In the dozen years between the dawn of the 20th century and Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 visit to North America, more than a thousand Black women and men were lynched.
During that same period, the Ku Klux Klan had begun to re-establish its reign of violence and terror in the South, and the racist theory of eugenics had come into vogue among intellectuals and academics.
Episode four of Ambassador to Humanity tells the story of Abdu’l-Baha’s radical and visionary approach to the question of race relations in a United States in the grip of systemic and deeply ingrained racism.
At a time when the New York Times asked “Is it a man or a monkey?” about a Pygmy man from Zaire displayed in a cage at the Bronx Zoo, Abdu’l-Baha carved out a completely revolutionary discourse on race — with a new set of images and metaphors, recasting racial differences as a source of beauty and strength.
“The world of humanity,” he said, “is like a garden, and humankind are like the many coloured flowers. In the clustered jewels of the races may the blacks be as sapphires and rubies and the whites as diamonds and pearls. The composite beauty of humanity will be witnessed in their unity and blending.”
In every city Abdu’l-Baha visited, he challenged the entrenched racist social conventions of the time, making the desegregation of multiple venues across the country a prerequisite of his talks and speeches. His contributions to racial unity even won him the praise of the NAACP, which invited him to address the closing session of its fourth annual convention.
In this episode of the Ambassador to Humanity podcast, we learn how Abdu’l-Baha harbored no illusions about the systemic crisis that racism posed — and indeed continues to pose — for America’s social fabric, and how after his visit to the West, the matter remained at the forefront of his mind throughout the rest of his earthly life.
Narrated by Parisa Fitz-Henley and Rainn Wilson, with contributions from Amin Egea, Nwandi Lawson and Robert Stockman
Featuring the voices of Annabel Knight, Adam Mondschein, Patrick O’Mara, and Masud Olufani
Assistant Editor: Noah Matthews
Executive producers include Rainn Wilson, Shahin Sobhani, Steve Sarowitz, Maia Reneau, and Ford Bowers for Spring Green Media, in collaboration with 239Days.com and BahaiTeachings.org.
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