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TAGS: African Americans; Race (general)
LOCATIONS: United States (documents)
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Focusing on a period between 1890 and 1940, this work addresses how Black America first encountered the Bahá’í Faith and demonstrates the Faith’s social and religious appeal within the black community.
Thesis for Senior Fellowship, Dartmouth College.

Trial and Triumph:
The Origins of the Bahá'í Faith in Black America

by Jerome Green

About: Chapter 1 explores the socio-political and economic state of post-Civil War America. The purpose is to identify some of the advancements and successive disappointments which affected Black America prior to its first encounter with the Bahá’í Faith. The series of upsets and breakdowns which African Americans faced during this time aroused in them a receptivity to the positive change the Bahá’í community would begin to institute in subsequent years. The circumstances of pre-Bahá’í America created a climate favorable to the activities the American Bahá’í community would later undertake.

Chapter 2 outlines the events which first introduced the Bahá’í Faith to Black America. These include the addresses which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave to major black institutions and organizations in 1912, and the series of interracial amity conferences which he implemented in 1921. At a time when racial tension was at an all-time high, these conferences became a breeding ground for interracial association and understanding; their growing influence on the America mainstream was just as apparent as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s addresses had been no less than ten years earlier.

Chapter 3 is a profile of eighty-eight African- American Bahá’ís who completed the Bahá’í Historical Record in 1935, giving an overall profile of these respondents, many of whom were of exceptional prestige and influence. This chapter also provides a glimpse into the philosophy of the Bahá’í teachings. Having centered themselves on the principle of oneness of humankind, the Bahá’í teachings played a major part in attracting many people to the Bahá’í Faith and were the driving force behind all Bahá’í endeavors.

The universalistic ideology of the Bahá’í Faith filled a socio-structural void in human society by diminishing the significance of conventional customs and practices. By directing itself toward the whole of humanity, Bahá’í ideology allowed African-Africans to address their struggles within a universal context, a context which transcended many organizational or institutional agendas and which provided black Americans with a sense of human dignity rather than racial dignity alone.

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