Breaking the Color Line 1
When dinner was announced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood, and everyone followed him into the dining room. Everyone, that is, except Louis Gregory. It was only 1912: Social Washington did not invite colored people to dinner.
Formality had laid out nineteen place settings along the sides of the long, rectangular banquet table according to strict Washington protocol. Good taste had strewn the table with rose petals. Regard had seated ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at its head. The guests took their seats.
Suddenly, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood up and looked around the table.
“Where is Mr. Gregory?” he asked. “Bring Mr. Gregory!” he told Ali-Kuli Khan.
Khan had no choice but to locate Mr. Gregory, whom he found trying to slip quietly out of the house without being noticed. By the time he re-entered the dining room with Louis Gregory, Social Washington had succumbed.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had pushed aside the utensils, plates, and glasses that held sway over the place of honor to his right. Everyone moved over, sending a ripple of activity down one side of the table. In its place, he had laid out a twentieth place setting and ordered a twentieth chair brought to the table. Here he seated Louis Gregory. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá then sat down, explained that he was very happy to have Mr. Gregory here, and, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred, began to speak on racial prejudice.
Washington D. C. 2
He then attended another of the daily receptions at the Parsons’ home, after which He proceeded to 13th Street N.W. to the home of Andrew J. Dyer. 3 In his diary, Dr. Zia Bagdadi, who served as one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s translators, wrote, “In the evening, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the white and colored believers and their friends at the home of Mrs. Dyer, a member of the colored race… 4
‘Abdu’l-Bahá concluded His address by saying, … (see entry below)
Talk at Home of Mrs. Andrew J. Dyer, 1937 Thirteenth Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
When the racial elements of the American nation unite in actual fellowship and accord, the lights of the oneness of humanity will shine, the day of eternal glory and bliss will dawn, the spirit of God encompass, and the divine favors descend. Under the leadership and training of God, the real Shepherd, all will be protected and preserved. He will lead them in green pastures of happiness and sustenance, and they will attain to the real goal of existence. This is the blessing and benefit of unity; this is the outcome of love. This is the sign of the Most Great Peace; this is the star of the oneness of the human world. Consider how blessed this condition will be. I pray for you and ask the confirmation and assistance of God in your behalf. 5
- Menon, Jonathan. “Breaking the Color Line.” 239 Days in America, April 24, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/24/breaking-the-color-line/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 43. [return]
“In those days, race constituted a social identity marker and the basis for pervasive social discrimination. One of the early American Baha’is, Andrew Jackson Dyer, said to be African American, or of a “mixed” race, was born in 1847 in Virginia, and died in 1918 in Washington, DC. Dyer was employed as a messenger in a government department. His wife, Maggie Jordan Dyer, became a Baha’i in 1909. Born in March 1858 (also in Virginia) and married around 1876, Maggie J. Dyer was listed as “mulatto” in the 1880 and 1910 United States Census and, yet was listed as “white” in the 1900 United States Census.”
Buck, Christopher, and Steven Kolins. “African American Baha’is During Abdu’l-Baha’s Lifetime.” BahaiTeachings.org, June 1, 2020. https://bahaiteachings.org/african-american-bahais-during-abdul-bahas-lifetime/.[return]
- Bagdadi, Zia. “Abdu’l-Bahá in America,” Star of the West, 19, no. 3 (June 1928), 89. [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#769459639. [return]