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For a long time, interracial couples like Thom and Dorothy faced great danger in the United States, but their belief in the greater Baha’i principle of unity sustained them.
Thom and Dorothy, and other interracial couples like them, fell in love at a time when it wasn’t legal or safe to love or marry someone of another hue, because of the ingrained racial prejudice that has afflicted the American nation for so long.
Before interracial marriage finally became legal in 1967, it struck many people as revolutionary when they heard that the Baha’i writings have always promoted and encouraged interracial marriage. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:
If it be possible, gather together these two races, black and white, into one assembly and put such love into their hearts that they shall not only unite but even intermarry. Be sure that the result of this will abolish differences and disputes between black and white. Moreover by the will of God, may it be so. This is a great service to the world of humanity. – quoted by Gayle Morrison in To Move the World, p. 46.
As you can see, not only do the Baha’i teachings encourage interracial marriage, but they also see it as a remedy and requirement for the well-being and fellowship of humanity. Passages like the one above inspired Thom Thompson, a member of the interracial couples panel at one of the open conversations organized by my mother and I, to become a Baha’i.
When Thom was a young man, he walked into a library to find a book about the Baha’i Faith, but accidentally went to the wrong place and instead found a book that was written by, in Thom’s words, “an inveterate enemy of the Baha’i Faith.”
Thom said: “I just about finished the book. I better tell you that it was written in 1911. Three pages, four pages maybe, from the end, he said, ‘If everything I have told you is not enough to guide you away from this terrible religion, then consider this: They believe in racial unity.’ Two pages later, one page from the last, he said, ‘I’ve got the final thing to say to you and this one will ensure that you will not be interested in this religion: They believe in and promote interracial marriage.’
“I said, ‘I’ve got to find these Baha’is because if there was a religious group that believed in racial unity in 1911 and believed in and even promoted interracial marriage, I want to meet these people!”
Thom became a Baha’i in 1957, elated to find a religion that shared his belief in the oneness of humanity and the importance of interracial marriage. In The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, discussed the evils of racial superiority and the need to tear down all the barriers that divide different demographics:
Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 39-40.
Thom Thompson, a white man, spoke honestly about the confusion, miseries, and barriers that he faced during the ‘70s while dating several African American women over a seven-year period of being single before he got married:
“I dated this woman [and] on the second date we were riding in the car and suddenly she ducks down to the floor. She said, ‘Well, I saw my friends coming in a car and I didn’t know if I was ready to let them see me dating a white man.’ This was in the ‘70s. I wanted to marry that woman so badly, but her mother said, ‘If that white man comes in the front door, I’m going out the back door!’ That is probably the reason we didn’t get married.”
Thom later fell in love with another woman who he wanted to marry, and he was surprised at his mother’s staunch feelings against him marrying an African American woman. His father was sick in bed at the time and his mother told him, “If you marry this woman, it will kill your father!”
Thom told his mother that he would talk to his father and see if that was the case, so he ignored his mother’s orders to not go into his father’s room and told his father what his mother said. To this, his father replied, “Your mother is nearly always right.” Thom’s mother became irritated with his comment and left the room. However, Thom ended up not marrying that woman for other reasons.
Later on, Thom met his wife Dorothy. After he told his mother that he wanted to marry her, she asked if she could meet Dorothy. To his surprise, his mother appeared to have a change of heart and instantly fell in love with her. Thom joked that Dorothy might have become closer with his mother than he ever was. After Dorothy’s mother died, Thom’s mother called her on the phone and said, “I’ll be your mother now.”
Thom and Dorothy’s marriage created a beautiful example of how interracial relationships break down barriers and foster fellowship amongst all humankind. Abdu’l-Baha discussed the beauty of diversity and its ability to reinforce harmony and strengthen love, as it did with Dorothy and Thom’s mother:
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, the difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love and multiplicity is the greatest factor for coordination. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 291.
After sharing his experience with various interracial relationships, Thom reflected on his experiences as a man in an interracial marriage:
“Now here is the interesting thing about our marriage of 40 years, we’ve encountered almost no racial prejudice of any kind at any time with two exceptions:
“She felt, one day when we were walking along in Georgetown, that she got a pretty bad eye from a black guy like, ‘What are you doing? Are you betraying black men?’
“I said, ‘You got all that from the look?’
“She said, ‘Oh yeah.’
“The other one was some teenagers at Towson University who rode by shouting, ‘There’s a white man with a ni**er!’
“That’s it! Nothing else. And we’ve traveled throughout the South as well. If you’d like to know, I am very much in love with my wife. I don’t really think too much about it being an interracial marriage. There’s been quite a change in American attitudes. In the early 1960s, Gallup polled for the first time about support of interracial marriage and it was 3%. About 8 or 10 years ago, it went over 90%, so this is going in the right direction. I’m glad to have been a part of it.”