The Great Migration Turns the Tide for African Americans 1
The Great Migration created a new generation of African American leaders, several of whom found themselves compelled by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s vision of race unity. Robert Abbott, the editor of the Chicago Defender, became the country’s foremost promoter of the migration, and his newspaper the most influential black paper in the nation. He had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when covering one of his Chicago talks in 1912, and became a Bahá’í in 1934. When the philosopher Alain Locke, the first African American Rhodes Scholar, published The New Negro in 1925, he had already been a Bahá’í for seven years. His book, an anthology of poems, stories, and political writing by black intellectuals and artists, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson, became the definitive text of the Harlem Renaissance.
Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s principles, Locke wrote, “and the leavening of our national life with their power, is to be regarded as the salvation of democracy. In this way only can the fine professions of American ideals be realized.”
When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had stayed at Agnes Parsons’s house in Washington in 1912 she hadn’t seemed interested in the issues of race. But in 1920 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked her to organize a “Race Amity” conference in Washington, DC. She held it at the First Congregational Church at 10th and G Streets in May, 1921, with Locke serving as session chair on May 21. From her home near Dupont Circle, just a few blocks north from Wilson’s segregated White House, Agnes Parsons spent the next decade coordinating integrated meetings across the country, whose purpose was to build social bonds between black and white Americans. Through men and women like Robert Abbott, Alain Locke, Agnes Parsons, and the community of Bahá’ís that would continue to struggle against the easy compromises of a racially divided nation, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left an enduring imprint on the racial history of twentieth-century America.
Friday, November 22, 1912 2
The Master spent the morning until noon at His residence. In the afternoon He went to a gathering at the home of Mrs Krug. The meeting with such eager friends was very enjoyable. A feature of the afternoon was the visit from a Christian minister. He was a just and fair-minded man who visited with the Master before the meeting in a separate room. His first question to the Master was, ‘What are the new teachings in this Cause?’ The Master replied, ‘The fundamental principles of all religions are one. They are unchangeable and do not differ. This is what Christ meant when He said, “I am not come to destroy the law of the Torah but to promote it.”’
The minister: ‘Yes, I understand. Do you mean that at the beginning the followers of all the religions were pure and undefiled but grew polluted and negligent?’
The Master: If there is no change or alteration, then there is no renewal. Not until night falls will a new day dawn. If the religion of Moses had not changed, Christ would not have appeared.’
The minister: ‘Thank you, I understand this well. Now tell me, will there be another cycle after this Bahá’í cycle.’
The Master: ‘The sovereignty of God has no beginning and no end and the outpouring of His bounties is endless.’
The minister said, with relief, ‘Now my doubts are wholly removed with nothing left but certainty.’
He was so sincere and humble that the Master was pleased with him and said, ‘I wanted to give detailed answers to each of your questions but you quickly realized the outcome of each answer right from the beginning. Thus must a person have aptitude and a pure motive.’
Appearing at the meeting, the Master held the minister’s hand and praised him very highly as an example of justice. To the friends He said: ‘Beware, beware lest you follow your prejudices and selfish interests. You must always be just in all matters and investigate the truth.’
This evening in similar language the Master vividly described the harmfulness of prejudice, alienation and disunity and the advantages of love and friendship, concluding with strong appeals to the friends to propagate the guidance given by God and to associate in a spirit of love and kindness with all denominations and the servants of God.
15 November 1912, Talk at Home of Miss Juliet Thompson, 48 West Tenth Street, New York 3
I have spoken in the various Christian churches and in the synagogues, and in no assemblage has there been a dissenting voice. All have listened, and all have conceded that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are superlative in character, acknowledging that they constitute the very essence or spirit of this new age and that there is no better pathway to the attainment of its ideals. Not a single voice has been raised in objection. At most there have been some who have refused to acknowledge the mission of Bahá’u’lláh, although even these have admitted that He was a great teacher, a most powerful soul, a very great man. Some who could find no other pretext have said, “These teachings are not new; they are old and familiar; we have heard them before.” Therefore, I will speak to you upon the distinctive characteristics of the manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh and prove that from every standpoint His Cause is distinguished from all others. It is distinguished by its didactic character and method of exposition, by its practical effects and application to present world conditions, but especially distinguished from the standpoint of its spread and progress.
When Bahá’u’lláh appeared in Persia, all the contemporaneous religious sects and systems rose against Him. His enemies were kings. The enemies of Christ were the Jews, the Pharisees; but the enemies of Bahá’u’lláh were rulers who could command armies and bring hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the arena of operation. These kings represented some fifty million people, all of whom under their influence and domination were opposed to Bahá’u’lláh. Therefore, in effect Bahá’u’lláh, singly and alone, virtually withstood fifty million enemies. Yet these great numbers, instead of being able to dominate Him, could not withstand His wonderful personality and the power and influence of His heavenly Cause. Although they were determined upon extinguishing the light in that most brilliant lantern, they were ultimately defeated and overthrown, and day by day His splendor became more radiant. They made every effort to lessen His greatness, but His prestige and renown grew in proportion to their endeavors to diminish it. Surrounded by enemies who were seeking His life, He never sought to conceal Himself, did nothing to protect Himself; on the contrary, in His spiritual might and power He was at all times visible before the faces of men, easy of access, serenely withstanding the multitudes who were opposing Him. At last His banner was upraised.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Menon, Jonathan. “The Great Migration Turns the Tide for African Americans: 1912-1925.” 239 Days in America, 22 Nov. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/11/22/the-great-migration-turns-the-tide-for-african-americans-1912-1925/. ↩
- ’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#section244 ↩
- 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, 431-432. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/32#280647098 ↩