College faculty, who were all Baha’is, wrote a letter to ‘Abdu’l-Baha.  ‘Abdu’l-Baha referred to Henderson Business College as a “Baha’i College” this is borne out by the fact that not only were the faculty Baha’i, but the curriculum integrated instruction in Baha’i ethics with professional training.

Harriet Gibbs Marshall founder of the Washington Conservatory of Music later renamed the Washington Conservatory of Music and School of Expression. According to blackpast.org “Marshall’s conservatory was a landmark in the history of black education. Harriet became a Baha’i in 1912 while ‘Abdu’l-Baha was visiting the US.  After becoming a Baha’i she began hosting many events at the Conservatory, despite a culture of segregation that barred African Americans and did not permit mixed-race gatherings. It was not unusual for large numbers of Baha’is to attend a single event at the conservatory.

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