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 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. 6
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. 7
- Menon, Jonathan. “This Shining Colored Man.” 239 Days in America, April 23, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/23/this-shining-colored-man/. [return]
- Hannen, Joseph H. “Abdul-Baha in Washington, D. C.” Star of the West 3.3 (April 28, 1912): 6–24. [return]
- 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/buck_abdulbaha_howard_louhelen.pdf. [return]
- 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. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 40-41. [return]
- 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. [return]
- 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. [return]