Edited By Soli Shahvar
5. African American Bahá’ís, Race Relations and the Development of the Bahá’í Community in the United States
Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings emphasizing the oneness of the human family have always had a special appeal to African Americans, considering their long experience with racial discrimination at the hands of both the State and the Church.1 From their first exposure to the Bahá’í Faith during the 1890s, some African Americans were attracted by the Bahá’í teachings of universal love and harmony among all races, religions and nations. During the 1890s, when the Bahá’í Faith was first introduced to a small group of white Americans, a much smaller group of African Americans were also being swept up in this new Faith that promised to unite the world’s peoples into one human family.
They had good reason to find it attractive. The 1890s represented a nadir in the history of African Americans. It was the beginning of the Jim Crow era and legalized racial separation initiated by the Supreme Court in 1896, which paved the way for decades of brutal racial terrorism against generations of southern African Americans. Although centred in the South, the ideology and practice of white supremacy permeated the entire country during this period.2
Robert Turner, an African American butler of Phoebe Hearst – the mother of William Randolph Hearst, the publisher – was the first African American ←103 | 104→Bahá’í (see Figure 5.1). He learned about the Bahá’í Faith while listening to one of the first white American Bahá’ís, Lua M. Getsinger, teaching the Bahá’...
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