From the Volume Archives

Accelerated Progress In Race Relations

Saturday January 1, 1944

In this article, originally published in Volume IX (1940-1944) of the Bahá’í World, Louis Gregory reflects on two two Race Unity conferences held at Green Acre, Bahá’í school at Eliot, Maine.

By Louis Gregory

The past hundred years bring to view many great changes in the sociology of American life, especially with respect to the progress of justice and freedom. During this period the nation has vastly expanded in area and population. And being a part of something big tends to expand individual ideas. This century also witnessed the abolition of chattel slavery; the conferring of citizenship upon the Negro and more recently upon the Indian; the granting of the suffrage to women; the fusing of the national unity through the sacrifices of sectional strife, and the attainment of the nation to a place of almost commanding influence among the nations of the earth.

During the recent period of the great pandemic upheaval, and especially since this country has been drawn into it, progress in race unity has been accelerated, although it is yet far from complete. A few of the signs of progress are the yielding of economic barriers based upon color and creed, etc.; a change in the attitude of the press, magazines, books, and speeches, recognizing the common needs and the humanity and loyalty of minorities; the revolt of youth from the superstitions and prejudices of the past; the increasing influence of women who, struggling for their own freedom, see its value for others; the resolute stand taken by recognized leaders and the wane in the influence of demagogues; the pliants of discredited old systems, which fancy that stable peace can be maintained only by permanent injustice; the readiness of minorities, in the face of better opportunities, to forget their wrongs; and the fusion of the nation into unity in view of a common danger.

“In any land where there’s a slave
There’s no one really free or brave!”

The clear insight of the poet expresses what men of discernment the world over see, that in the end oppression is far more burdensome to the oppressor than to the oppressed. But even freedom, as commonly understood, has its limitations and dangers. The problem, then, is to make men really free. Seeking this universal relief, man must turn to his Creator Who knows the needs, structure and capacities of all His creatures. There is in this the assurance that the new Prometheus has come bringing the Fires of Heaven to earth. Only this Celestial Flame of Divine Fire can consume the veils and forever banish the causes of strife from the earth.

Know, all men who would discover the secret of changes far and wide, on a lesser or greater scale, that Baha’u’llah, the Fountain Head of Revelation, has annulled racial and religious differences; that ‘Abdu’I-Baha, the Center of His Covenant, some thirty years ago brought in person the Great Message to America; and that Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, has in recent years sent us his illuminating letters, “The Advent of Divine Justice” and “The Promised Day Is Come,” wherein he summarizes the Divine Teachings bearing upon the state of the world and makes their application to human needs today.

Lovers of the divine ideal of the oneness of humanity found instruction, interest and inspiration in the two Race Unity conferences held at Green Acre, Bahá’í school at Eliot, Maine, during the past two years.

Horace Holley, chairman at the opening of the first conference, read from “Prayers and Meditations,” “Many a chilled heart has been set ablaze by the fire of Thy Love…”

After voicing a loving welcome, he referred to the visit to America of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, following His long period of prison and exile. He came to a world dissevered and sought those who could penetrate the glamor of the day and see men deprived of God and practicing inhumanity to man. He drew within the circle of his friends all who were ready to advance, unfolding a love flowing from on High. He did not inquire about backgrounds, but unfolded the world of oneness, inviting both colored and white, that they might abandon their age-old differences. He stimulated all to continue the work so nobly begun, even making this ideal unity “an assurance of the world’s peace.” Let us therefore enter into a new realization of oneness, overcoming differences between East and West, North and South, black and white. The Great Peace will bring a healing to the tragic ills of the day, assuring reconciliation of man to man and man to God. These meetings have been arranged in many cities to emphasize the oneness of mankind. While the world may have many interracial movements, all the bridges implied in them cross a yawning chasm. A bridge separates as well as unites. But the Bahá’í plan removes the bridge and closes the chasm. It dwells not upon mere formalities, but lives the ideal in the oneness of a common faith. Bahá’í activities gather the friends in a oneness of spirit that is destined to prove what religion can accomplish. This Flame of Divine Guidance will spread, not only throughout this country of ours, but over the twenty-one republics of the Western Hemisphere, and anon, unite mankind the world over. The great remedy is the union of all. It is our real task and great privilege to be the means of bringing the hearts of men to the Throne of Bahá’u’lláh.

Miss Lorna B. Tasker was introduced to speak of “Racial Adjustment in Latin America.” Latin America believes in racial equality. This is a fertile field for the spread of the Bahá’í Teachings. A literary light of Brazil recently protested religious bigotry. It cannot find a pasture here. He also espoused the idea of a cosmic race. Law and custom readily accept a mixed system, avoiding many of the conflicts caused by other attitudes. Latin Americans are of three stocks, Iberian, Indian and Negro. This mingling of various elements is somewhat a heritage from Spain, which from earliest days was cosmopolitan through the mingling of various strains, such as the Carthagenian, Moorish, and others. Later it became permeated with Oriental thought. Moorish influence from Cordoba, Granada and Andalusia came to America, mingling with ancient Indian culture of Toltecs, Mayas and Aztecs.

The Spanish conquerors were not moved by race prejudice, but sought the gold of the Indians. They gave the Indians the same political rights as those given whites. Most Latin Americans feel that the Indian culture should not be lost. Of historical interest is the aid Haiti gave to Simon Bolivar, the great South American patriot and liberator. The Negroes are being absorbed by intermarriage into the general population, and are described as a new racial flower to adorn the breast of the world. The population of Brazil suggests a human mosaic. It is loath to welcome immigrants who will not favor the general policy of fusion.

The chairman read from the letter of Shoghi Effendi, written in 1939, wherein it is stated that the eyes of their sister Bahá’í communities are fixed upon the American friends. Although trials are ahead, yet great is their work for the redemption of mankind.
Mrs. Annamarie Kunz Honnold was the next speaker: The emergence of the New World Order of Bahá’u’lláh reveals a tremendous transformation, made evident in the fields of religion, race and economics. Power to change conditions comes through the Creative Word. Future generations will not mention “race.”

It is difficult for the majority to understand minority groups, she said. We know not what it means to be trampled upon because of race. This condition is more apparent since the great war began. It is a discrimination in all phases of life. Southerners refuse to apply the titles for lady and gentlemen to people of dark skin, however highly cultivated they may be! What would be our feelings if we were persecuted that way? Although the matter is absurd, yet it holds!

Bahá’u’lláh taught the oneness and unity of mankind. He directed that all should root out the source of contention and strife. Mankind should be thought of as a great chord in which there is the need of many notes to make a perfect blend. Freedom from racial prejudice must be the watchword. All must work with love and concord, with gratitude and appreciation. Great discoveries are being made in the natural sciences. They bring to light that no essential differences exist among races. Apparent differences are but due to environment and training. The distinguished psychologist, Julian Huxley, declares that race means nothing. Mrs. Honnold then related many striking illustrations of eminent people produced by minority groups despite the prejudices which hinder their advancement. She praised the new policy of the national government in its order forbidding discrimination in employment in government enterprises, because of color, race, or creed. Bahá’ís approve such forward actions because they see, not many races, but one. A wide scientific study, reinforced by the Word of God, will efface all barriers of prejudice.

The addresses of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Howard University and before the Bethel Literary Historical Society at Washington, also selections from Dunbar, Negro poet, were read by Mrs. Mary R. Swift. Mrs. Mary Coristine spoke of the changed conditions through destructive agencies at work. The acceptance of human oneness is the essential foundation for the new world structure and for prevention of chaos. She quoted the wonderful Words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “This is a new cycle of human power and the world will become a garden and a paradise.”
Norman Smith spoke of the Chinese, who long ago were made known to Europe by Marco Polo, Italian explorer. Chinese arcs aided the demise of feudalism and the development of nations. It is unfortunae that our knowledge of the Chinese is so limited. Their country has vast natural resources which should be cultivated. The present crises will be the means of drawing all races together. The Chinese have aided us in the past and will in the future. Still stronger will be the bond between East and West. It is greatly to the credit of the Chinese that they wish to hate no one, even those with whom they fight, but who are to be their neighbors hereafter.

Matthew W. Bollock stated the pleasure that he had in reading the Bahá’í Teachings over a number of years. He felt honored to be in such a gathering. He regretted the lack of knowledge of Negro history found in the educational curricula of America and stated some of the most interesting phases of Negro aid to exploration and contribution to the development of America. Such knowledge, if spread, would have its value in overcoming prejudices. Wars occur because people fail to recognize the oneness of mankind.

Miss May Jacobs, American Indian, mentioned the kindness of the Indians to the Pilgrim fathers, who would have been so discouraged as to return to Europe had it not been for the encouragement and welcome accorded them by the Indians.

Mrs. Dorothy Baker addressed the conference on “The Spiritual Bond of Unity.” She told a symbolic story to illustrate how the animal nature of man may be transformed into the etherial world and “soar in the atmosphere of realities” by acquiring the virtues of the Kingdom. Souls are now finding, through spirituality, the resurrection and a new marriage feast. A great scientist has recently said that in view of the world’s great upheaval, only the Spirit can now help us. Eternal unity is now God’s plan. Only lesser forms of unity are promised by the world. Any race, in developing, will strive to maintain its own unity; but this should not become a menace to mankind. Even as the human body, to maintain its unity and escape dissolution, needs a soul, so the body of humanity may attain complete unity by the bounty of the Holy Spirit.

Why do Bahá’ís so definitely believe in God? Because they see the oneness of His Holy Messengers, the Prophetic succession of the ages. In each cycle a new civilization has been given to the world. The blessings of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic civilizations were traced, as, ever expanding, ever unfolding they told the great love story of God to man. If we turn our hearts to the Gift of the Holy Spirit revealed in this great day by Bahá’u’lláh, the little horned devil of prejudice , separation and animosity may be overcome. Racialism, nationalism and communism, the three major causes of strife today, may be entirely subdued by the potency of the Revelation of knowledge given by Bahá’u’lláh.

The Guardian’s expressed wishes have united our activities with all races. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said,

“That meeting is blessed when the colored and the white people meet together with spiritual love and heavenly harmony. When such gatherings are established, the angels of the Supreme Concourse bless them and the Beauty of Baha’u’llah addresses them: Blessed are ye! And again and again, Blessed are ye!” To the youth of the world we would say, extend your supply lines as far as possible. May the jungle of the world become a paradise through your efforts. Unity, divine unity, is in the making by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Among others making valuable contributions of thought were Mrs. Hilbert Dahl, Curtis D. Kelsey, Mrs. Edith Ingliss, Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Oglesby and Mrs. Ludmila Bechtold. Mrs. Harriet M. Kelsey directed the musical program.

The spirit of the conference was summarized by Horace Holley: The old order is being shattered and no groupings can remain constant, not even those of hate. All such are but illusions. Only in peace and amity can any state be permanent. Existence itself is now threatened by strife. The ultimate clue is spirituality. This alone can place mankind above the level of conflict. This is a fundamental law. We have left the old world behind. We cannot return to the faith of our fathers. It is necessary to rise above the level of the past and build in our hearts a super-conscious reservation of strength. There is a perfect judgment from a Higher Power. Today we are called upon to be a part of the universal unity. Laws in future will give forth universal values. The cycle of separation is ended and now may we all swim in the great Ocean of Unity.

Friends, old and new, met in the same beautiful place a year later, with the same theme of universal unity in their minds and hearts, for a conference of five sessions . The chairmen of the various meetings were Horace Holley, ‘Ali-Kuli Khan, N. D., Miss Lorna B. Tasker, Matthew W. Bullock, and Harlan F. Ober. These friends gave of their noble talents, keeping the gatherings upon a high plane of dignity, light, love, happiness and spirituality.

The Portsmouth Herald, published in the nearby City of Portsmouth, gave the following report and summary of the conference:

“The Racial Amity Conference ended its three day session at Green Acre Sunday. Mrs. Dorothy Baker gave addresses at three sessions, her subjects being, ‘The Causes and Cure of Prejudice’; ‘The Talents of Minority Groups’; and ‘Sharing Civilization.’ She advocated a better adjustment among nations and classes, universal education, spiritual as well as scientific, and a far more universal outlook for mankind.

“Another feature was the address of Miss Mabel I. Jenkins of Kittery on ‘Two Great American Poets.’ One of these was Phyllis Wheatley, the black slave girl who was a contemporary of George Washington and won high praise from him and also from other illustrious people, both at home and abroad. She was called the poet laureate of Greater Boston in her day. The second poet mentioned was James Weldon Johnson, author of ‘God’s Trombones’ and the ‘Negro National Anthem.’ The speaker told something of the life story of each, read from their poems and exhibited a collection of books by Negro poets.”

Matthew W. Bullock of Boston, chairman of the Sunday morning meeting , voiced the spirit of racial amity and read selections from the addresses of “Abdu’l­Bahá delivered during his tour of America in 1912, at which time he indicated to his friends some of the great happenings of today.

The afternoon forum, final meeting of the conference, was conducted by Harlan F. Ober of Beverly, Massachusetts. Among the speakers were Mrs. Doris McKay, Moncton, Canada; Mrs. Harold Hunt, Washington, D. C., who spoke for the Jewish minority; and Louis G. Gregory, presenting for discussion the subject of proper names for minonties. The musical program of the conference was presented by Mrs. Eula Fritz, Schenectady, N. Y., and Miss Monaver Bechtold, Brooklyn, N. Y.

One of the clearest signs of divine favor which attended these conferences and all similar efforts on the part of the Bahá’ís at different times of the year and over regions far and wide is their uniform confirmation and success.