239 Days in America, Day 13: April 23, 1912 | Washington, DC

This Shining Colored Man 1

Reverend Wilbur Patterson Thirkield, Howard’s eighth President, introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “This was a most notable occasion,” wrote Joseph Hannen, who was also in the audience, “and here, as everywhere when both white and colored people were present, Abdul-Baha seemed happiest. The address was received with breathless attention by the vast audience, and was followed by a positive ovation and a recall.” 2 3

‘Abdu’l-Bahá began by drawing attention to the diversity in the room. “Today I am happy,” he said, “for I see . . . white and black sitting together.” He then proceeded to reject prevailing black and white views about the essentialism of race — the popular belief that a person’s race was central to his or her humanity:

There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God. Scent and color are not important. The heart is important. If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference. 4

Washington D. C. 5

From Howard University He rode to the Persian Embassy, where Ali-Kuli Khan was preparing a reception. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá went upstairs to rest and to grant a few private interviews, including conversations with Admiral Peary and Alexander Graham Bell. Mrs. Hebe Struven, who helped arrange the affair, recalling it years later, said that after the place cards had been arranged at the plates to seat people by strict Washington protocol, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá at the last minute gathered them all up, shuffled and redistributed them, and then brought Louis G. Gregory to the place of honor at the head of the table in the otherwise all-white gathering. He thus—literally in this gather and symbolically for all occasions—abolished racial prejudice and social segregation.

Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur J. Parsons, 1700 Eighteenth Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 23 April 1912

…Although such an event is indeed regrettable, we must realize that everything which happens is due to some wisdom and that nothing happens without a reason. Therein is a mystery; but whatever the reason and mystery, it was a very sad occurrence, one which brought tears to many eyes and distress to many souls. I was greatly affected by this disaster. Some of those who were lost voyaged on the Cedric with us as far as Naples and afterward sailed upon the other ship. When I think of them, I am very sad indeed. But when I consider this calamity in another aspect, I am consoled by the realization that the worlds of God are infinite; that though they were deprived of this existence, they have other opportunities in the life beyond, even as Christ has said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” They were called away from the temporary and transferred to the eternal; they abandoned this material existence and entered the portals of the spiritual world. Foregoing the pleasures and comforts of the earthly, they now partake of a joy and happiness far more abiding and real, for they have hastened to the Kingdom of God. The mercy of God is infinite, and it is our duty to remember these departed souls in our prayers and supplications that they may draw nearer and nearer to the Source itself. 6

Talk to Bethel Literary Society, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, M Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research, which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominion which none may usurp or destroy. Briefly, it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. Therefore, you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of science and arts. The greater your attainment, the higher your standard in the divine purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the callous and indifferent mind is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore, seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal. 7

How shall we utilize these gifts and expend these bounties? By directing our efforts toward the unification of the human race. We must use these powers in establishing the oneness of the world of humanity, appreciate these virtues by accomplishing the unity of whites and blacks, devote this divine intelligence to the perfecting of amity and accord among all branches of the human family so that under the protection and providence of God the East and West may hold each other’s hands and become as lovers. Then will mankind be as one nation, one race and kind—as waves of one ocean. Although these waves may differ in form and shape, they are waves of the same sea. Flowers may be variegated in colors, but they are all flowers of one garden. Trees differ though they grow in the same orchard. All are nourished and quickened into life by the bounty of the same rain, all grow and develop by the heat and light of the one sun, all are refreshed and exhilarated by the same breeze that they may bring forth varied fruits. This is according to the creative wisdom. If all trees bore the same kind of fruit, it would cease to be delicious. In their never-ending variety man finds enjoyment instead of monotony. 8

Tuesday, April 23, 1912

Today the Master went to Howard University, an educational institution for blacks. The hosts (mostly black with a few whites) had made special arrangements so that when the Master arrived He was welcomed by music from a band while the audience applauded with excitement and exuberance. It is difficult to describe the scene adequately. The president of the university was very cordial and introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the Prophet of Peace and the harbinger of unity and salvation. Then the Master rose from His seat and spoke on the subject of the harmony between blacks and whites and the unity of humankind. The audience repeatedly applauded Him during the talk, delighted at His words. At the conclusion, the president of the university thanked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on behalf of all those gathered. As He left the auditorium, group after group formed two lines, one on each side, all showing their highest respect by bowing and waving their hats and handkerchiefs in farewell to the beloved Master.

’ Abdu’l-Bahá had lunch at the home of Ali Kuli Khan. Several believers were present, including ourselves. 9 10 11

There was a public meeting in the afternoon at the same house. The majority attending the meeting were ladies from high society. At this meeting the Master spoke about the education and improvement of women and the promotion of unity and peace in the world of humanity. After the meeting several new people arrived and sat for a brief time in the Master’s presence. They so enjoyed His company they did not want to leave.

In the evening, close to bedtime, when the Master was alone and extremely tired from the day’s activities, He prayed, praising and thanking the Blessed Beauty. On one occasion He said:

“We must offer thanks to the Blessed Beauty because it is His help that has stirred the people; it is His grace that has changed the hearts. The assistance of the Abhá Kingdom has transformed a drop into a mighty ocean. The aid of the Most High has turned a gnat into an eagle, has invested an ant with the power of a Solomon and has caused the debased one to become a source of eternal honor.’”

A third meeting was held this evening in a black church. All those present paid Him the highest respect and were delighted to hear about the new teachings. The Master’s talk, they felt, gave them honor and would cause them to progress. As is customary at churches, there was a collection and the Master made a contribution. 12

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “This Shining Colored Man.” 239 Days in America, April 23, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/23/this-shining-colored-man/.
  2. Hannen, Joseph H. “Abdul-Baha in Washington, D.C.” Star of the West, April 28, 1912, 6-8.
  3. Buck, Christopher. “Public Discourse on Race: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Howard University Speech.” PDF presented at the Centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Visit to North America, Louhelen Bahá’í School, Davison, Michigan, February 11, 2012. https://bahai-library.com/pdf/b/buckabdulbahahowardlouhelen.pdf.
  4. 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, 44. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#098175321.
  5. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 40-41.
  6. 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, 46-47. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#242218565
  7. 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, 50. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#325690063.
  8. 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, 51. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#838638236.
  9. Hutchison, Sandra Lynn. ’Abdu’l-Baha in America: The Diary of Agnes Parsons. Edited by Richard Hollinger. Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1996, 31. https://archive.org/details/abdulbahainameri0000pars/page/30/mode/2up.
  10. Ober, Harlan F. “Louis G. Gregory.” Bahá’í World, 1956, 666-670.
  11. Thompson, Juliet. The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Edited by Marzieh Gail. 1st ed. 1947. Reprint, Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1983, 269. https://archive.org/details/diaryofjuliettho0000thom/page/268/mode/2up
  12. Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. 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=2#section30