A meeting such as this seems like a beautiful cluster of precious jewels—pearls, rubies, diamonds, sapphires. It is a source of joy and delight. […] In the clustered jewels of the races[,] may the blacks be as sapphires and rubies and the whites as diamonds and pearls.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Talk at Home of Andrew J. Dyer, 24 April 1912,” Promulgation of Universal Peace, 56–57).
Prominent Washington activist and civic leader Henry Edwin Baker (1859–1928), a distinguished graduate of the Howard University’s law school (1881), expressed the hopes that many African Americans held for Locke as a “race man.” In an undated letter (probably written in the early 1920s), Baker wrote to Locke: “I am expecting great things of the young colored men who, like yourself, will, in increasing numbers, in the future, have the opportunity for the breadth of culture that alone can command the attention of the world’s thinkers, For, after all, it is the thinkers of the world who lead.”241 Locke was indeed such a “thinker”—a race leader in his own right. But he also served as a leader in a grand social experiment, known as “race amity,” a term that American Bahá’ís used to describe their public campaign to promote interracial unity. Their effort to bridge America’s racial divide stands as one of the most visionary, yet pragmatic efforts by any American group or faith–community to bring about racial healing and justice. And Alain Locke was part of this audacious initiative. Of course, racial harmony was really quite impossible on a national scale during the Jim Crow apartheid, although there was limited local success at the time.
Named after a pre-Civil War minstrel show character, Jim Crow laws were late nineteenth-century statutes passed by Southern states that codified and institutionalized an American apartheid. In 1883, although slavery had been abolished in 1863, the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, reflecting the widespread white supremacist attitudes of the day and effectively demolishing the foundations of post-Civil War Reconstruction. In 1896, the high court promulgated the “separate but equal doctrine” in Plessy v. Ferguson, leading to a profusion of Jim Crow laws. By 1914, every Southern state had established two separate societies—one white, one “colored.” Segregation was enforced by the creation of separate facilities in virtually every sector of civil society—in schools, streetcars, restaurants, health care institutions, and cemeteries. In 1954, this racial caste system was successfully challenged in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which declared segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. The Jim Crow system was finally dismantled by civil rights legislation in 1964\endash 68.
More than progressive, Bahá’í “race amity” initiatives were quite radical by the standards of the day. Such efforts were by no means exclusive. The Quakers (Society of Friends), for instance, held a Conference on Inter-racial Justice on 24 October 1924, one day after the fourth race amity convention (organized by the Amity Convention Committee of which Locke was a member) was held in Philadelphia.242 First among equals, Bahá’ís were clearly in the forefront of race relations endeavors, and supported similar efforts by the NAACP and the National Urban League, as well as the Quakers and others. This Bahá’í activism had a “leavening” effect. Its full impact is impossible to determine, and it is further complicated by the fact that historians virtually ignored what the Bahá’ís were doing. These early race relations initiatives were part of a social evolution (some might say revolution) that historians will come to recognize as a minor but significant milestone in American social history.
The Bahá’í “race amity” era lasted from 1921–1936, followed by the “race unity” period of 1939–1947, with a whole range of race relations initiatives (such as “Race Unity Day”) experimented with down to the present. The contemporary Bahá’í statement, “The Vision of Race Unity,”243 together with the video, “The Power of Race Unity,” which was broadcast on the Black Entertainment Network and across the country, has its roots in early Bahá’í race relations initiatives, in which Alain Locke played an important role. One of the contributions this book intends to make is to “connect” Locke’s secular race relations efforts with his Bahá’í activities, and to show the dynamic interplay between Locke’s philosophy (as a cultural pluralist) and faith (as a Bahá’í integrationist). This can best be demonstrated by illustrating Locke’s role in early Bahá’í race relations endeavors, with special attention paid to his Bahá’í essays and speeches as well.
The Bahá’í “race amity” initiatives were critical in the internal development of the Bahá’í community. The full implications of Bahá’í egalitarian principles had not yet been universally realized within Bahá’í society. A number of Bahá’ís themselves were not ready for the personal and social transformation that full integration would require. While some gave intellectual assent to Bahá’í principles of interracial unity, not all Bahá’ís were prepared to see these universalisms translated into everyday life.
The minds of some Bahá’ís were like televisions when they were first invented: they could see only in black and white. Other Bahá’ís, who realized the social implications and imperatives of Bahá’í social teachings, began to see in color. Those Bahá’ís who understood the broad implications of their own principles had a wider scope. In cinematic terms, their perception of the Bahá’í vision was in rich “Technicolor” in the full panorama of “Panavision.” Alain Locke was one of these Bahá’ís who grasped the “full picture.” He himself had to deal with intransigence to social transformation within the Bahá’í community. He was one of the key African American Bahá’ís who, together with Louis Gregory and other stellar Bahá’ís of that era, “kept the faith” in a real and pragmatic way by putting Bahá’í precepts of ideal race relations into practice.
Some, not all, Bahá’ís were slow to adopt Bahá’í principles of racial unity in their entirety. The reluctance of a handful of individuals to implement the more progressive and challenging Bahá’í teachings on “race amity” (as it was then termed) did retard the community’s progress somewhat. Within the fledgling American Bahá’í communities across the nation—and Washington, D.C. in particular—these internal and, at times, fractious struggles over how best to implement Bahá’í teachings on race relations within the Bahá’í communities themselves can be seen as the growing pains of a new social movement in American history. Yet those Bahá’ís who understood the black letter of Bahá’í law, that forbade prejudice of any kind, stood out against the “White City” (as Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay put it) of legal segregation and the prejudice that reinforced it. To be a Bahá’í in a public and demonstrable way was no easy task. And to advocate principles of interracial unity, including racial intermarriage, during the Jim Crow era was as courageous as it was exceptional.
Once he had converted to the Bahá’í Faith in 1918, Locke exemplified, for the rest of his life, his commitment to what he would later call a “racial democracy,” which, in turn, would promote a “spiritual democracy,” ultimately leading to a “world democracy.” While Locke, in his youth, had been relatively untarnished by racial prejudice in America, he would soon come to experience the pain of prejudice as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Later, on returning to the United States in 1911, Locke would taste first-hand the bitterness and alacrity of the racialized Deep South. There were moments during Locke’s travels with Booker T. Washington when he literally feared for his life. In 1915, the year that he first seriously investigated the Bahá’í Faith, Locke would soon be introduced to a vision of America and the world that was the very antithesis of the beady-eye narrowness of Jim Crow apartheid. The Bahá’í vision of race amity catalyzed Locke’s own highly articulate advocacy of racial justice and improved race relations, as demonstrated in his brilliant series of lectures on race relations in 1916.244
In his philosophy of democracy, if America would be truer to its founding principles and could transform its racial injustice into racial equality, America would then have the moral basis to fulfill its world role as a spiritual leader. It was in this sense that the Bahá’í Faith, while a transplanted religion with Middle Eastern origins, was, in ideal terms, more true to American ideals than was America itself. This blight on American history—the Jim Crow era—was a compromise and betrayal of America’s founding principles. What the Bahá’ís did religiously was what Locke did secularly, to try to awaken America to this national tragedy.
Some of the leading biographers of Locke to date have had only a sketchy picture of Locke’s activities as a Bahá’í. Much of the reason for this is that the Bahá’ís themselves knew little or next to nothing about Locke’s Bahá’í contributions. Gayle Morrison broke new ground with her masterful biography of Louis Gregory, an African American lawyer from Washington, D.C. (with a law degree from Howard University), who became one of the most important Bahá’í figures in the twentieth century.245 In effect, Morrison has reconstructed the history of Bahá’í “race amity” and “race unity” initiatives, providing valuable information on Locke’s participation and behind-the-scenes leadership as well.
Locke’s years of Bahá’í service spanned over three decades. With the major exception of Locke’s Bahá’í World essays and his editorial work for the Faith, Locke’s contributions were primarily associated with Bahá’í efforts to promote “race amity.” Not to overstate the extent of his involvement, the services Locke rendered the Faith came at a critical juncture in its development. With all of the vicissitudes the fledgling Bahá’í community experienced, Locke maintained his active and personal commitment to the noble ideals of his chosen faith. There were, at the same time, periods of inactivity in which Locke distanced himself from the faith—from the local Washington Bahá’í community in particular. But this fact does not detract from the sporadic intensity of his efforts. And although he studiously avoided references to the Faith in his professional life, Locke’s Bahá’í World essays served as his public testimony of faith as a Bahá’í, for all to see.
“Race amity,” as previously mentioned, was the Bahá’í term for ideal race relations (race unity). Locke served on several national race amity committees and took part in a number of race amity conferences and other Bahá’í-sponsored events. The first four race amity conventions were: (1) Washington, D.C. (19–21 May 1921); (2) Springfield, MA (5–6 Dec. 1921); (3) New York (28–30 March 1924); and (4) Philadelphia (22–23 Oct. 1924). Locke participated in all but the second, and was involved in the planning and execution of these events as well. Beginning with the task force that organized and successfully executed the first convention, Locke served on race amity committees from 1924–1932. There are records of Locke having spoken at Bahá’í-sponsored events from 1921–1952—a period of thirty-one years. According to archivist Roger Dahl, “Locke was a member of the National Race Amity Committee for at least five years between 1925 and 1932.”246 This statement can be adjusted to begin on 19 May 1924. A more precise encapsulation would be 1924–1932, with the exception of the 1932–1933 Bahá’í year. Locke was officially appointed to the following race amity committees:
(1) National Amity Convention Committee (1924–1925): Agnes Parsons, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Mariam Haney, Alain Locke, Mabel Ives, Louise Waite, Louise Boyle, Roy Williams (a black Bahá’í), Philip R. Seville, and Mrs. Atwater. Appointed 19 May 1924.247
(2) Racial Amity Committee (1925–1926): Previous committee reappointed (except for Philip R. Seville): Agnes Parsons, Chair; Mariam Haney, Secretary; Elizabeth Greenleaf, Alain Locke, Mabel Ives, Louise Waite, Louise Boyle, Roy Williams, and Mrs. Atwater.248
(3) National Bahá’í Committee on Racial Amity (1927): Agnes Parsons (“Chairman”), Louis Gregory (Executive Secretary), Louise Boyle, Mariam Haney, Coralie Cook, Dr. Zia M. Bagdadi, Dr. Alain Locke. Appointed 14 January 1927. (Note: The National Spiritual Assembly invited a special Committee on Racial Amity to meet in Washington, D.C., in January 1927, to consult and make recommendations. The special committee’s letter to the National Spiritual Assembly was dated 8 January.)249
(4) National Inter-Racial Amity Committee (1927–1928): Agnes S. Parsons, Chairperson; Mrs. Coralie F. Cook, Vice Chairperson; Louis G. Gregory, Executive Secretary; Dr. Zia M. Bagdadi, Dr. Alain L. Locke, Miss Elizabeth G. Hopper, Miss Isabel Rives (later spelled Rieves).250 This list is confirmed in a letter by Louis Gregory himself.251 In December 1927, the membership consisted of Agnes Parsons, Louis Gregory, Dr. Zia M. Bagdadi, Dr. Alain Locke, and Mrs. Pauline Hannen,252 replacing Miss Rieves, who was traveling abroad. No mention is made of Miss Hopper in the Nov. 27th issue of Bahá’í News Letter. According to Morrison, “Possibly she declined the appointment.”253
(5) National Inter-Racial Amity Committee (1928–1929): Louis Gregory, Secretary; Agnes Parsons, Mariam Haney, Louise Boyle, Dr. Zia Bagdadi, Dr. Alain Locke and Mrs. Loulie Matthews, Shelley N. Parker, Pauline Hannen.254 For a period of time during this Bahá’í administrative year, the National Teaching Committee and the National Inter-Racial Amity Committee were affiliated for budgetary reasons.255
(6) National InterRacial [sic] Amity Committee (1929–1930): Louis Gregory (Chairman), Shelley N. Parker (Secretary), Agnes Parsons, Mariam Haney, Louise D. Boyle, Dr. Zia M. Bagdadi, Dr. Alain Locke, Miss Alice Higginbotham, and Loulie A. Mathews.256 No independent amity committee was appointed for the 1930–31 Bahá’í administrative year. Amity activities were subsumed under the National Teaching Committee, in which Louis Gregory served as NTC secretary for amity activities.257
(7) National Racial Amity Committee (1931–1932): Loulie Mathews, Chairperson; Louis Gregory, Secretary; Zia M. Bagdadi, Mabelle L. Davis, Frances Fales, Sara L. Witt, Alain Locke, Shelley N. Parker, Annie K. Lewis.258
These are seven (six national) committees to which Locke was consistently reappointed, and on which he served for eight out of nine consecutive years (1924–1932). It appears that Locke was not selected for the 1932–1933 committee.259 (The National Inter-Racial Amity Committee itself was dissolved by the National Spiritual Assembly in 1936.260) While the reason for his absence during 1932–1936, the final period of the race amity cycle (1924–1936), is not clear, what is certain is that Locke’s appointment to seven race amity committees was based on both his willingness and ability to serve in this special capacity, contributing his time and exceptional talents in the process.
To date, no systematic effort has been undertaken to reconstruct Locke’s life as a Bahá’í. The following chronology will establish Locke’s historic role in the early Bahá’í race relations initiatives.
THE FIRST RACE AMITY CONVENTION (1921)
This was both a tragic and momentous year for American Bahá’ís—tragic, because of the death of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and momentous, due to the success of two race amity conferences held that year. By design, they were ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s creation, and the very first amity convention was conceived, initiated, delegated and approved under his supervision. Happily, he lived to see the fruits of his vision of interracial harmony. While the results of these conventions did not create any appreciable change in American society, they were seeds that germinated in thorny soil. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s vision of race unity has a prophetic element, in that it will come to fruition, culminating in what he called the “Fifth Candle of Unity,” the “unity of races.”261
Origin of Race Amity Conventions: The first Race Amity conference was organized by Agnes S. Parsons (a white woman prominent in Washington high society) at the instruction of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who, during her second pilgrimage to Haifa (1920), said to her: “I want you to arrange in Washington a convention for unity between the white and colored people.”262 This came as quite a shock to Mrs. Parsons, who had no prior experience in race relations. The wisdom of this historic mission with which the leader of the Bahá’í world charged Agnes Parsons would become evident over time. In having to overcome her original self-doubts about her abilities to take a leadership role in this capacity, Parsons would also have to deal with her conservatism on at least one of the race amity committees several years later.
Here, the term “conservative” was actually used with reference to Parsons by her Bahá’í compatriot Louise Boyle, who, some years later in 1927, objected to “Mrs. P’s conservatism in the Race question.”263 As Gayle Morrison explains, although Agnes Parsons “accepted—intellectually—the principle of the oneness of mankind,” she herself took a “middle ground” between the “attitude of racial exclusiveness” of one Bahá’í group [the Pythian Temple group], which orientation she found to be “more understandable than the demand for immediate integration of all [Bahá’í] meetings.” Parsons, moreover, “had difficulty with such practical demonstrations of oneness as intermarriage and social equality.” To her credit, Parsons had to overcome her own racial and social conservativism in which “she was temperamentally and philosophically unsuited to direct involvement in racial amity work.”264
‘Abdu’l-Bahá advised Agnes Parsons not to undertake this alone. Accordingly, Parsons consulted with the Washington Bahá’í assembly for advice and called upon several of her friends to form an ad hoc race amity convention committee. This task force included Agnes Parsons herself, Mariam Haney, Louise Boyle, Gabrielle Pelham, and Martha Root.265 (During one of her world travels, she had sent Locke a photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, with this note written on the back: “A souvenir from Martha Root. Finland.”266) Since Mariam Haney appears to have been Locke’s primary contact with the Bahá’í community in the early years, there is every reason to believe that, once the organizing committee decided to enlist Locke’s support, advice and participation, that Mariam Haney would be the one to solicit his help. In an undated letter that only context can fix (and possibly the street address as well), Haney wrote Locke to say:
1302 Conn. Ave.
Dear Friend of Mine:—
Your kind note was duly received, and I am very sorry not to have been able to send you an immediate recognition.
I have been incapacitated for several days, with rather an unusual digestive disturbance. You will have “charity and sympathy,” I am sure, for you know how serious are these conditions.
It has been impossible to make any “dates” and I had to cancel several already scheduled. However, I want to say that dear Mr. Gregory is in town for about ten days, and I want to arrange a little gathering in a few days which I think is of the greatest importance at this time. If you will telephone me in a day or two, I will talk the matter over with you a bit before our meeting. I want to consult with you.
Kind greetings ever.
The language of this letter suggests that the race amity convention was the intended topic of consultation. While this is admittedly a surmise, no other planned event at the time would fit that description. Mariam Haney continued to be the liaison between Locke and the organizing committee. In a letter dated Saturday, 14 May , less than one week before the event, Mariam Haney, on behalf of the organizing committee, wrote Locke:
My dear Friend:
We are arranging for a little meeting of consultation on Monday afternoon next at 2:30 o’clock with all those who are in town, or will be at that time, and who are on the program. We are especially desirous of having you with us.
If it is not entirely convenient for you to meet with us, please telephone me as soon as you can and we will try and arrange for another hour.
The kindest greetings for your lovely mother, and with more than the mere regard of,
Your friend sincerely,
This letter was posted on Saturday, and would have to have been delivered on Monday to have ever reached Locke in time. One difficulty is that he had no telephone at home. (Presumably this was by choice, for reasons of privacy.) While not on this committee, there is a strong probability that Locke provided consultative advice as well as having accepted to chair one of the sessions. The strategy of the committee was to appoint a Bahá’í chairperson to preside over each session,269 which featured more non-Bahá’í speakers than Bahá’í speakers. According to Agnes Parsons, “At each session of the convention there was a Bahai Chairman and the chairman invariably gave the keynote for the whole evening.”270 Based on this single fact, one could deduce that, as early as 1921, Locke was already considered a professing Bahá’í. All of the thoughtful planning paid off, as the convention was a resounding success.
The First Race Amity Convention: The historic “Convention for Amity Between the Colored and White Races Based on Heavenly Teachings” took place on 19–21 May 1921 at the Congregational Church on 10th and G Street N.W. in Washington, D.C. Locke served as Session Chair on Friday evening, May 21st.271 Perhaps the best way to begin to describe the program is to examine the printed program first. A facsimile of this program has been published.272 This document, to the extent that each member of the audience had read it prior to the sessions themselves, in effect began the program before it had actually begun. That is to say, the program contained the essence of what the convention was designed to convey. The official program for the Convention for Amity Between the White and Colored Races “Based on Heavenly Teachings” begins with this message:
Half a century ago in America slavery was abolished.
Now there has arisen need for another great effort in order that prejudice may be overcome.
Correction of the present wrong requires no army, for the field of action is the hearts of our citizens. The instrument to be used is kindness, the ammunition—understanding. The actors in this engagement for right are all the inhabitants of these United States.
The great work we have to do and for which this convention is called is the establishment of amity between the white and the colored people of our land.
When we have put our own house in order, then we may be trusted to carry the message of universal peace to all mankind.
Did Locke ghost-write any of this? Why would this be anything beyond a wild conjecture? The printed program273 featured short aphorisms by Jesus Christ, Baha’o’llah [sic], Terence, Lao-tze, Epictetus, Zoroaster, and Moses. The classical references may well have been due to Locke’s influence in his role as consultant.
As to the actual sessions themselves, there exists an unpublished report, “A Compilation on the Story of the Convention for Amity,” dated 31 May 1921, that provides many valuable details as to the behind-the-scenes planning and execution of the program. It contains Louis Gregory’s report, which was published.274 This document will therefore be preferred to the published accounts. Of Locke’s role as a session chair and its keynote, Louis Gregory simply states: “Friday evening[,] Dr. Alain L. Locke, professor at Howard University, presided. He expressed the great spirit of the convention as the unity of the heart and mind in human uplift.”275 The local press covered all five sessions in three published reports, one for each day of the conference. In its story of the evening session that took place on Friday, May 20th, a reporter for The Haleigh wrote: “At the evening session Dr. A. L. Locke of Howard University was the chairman. A refined, cultured, discriminating gentleman of knowledge, presiding with the utmost grace.”276
The two lectures that were presented during Locke’s session were: (1) “Duties and Responsibilities of Citizenship” by Hon. Martin B. Madden; and (2) “The New Internationalism and Its Spiritual Factors” by Alfred Martin, president of the Ethical Culture Society. Madden said that anti-lynching legislation was slated for the next session of Congress, that Congress definitely would enact it and that the President would sign it into law. Martin struck linkages between the brotherhood of man and world democracy.277 Although the reporter is not named, this valuable press coverage was due to the efforts of Martha Root. She was assisted in this capacity by Louis Gregory and Neval Thomas.278
The conference was a spectacular success. It featured a rich artistic program, both musical and literary. Coralie Franklin Cook’s presentation on “Negro Poets” included readings of poems by Phyllis Wheatley, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, William Stanley Braithwaite, Jessie Faucet and others.279 Coralie Cook was Chair of Oratory at Howard University. According to Morrison, Coralie Cook “represented the Bahá’í Faith among black intellectuals in Washington, D.C. since about 1910.”280 This date is approximate. Her husband, George William Cook was a professor at Howard University as well. Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis concludes that the Cooks learned about the Faith as early as 1910, through Joseph and Pauline Hannen in Washington, D.C. The Cooks became Bahá’ís around 1913.281
However, Louis Gregory, in his typescript history of the early Washington Bahá’í community, states: “The husbands of these two ladies [Coralie Franklin Cook and Harriet Gibbs Marshall], the late Prof. Geo. W. Cook and the late Capt. N. B. Marshall, although never formally declaring themselves believers, gave valued cooperation to the friends [Bahá’ís] in efforts to spread the Faith.”282 Locke, in his obituary of George Cook, writes in a similar vein: “But with all the conservatism of his mind, he was yet able to embrace whatever new truth seemed to him a logical extension of fundamental principles. On many occasions he expressed with earnestness and enthusiasm his appreciation of the great principles enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh for the perfecting of the human race, and unhesitatingly offered his home for Bahá’í meetings.”283 Therefore, one can definitely say that George Cook was, as Bahá’ís say, a “friend of the Faith.”
Among the musical performers was solo violinist Joseph Douglass, grandson of the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. The Howard University chorus performed as well. The convention attracted crowds of fifteen hundred or more.284 “An interesting after effect of the first amity convention,” Louis Gregory observed, “was the stimulus it gave to orthodox people [established churches and other religious groups], who started the organization of interracial committees very soon thereafter.”285 Apart from this, the convention had no measurable historic impact, since its goal was to foster good will rather than achieve a distinct objective, such as the passage of anti-lynching legislation, although part of the program did address this very issue.286 Within the Bahá’í community, however, the first Amity Convention was truly the “mother” of all future Bahá’í-sponsored race relations initiatives. Retrospectively, in its 1929–1930 annual report, the nine-member Interracial Amity Committee, of which Locke was an active participant, reaffirmed the significance of the first Amity Convention and concluded: “There can be found in America today no more effective teaching, no stronger magnet to attract souls.”287
Obviously, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá considered this meeting to have had paramount symbolic and social importance. In a message conveyed by Mountfort Mills (an American Bahá’í recently returned from a visit to Palestine), ‘Abdu’l–Bahá was reported to have said:
Say to this convention that never since the beginning of time has a convention of more importance been held. This convention stands for the oneness of humanity. It will become the cause of the removal of hostilities between the races. It will become the cause of the enlightenment of America. It will, if wisely managed and continued, check the deadly struggle between these races, which otherwise will inevitably break out.288
When the convention ended, Agnes Parsons cabled ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Convention successful. Meetings crowded. Hearts comforted.” To which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá cabled back: “The white colored Convention produced happiness. Hoping will establish same in all America.”289 In one of several Tablets to her regarding the convention, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá subsequently praised Agnes Parsons as “the first person to raise the banner of the unity of the white and the colored”:
The Convention, comprising the white and the colored, which thou hadst organized, was like the Mother, from which in near future many other meetings shall be born. But thou wert the founder of this Convention. The importance of every principle is at the beginning, and the first person to raise the banner of the unity of the white and the colored, wert thou. It is certain that it shall bear great results.290
On 4 October 1921, Mariam Haney wrote Locke as a follow up: “Most important of all, the very wonderful Tablets which have come to Mrs. parsons and myself about the Amity Convention.”291 But such race amity conventions could not avert the real and present danger that America faced over the racial divide. The racialized spaces in the United States were structured. They were reared on the bedrock of an apartheid system that had both legal and social sanction. This reflected the prevailing public policy concerns of the white majority. Jim Crow was a mental as well as legal institution. It reflected the schizophrenia of America. The resulting social chasm seemed insuperable. It carved a valley in the middle of America’s soul. This giant fissure in the democratic foundations of America threatened to widen and engulf America in a social cataclysm. Something had to give. And it did. Race riots were the intercommunal volcanoes of America. At times they appeared dormant. But they were always ready to erupt. And when they did, the result was explosive and catastrophic. In another letter to Parsons, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:
The Convention of the colored and the white was in reality a great work. Because if the question of the colored and the white should not be solved, it would [will] be productive of great dangers in future for America. Therefore the Confirmations of the Kingdom of Abhá shall constantly reach any person who strives after the conciliation of the colored and the white. Thank thou God that thou art the first person who established a Race Convention.292
The “Convention for Amity Between the Colored and White Races Based on Heavenly Teachings” was a landmark event. If for no other reason, it proved to be a milestone in Bahá’í social history because it was the progenitor of all future race amity conferences. The conference was paradigmatic. It really was the archetype, the model to emulate. Its success worked at the level of incentive as well, for it inspired confidence in the future success of these kinds of meetings. That success was uneven. But the first race amity convention got Bahá’ís to walk the rocky and thorny path of trying to bring about racial harmony. That noble enterprise enlisted Alain Locke’s direct support for over a decade to come.
No doubt due to logistical factors, Locke had no apparent involvement in the second race amity convention, which was held in Springfield, Massachusetts on 5–6 Dec. 1921 in the auditorium of Central High School.293 A photograph of that event shows the auditorium filled to capacity, with African Americans likely in the majority of those attending.294