Jim Crow Comes to Dinner at the Great Northern Hotel 1
‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ WAS TOO late. He was planning to leave America next Wednesday on the Mauretania, a four-funneled steamship of the Cunard line, the sister ship of the Lusitania. It would sail from its pier along the Hudson River at one o’clock in the morning on November 27, 1912, for Liverpool, England. But after spending much of the day in Montclair, New Jersey, on November 23, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá got back to New York too late to reach the ticket office, and missed making the booking. This meant that he would have to remain in New York for at least an extra week.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had returned from Montclair to attend a farewell banquet organized for him in the ballroom of the Great Northern Hotel that evening. …
Mahmúd-i-Zarqání figured that more than three hundred people attended the celebration. But not one of the guests had been black. Although the African American community had been invited, the hotel owner refused to let them enter the building. “If the people see that one colored person has entered my hotel,” Mahmúd heard him say, “no respectable person will ever set foot in it and my business will go to the winds.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá moved quickly to remedy the situation. The next day, on November 24, he hosted a second banquet for the African American guests who had been denied entry. It was held at the home of Edward and Carrie Kinney, at 780 West End Avenue on the Upper West Side — where he had spoken many times and met many guests during his many weeks in New York.
Not only was it an interracial meeting, attended by both blacks and whites, but the blacks were graciously served by their white hosts. “Behold what an influence and effect the words of Bahá’u’lláh have had upon the hearts,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told them, “that hating and shunning have been forgotten and that prejudices have been obliterated to such an extent that you arose to serve one another with great sincerity.”
Thursday, November 21, 1912 2
The Master was occupied revealing Tablets to the friends until about noon when the crowd downstairs became too large. He appeared in this gathering of eager souls, greeting and extending His kindness to all, saying: ‘I have been busy since early morning and am tired. I do not feel like speaking at all and wish to go out for a walk.’ After a short talk in which He encouraged the friends to establish love and harmony among themselves and to make every effort in the Cause of God, He walked to Broadway and then to Central Park. He was not pleased with the dense population and the height of the buildings, saying: ‘These are injurious to the public’s health. This population should be in two cities, the buildings should be lower and the streets should be tree-lined as they are in Washington. How can these two places compare?’
Indeed, the condition of New York City is strange and its population so large that in addition to surface streets, there are three railway lines running the entire length of the city; one underground, another on the surface and a third above the streets on bridges about two stories high. These railway lines are continuously filled with people and are their mode of transportation. On some of the streets, automobiles and carriages have to stop for some 10 to 15 minutes because of the congestion until the traffic officers give them permission to continue.
Most buildings are from 17 to 18 stories high and each floor has some 20 to 30 apartments, most of which have bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, bathrooms with hot and cold running water and many comforts.
There was a large gathering this evening at Mr and Mrs Kinney’s attended by both old and new friends. The Master’s talk was mainly admonitions to the friends about love and unity among themselves and the propagation of the divine Cause. The hearts and souls were ignited by the fire of the love of God and their tongues praised the Beloved.
17 November 1912, Talk at Genealogical Hall, 252 West Fifty-eighth Street, New York 3
O my God! O my God! Verily, Thou dost perceive those who are present here turning unto Thee, relying upon Thee. O my Lord! O my Lord! Illumine their eyes by the light of love, and enkindle their hearts by the rays streaming from the heaven of the Supreme Concourse. Suffer them to become the signs of Thy bestowal amongst the people and the standards of Thy grace amongst mankind. O Lord! Make those who are here the hosts of heaven, and through their service and instrumentality subdue the hearts of humanity. Cause Thy great mercy to descend upon them, and render all Thy friends victorious. Direct them that they may turn toward Thy Kingdom of mercy and proclaim Thy name among the people. May they lead the people to the bounty of Thy most great guidance.
O Lord! O Lord! Cast the glance of Thy mercy upon them all.
O Lord! O Lord! Ordain for them the beauty of Thy holiness in Thy Kingdom of eternity.
O Lord! O Lord! Protect them in every test, make every foot firm in the pathway of Thy love, and help them to be as mighty mountains in Thy Cause so that their faith shall not be wavering, their sight shall not be dimmed nor hindered from witnessing the lights emanating from Thy supreme Kingdom. Verily, Thou art the Generous. Thou art the Almighty. Verily, Thou art the Clement, the Merciful.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “Jim Crow Comes to Dinner at the Great Northern Hotel.” 239 Days in America, 21 Nov. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/11/21/jim-crow-makes-an-unwelcome-appearance-at-the-great-northern-hotel/. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=9#section243 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 441-442. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/32#736336029 ↩