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The University of Haifa Lectures in Bahá’í Studies

Edited By Soli Shahvar

This volume brings together a selection of essays from the Lecture Series in Bahá’í studies at the University of Haifa. Each chapter explores an aspect of the Bahá’í religion, including its history, community, culture and theoretical perspectives on contemporary issues. The authors discuss topics including the family and descendants of the Báb (founder of the religion from which the Bahá’í Faith emerged), the influential role of Bahá’í schools in the modernization of education in Iran, the process of introducing the law of monogamy into the Iranian Bahá’í community, early connections between Swiss citizens and Bahá’ís in the Middle East, the rich and varied landscape of Persian Bahá’í poetry, and the role of African Americans in the development of the US Bahá’í community, particularly with regard to race relations and the principle of the oneness of humanity. Also presented in this volume are Bahá’í perspectives on contemporary topics including changing conceptions of work and work values, the role of apologetics in interfaith dialogue, and the issue of ‘defamation of religions’ in international human rights discourse. This book will be of interest to readers in various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences who want to become informed in more depth about a wider range of topics in the emerging field of Bahá’í studies.
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5. African American Bahá’ís, Race Relations and the Development of the Bahá’í Community in the United States

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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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