Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy



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WITH “THE FRIENDS” AT HOME AND ABROAD (1922)

For voting and administrative purposes, Bahá’í communities compile annual membership lists that are updated throughout the year. Each Bahá’í year begins on March 21st, which is the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring. (Nature’s new year symbolizes spiritual renewal.) On the official “List of Bahá’ís in U.S. & Canada, Washington” dated March 1922, Alain Locke is registered as a Bahá’í in good standing.295 This is the very first membership list in which his name appears. There is no ascertainable reason for his name not having surfaced in official membership records prior to this.

In the very same month, Shoghi Effendi established procedures governing the elections of local and national spiritual assemblies and the eventual election of the Universal House of Justice.296 While he was never elected to a local or national Bahá’í council, Locke was appointed to national and local committees. In this respect, Locke acted on behalf of the Bahá’í institutions within the delegated authority with which each committee is invested. At this early stage in his Bahá’í life, therefore, Locke was certainly much more than a mere name on a community membership list.

Locke was a very busy man. He was overcommitted. He belonged to a number of learned societies and professional organizations. As a public speaker, he was in great demand. This being the case, it is difficult to determine how “active” Locke was in his local Bahá’í community of Washington, D.C. But there are some indications that, in the first few years of his experience as a Bahá’í, Locke did participate in some of the major events. The following will suffice as an instance of this: In a letter dated 5 Jan. 1922, Mariam Haney invited Locke to a memorial to commemorate the ascension (passing) of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:


1818 N St

Dearest Friend: —

Mrs. Parsons joins with me in extending to you and your mother a most gracious recognition of your kind thought of us in the expression of New Year’s Greetings. I have been sick in bed or you would have heard from me ere this.

Now I am writing to ask you, dear Dr Locke, come to the Memorial service for Abdul Baha [sic] to be held at the home of Mrs. Parsons, Friday evening of this week. The friends are asked to assemble at 11:45 p.m.—The service will begin at 12 midnight and extend into the night. It is a service for the believers only—or those who call themselves Bahais.

With loving greetings from Paul and me to you and your mother.
Your sister sincerely

Mariam Haney

Jan 5, 1922297
While Mariam Haney would always greet Locke together with his mother, this invitation was to him only. Quite clearly, Haney considered him to be a declared Bahá’í. Otherwise he would not have been invited to this Bahá’ís-only event in the first place. This also means that Locke considered himself a Bahá’í. This might seem like an odd statement. But Locke’s self-identity as a Bahá’í would become an issue for both himself and the Bahá’í community in later years. We do not know how he must have felt about the “believers only” requirement, nor do we know if he attended. Throughout his life, Locke obliged personal invitations, such as this one by Mariam Haney, more often than not. (I would hazard to say that he usually did honor such invitations.) With his mother’s support, of course, chances are that he did. Beyond his faith in the race amity work, and the positive influence that his contacts with Bahá’ís abroad starting this very year would have on him, Locke’s depth of commitment as a Bahá’í was greatly influenced by his mother, Mary Locke, and intensified by her death in 1922.

Mother’s Death and Impact on Locke’s Bahá’í Identity: The year 1922 would prove an emotionally intense time for Locke, for this was when his mother passed away. Her influence on Locke was immense. As the saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Mary Locke was the great woman who stood behind Alain Locke. His own commitment as a Bahá’í, in a very real sense, was an extension of her abiding influence. In a handwritten letter dated 28 June 1922, Locke wrote:
Alain LeRoy Locke

1326 R Street N.W.

Washington. D.C.

[sic, letterhead]


My dear Mrs. Parsons,
I am quite mortified to realize how long it has been since the receipt of your very appreciated letter of sympathy. Please accept this belated acknowledgement.

Mother’s feeling toward the [Bahá’í’] cause, and the friends who exemplify it, was unusually receptive and cordial for one who had reached conservative years,—it was her wish that I identify myself more closely with it. [end. p. 1]

I have now time and energy somewhat released to give, and I shall feel it something of a dedicated service to be able to join more actively with the friends in this movement for human brotherhood.
With very best respects,

Sincerely yours,


Alain Leroy Locke

June 28, 1922298


There is typically something more compelling about a mother’s wish if it is expressed late in life. While encouraging her son to deepen his commitment as a Bahá’í appears not to have been a deathbed wish as such, its effect was much the same. While she herself did not embrace the “Bahá’í Cause” as her son did, Mary Locke exemplified a number of Bahá’í virtues, and evidence indicates her sympathy for the Bahá’í teachings.

There is a curious episode that dramatically underscores Locke’s unswerving devotion to his mother as well as his curious eccentricity. As David Levering Lewis recounts, Locke “was a person of truly exquisite, if somewhat eccentric, culture. His Howard University colleagues never forgot the wake Locke held in his apartment in the early twenties. He had served them tea while the embalmed remains of his mother sat in her favorite armchair.”299 I have heard corroborative reports of this story from Howard University faculty and graduates.



International Bahá’í Experience: Locke was an international traveler, and his breadth of vision is partly attributable to that very fact. To a lesser extent, his contacts with Bahá’ís abroad broadened his vision of the Bahá’í society as well. He saw first-hand that the Bahá’í community was itself international. It was during this year that Locke began to experience the global dimension of Bahá’í life. During that year, Locke visited the Bahá’ís of England. In a typewritten letter dated 21 Oct. 1922, Locke wrote of that meeting:
Alain LeRoy Locke

1326 R Street N.W.

Washington. D.C.

[sic, letterhead]


October Twenty-one

1922
My dear Mrs. Parsons:


Please pardon a dictated letter, as I am anxious to reply to your appreciated letter of the fourteenth. […]

[p. 2]


I learned with great satisfaction from Mrs. Haney of the plans for the Amity Conference in New York. I shall most certainly attend, and if I can in any way be of further assistance before or during the conference, please feel free to call upon me.

Through a miscarriage of plans, due to necessity of taking some [heart] treatment, I could not manage to meet the group of friends in Stuttgart. I did, however, have some very appreciated hours with the friends in England, especially Miss Rosenberg.

[…]
With best respects and thanks,

Sincerely yours,


Alain Leroy Locke300
Regret over the lost opportunity to meet the Bahá’ís of Stuttgart coupled with his statement that he did “have some very appreciated hours with the friends in England, especially Miss Rosenberg” shows that Locke actively sought out Bahá’í contacts in the course of his travels during this period of his life. It was unfortunate that Locke could not see the Bahá’ís in Germany—a country which, after all, seems to have been his favorite European country. Whether or not Locke did succeed in connecting with the Bahá’ís in Germany at a future date is not known. Did Locke seek out Bahá’í contacts elsewhere in the world? Yes, considering his two pilgrimages to Palestine. Later in life, Locke would spend a few months in Haiti, but his relationship with the Bahá’ís there is another unknown. It is doubtful whether Locke attempted to contact the Bahá’ís in Egypt, where the Faith led a precarious, somewhat clandestine existence. Suffice it to say that Locke’s international contacts had a positive impact on this Bahá’í identity.

Locke’s Idealism and Activism: Returning to America and his race relations work at home, Locke’s initial idealism as a Bahá’í manifested itself in his capacity as a fellow organizer and promoter of these events aimed at bridging the racial divide and mitigating the racial crisis. Racial amity was a noble ideal. Enmity into amity—that was the mission of the early Bahá’í race relations work. For it to become a reality (or at least a real possibility), that social ideal had to be translated into real life. The race amity conventions served this very purpose. The ambience of these extraordinary meetings depended upon an elegant setting, enlivened by a program of inspiring speeches, music, and poetry. Locke’s attention to the detail in planning the race amity events appears in a subsequent letter, dated 1 Nov. 1922, to Parsons, in which Locke wrote of the forthcoming publication of poems by “Mrs. Georgia Douglass Johnson” in the Bronze series that he was editing: “I am now sending you copies and hope that Mrs. Osgood may be able to use some of them. One or two impressed me as likely to be very effective and in keeping with the moods we should stress in the Inter-Amity Convention.”301

Culture, for Locke, was the goodwill ambassador of interracial contacts. The amity conventions seemed to reflect Locke’s influence, in infusing these events with literary and artistic dimension. This was cultural pluralism at work. Art was at the heart of who Locke was. It was only natural that he would try to use art to promote Bahá’í principles, in order “to be very effective and in keeping with the moods we should stress in the Inter-Amity Convention.” The meeting to which he refers, evidently, was not the second amity convention of 5–6 Dec. 1921, which was held in Springfield, Massachusetts, but rather the third amity convention, which would be held in New York on 28–30 March 1924. Evidently, this event had originally been scheduled for late 1922. In a letter dated 16 Nov. 1922 to poet Countee Cullen, Locke mentions the reason why he did not meet Cullen in New York, as planned: “You are probably wondering why you have not heard from me or seen me in New York. The Amity Conference, which I had promised to attend[,] seems to have been delayed or postponed.”302 In his letter of 21 Oct. 1922 to Agnes Parsons cited above, Locke was enthusiastic about “plans for the Amity Conference in New York” about which Mariam Haney had told him. Her role as Locke’s primary Bahá’í contact continued, as it had for seven years, dating back to 1915. Locke’s promise to attend, and his offer to be of service, was sincere. The event would take place following in the year after his pilgrimage.



First Last Will and Testament: Curiously, Locke wrote a last will and testament, dated 30 June 1922, on stationery stamped “The Edward Steam Ship Company” and “On Board The Cunard R.M.S. ‘Aquitania’,” but indicated as having been written and “duly witnessed” (with no witness signature) in Washington, D.C. Among other things, the will directs that a “$200 memorial” be given “to Rev. O. L. Mitchell or successor for St. Mary’s Chapel in the name of [illegible].”303 Perhaps this was meant in memory of his mother. But further in the testament, Locke writes: “It is my preference [that] any small foundation [?] as will be made possible should bear the memorial name of my parents, Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke rather than my own, in honor of their great sacrifices for me.” Locke was probably still in grief over his mother’s death, and evidently remembered the anniversary of her passing every year thereafter.
LOCKE AND LOUIS GREGORY (1923)

This was an important year in Locke’s development as a Bahá’í: service to youth, meeting Bahá’ís in Germany, pilgrimage, and possible influence in Shoghi Effendi’s message to the Washington, D.C. Bahá’í community at the end of the year. We should also assume that he somehow became involved in the planning of the third amity convention that would take place in New York the following year. While the events of record tell us about the more important Bahá’í services he rendered, there may well have been other contributions that Locke made, for which there is no record. There is also no indication as to whether or not Locke, during this period, regularly attended Bahá’í feasts and holy day observances. He probably did on at least some occasions. His correspondence provides some evidence and insight into the nature and extent of his Bahá’í activities.



Service to Youth (Washington, D.C.): Mariam Haney has been identified as Locke’s most important Bahá’í contact. Another significance influence in Locke’s Bahá’í life was Louis Gregory. On 12 March 1923, Louis Gregory wrote Locke. This letter is worth citing in its entirety:
1501 7th St. N. W.

Washington D. C. 12 March, 1923.


Dr. Alain L. Locke

1326 R Street N. W.

City:
My noble Brother:
I am grateful for your cordial lines of the 8th inst., which find me still in town on account of unexpected and unavoidable delay. It was indeed a joy for me to serve with you in the awakening of souls. It is my prayer that your happiness will grow, that you may fill your environment with the joy of real life and that the human world be adorned thru [sic] your efforts.

Your idea of soul saving is also mine. The greatest attainment for the soul of man is to “soar in the atmosphere of realities.” But this is possible only for those who are freed from the world of superstition, imagination and the various dogmas and material attachments that enthrall. To become universal in thot [sic] and sympathies is to be God-like. Thus man is elevated to the heaven of the Divine Will and in his life and character reflects the Divine virtues and perfections. Abdul Baha has indicated that the various Prophets have appeared that “veils might be rent asunder and reality become manifest.”

It is certain that the youth for whom you are now doing so much will to a greater and greater degree, as the years pass, appreciate your service. Their illumination will in turn brighten others and the traces of divine education will spread thru [sic] the ages. In blessing you are blessed. In giving life you are its joyous recipient. Thus eternal life begins, even in this world of dust.

Please convey to your circle my best wishes and accept, in acknowledgement of your kindness, my warm appreciation and eternal good will.


Very cordially yours,
Louis G. Gregory304
Correspondence is two-way. Here, Gregory is responding to Locke’s letter of March 8th. Given the intervening time required for delivery, it is clear that Gregory gave Locke an immediate and cordial reply, reflecting the same warmth and friendship that was expressed in Locke’s letter to him. It is hard to know the precise reference to their collaboration in “the awakening of souls.” True, they had served together in the first race amity convention in 1921. Extrapolating from the fact that Louis Gregory was practically a full-time Bahá’í itinerant “travel teacher,” certainly their joint endeavor involved teaching the Bahá’í Faith, whether the method was direct or indirect. But for this letter, there might not have been any trace of Locke’s involvement in the education of youth. This appears to have been, initially, a regular commitment. It could not have been a long-term one, however, given his plans for pilgrimage.

Meets with Bahá’ís in Germany: As with his correspondence in general, we simply would have had no idea of the extent of Locke’s Bahá’í activities were it not for evidence gleaned from his correspondence. In this age of e-mail, electronic documents are as easily lost as they are easy to archive. The fact that Locke kept much of his incoming correspondence, with occasional carbon copies of his outgoing letters as well, allows historians to reconstruct certain events in his life. For instance, in his letter dated 15 March 1923 to Countee Cullen, Locke refers to yet another postponement of the race amity conference: “This is just to get me started and to inform you on some neutral matters. The Inter-Amit[y] Conference which I was to have attended in New York the twenty-first, twenty-second and twenty-third, again has been postponed. I am sorry to disappoint you about the twenty-first. I should dearly love to be there for your sake.”305 Obviously, Locke had twice planned to meet Cullen on the occasion of the race amity conference.

Often his letters contain allusive references, vague and written in passing. Such is the case in determining that Locke did finally succeed in meeting the Bahá’ís of Germany. Charles Mason Remey mentions this in a letter dated 12 June 1923 to Locke: “I envy your meeting with the Bahá’ís of Germany, if it were possible for us to envy another’s blessings.”306 Remey, while an important Bahá’í in his own right until he eventually became what Bahá’ís refer to as a “Covenant-breaker” (an opponent of Bahá’í institutional authority), did not have a close friendship or working relationship with Locke.



Chapter Six

Pilgrimage
The Holy Land is a place of pilgrimage. This territory includes present-day Israel, the Dead Sea and the Negev desert, western Jordan, and the Red Sea and Sinai. The heart of the Holy Land is Jerusalem. Even casual tourists make it a point to visit its sacred sites. In the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall (popularly known as the “Wailing Wall”) immediately comes to mind. In the Christian Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses Christ’s tomb, is, for Christians, the most sacred site of all. In the Muslim Quarter, the Dome of the Rock, built by the Omayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik in 688–691, is a majestic structure, whose gold dome (originally of copper, but gold-leafed in 1994 thanks to the late King Hussein of Jordan) crowns Jerusalem and dominates its landscape. Together with the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque, the Haram al-Sharif (the “Noble Sanctuary”), erected on the Temple Mount (site of Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple), is a vast rectangular esplanade situated in the southeastern part of the Old City, making it the first great religious complex in the history of Islam and the third most holy Islamic site. As the object of veneration of well over two billion adherents across the globe, the Holy Land is usually thought of as sacred to three world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There is a fourth world religion, the Bahá’í Faith, which has its World Centre on the sacred slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa, the third largest city in Israel and its primary port.

Nestled on the northern section of the Golden Coast on the east Mediterranean, the city of Haifa lies at the foot of Mount Carmel, where Elijah’s Cave is found. For Bahá’ís, the Haifa area (especially Bahjí in ‘Akká) is the New Jerusalem. The Shrines of the Báb (d. 1850) and Bahá’u’lláh (d. 1892), the two Prophet–Founders of the Bahá’í Faith, represent the axis mundi, or spiritual center of the world, for the present cycle of human history. Popular travel guides are starting to take note of this. The Bahá’í Gardens are now a major tourist attraction, and are said to be the world’s longest hillside garden. The recent dedication of the Bahá’í terraces on Mount Carmel on 22 May 2001 was an international media event, broadcast live across the world.

As a Bahá’í, Locke undertook two pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The first was in 1923, the second in 1934. His first pilgrimage was immortalized in a travel narrative published in 1924, reprinted three times in 1926, 1928, and 1930, and endorsed by Bahá’í leader, Shoghi Effendi (see below). It is significant that Locke’s trips to Israel (then called Palestine) were for the primary purpose of visiting the Bahá’í shrines, rather than Jerusalem, the spiritual magnet that attracts most pilgrims bound for the Holy Land. The fact that Haifa was his principal destination attests the primacy of Locke’s religious identity as a Bahá’í rather than as a (former) Episcopalian, as he was always designated in the brief biographical notices of him published during his lifetime. (It was not until an article, “Bahá’í Faith: Only church in world that does not discriminate,” appeared in the October 1952 issue of Ebony magazine that Locke’s Bahá’í identity was ever publicized in the popular media.307)

For a Bahá’í, pilgrimage is the experience of a lifetime because Bahá’ís are strongly encouraged to go on pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The same was true for Locke. After declaring his faith in 1918, and probably having written to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the next step for Locke would be to make his pilgrimage to Haifa. By the time he had prepared to undertake this voyage, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had already passed away in 1921. Notwithstanding this loss for the Bahá’í world, Locke was about to meet someone who would make a lasting impression on him for years to come. In reviewing the scope of his Bahá’í life, surely Locke’s most profound experience as a Bahá’í was the event of his first pilgrimage, where he made a cordial and lasting connection with Shoghi Effendi, leader of the Bahá’í world from the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s “ascension” (as Bahá’ís refer to his passing) to his own demise in 1957. In terms of their relative life spans, Locke (1885–1954) and Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957) were close contemporaries.

Locke’s first pilgrimage experience had a profound and lasting impact on him. Beyond its personal value for him, Locke left a record for posterity. Once published, Locke’s essay, “Impressions of Haifa,” became his first Bahá’í publication in April 1924. It was reprinted three times, in 1926, 1928, and 1930.308 Yet, although he wrote about his experience, he did not date it. Ascertaining the exact date of Locke’s pilgrimage required some investigation, until information came from the Bahá’í World Centre that put the matter to rest. The terminus ad quem would obviously have been prior to April 1924, when his essay was first published. The terminus ad quo could be deduced from information gleaned from a similar travel narrative that Locke had published in May 1924.

Locke’s pilgrimage was part of a larger itinerary, which included the Sudan and Egypt. In a letter to Countee Cullen, Locke names two ships that he contemplated taking for his voyage abroad, reflecting the fact that he had already narrowed his choice: “Naturally I am depressed—you as buss-boy [sic] and Langston [Hughes] as galley-slave—when I had in imagination placed the trio in Europe this summer—you with the German mission—Langston with me. […] I was going to take the same ship — as it is, I will sail the 27th on the Paris or the 30th on the Empress of Britain.”309 Based on a postcard dated 12 July 1923 to Countee Cullen, the ship was probably the Empress of Britain, since Locke says: “You and Langston have been so much on my mind, especially during the long days of the ship’s journey.” Also, the postcard was printed in Oxford and the stamp was for three halfpence, a denomination of British currency.310

Granted sabbatical leave to collaborate with the French Archaeological Society of Cairo, the highlight of his research trip was the reopening of the tomb of Tutankhamen. In the introduction to Locke’s “Impressions of Luxor,” the editor of The Howard Alumnus wrote that Locke had “spent several months in Europe, the Near East, Egypt, and the Sudan, 1923–1924.”311 Archival work uncovered further information. On his passport issued 26 June 1922, Locke, while in Berlin, was granted a visa, dated 25 August 1923 (No. N. 3826), permitting him to travel to “Egypt, Palestine & United Kingdom.”312 That data justifies a conclusion that Locke’s pilgrimage took place some time between late August 1923 and April 1924. Curiously, Locke had arranged in advance for Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes to accompany him as well. In an undated (1923) letter to poet Countee Cullen, Locke writes: “As to Langston […] I had an invitation to the Bahaist [Bahá'í] center at Haifa so worded as to include him.”313 This indicates that Shoghi Effendi probably had extended an invitation to Langston Hughes to visit the Bahá’í shrines, notwithstanding the fact that that the celebrated poet was not himself a Bahá’í and thus would not be undertaking a Bahá’í pilgrimage. Hughes probably could have accompanied Locke to Haifa had he wished to, as the two had spent time together in Paris and in Verona,314 and previously in Paris.315

Evidence has come to light that narrows the date of Locke’s pilgrimage to within a week. A nearly precise date comes from an answer to a research query that the present writer had sent to Haifa. In its memorandum in response to the author’s query, the Research Department at the Bahá’í World Centre wrote:


Dr. Locke visited the Bahá’í World Centre on at least two occasions. We have not, however, been able to find a record of the exact dates of his pilgrimages. Dr. Locke’s first visit appears to have taken place in November or early December 1923. As to the duration of his stay, we note that Dr. Locke, in a letter dated 5 December 1923 written from Egypt, informs Shoghi Effendi of his arrival in Cairo. The letter also refers to “the memory of the past week at Haifa […]”316
Locke’s first pilgrimage therefore took place in late November or early December 1923 (or perhaps both, depending on how long the pilgrimage lasted). Such was the date. But what took place? Originally, Locke had planned to spend a month in Haifa. In the same letter to Countee Cullen just cited, Locke writes: “I am going to stay there at least a month -- and had hoped to do some writing there.”317

What transpired between Alain Locke and Shoghi Effendi, who met with Locke and spent the good part of a full day with him? The immediate and direct evidence is Locke’s letter of 5 Dec. 1923 to Shoghi Effendi, written around a week after his pilgrimage. But there is a problem as to accessibility. Although this letter has been archived, its full text is unavailable. There is a reason for this: It is customary for the Bahá’í World Centre to treat letters written to the Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith (Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi) as personal and thus confidential. However, for research purposes, complete or partial summaries of these letters are provided to researchers. Further details of Locke’s letter, postmarked 5 December 1923 from Cairo, were provided by the Research Department:

After acknowledging his “safe and pleasant” arrival in Cairo, Dr. Locke states that his memory of his week in Haifa “is one of the happiest things I have to cherish—the experience itself being one of the most significant and beneficial experiences of my life.”318
We should take Locke at his word. This statement, while lacking in specifics, definitely reveals the impact that Locke’s pilgrimage had on him. Typically, the intensity of a pilgrimage experience not only rejuvenates a person’s faith, but sustains it through “thick and thin.” By the concrete immediacy of sacred space or place, pilgrimage leaves a deep and abiding impression on the pilgrim for whom the experience was richly rewarding. These are objectively observable phenomena. The psychological dynamics of the pilgrimage experience are generalizable to a degree. The specific claims that each religion makes as to the particular rewards of such an experience vary, of course. But the end result is much the same: The pilgrim renews his faith through a close, personal encounter with both the historic and present locus of spiritual power with which the sacred site is invested. Impressed as he was by the Bahá’í shrines themselves, Locke was even more deeply struck by Shoghi Effendi.

Locke translated his private appreciation of his experience to a public one. Just as he was a public intellectual in his role as an academic, Locke, in his “Impressions of Haifa,” was a “public” Bahá’í pilgrim. Unlike what Bahá’ís refer to as “pilgrim’s notes,” which have absolutely no doctrinal authority or otherwise, Locke’s published narrative had the warm endorsement of Shoghi Effendi. (In any event, because there is no substantial doctrinal content in this reminiscence, the issue of any “authority” for the narrative simply does not arise.) As mentioned above, “Impressions of Haifa” was published in 1924 in the Bahá’í magazine, Star of the West, then reprinted three times in the earliest volumes of The Bahá’í World.

Due to its descriptive excellence, the article would likely have been reprinted on its own merits. But the endorsement that the essay received from the Guardian himself gilded Locke’s piece with an aura of approval that went beyond the question of authenticity. What emerges is a spiritual odyssey cast in the form of a travel narrative. This is what makes “Impressions of Haifa” qualitatively distinct from “Impressions of Luxor,” even though both narratives are otherwise comparable in form and content.

On its merits, “Impressions of Haifa” is a descriptive masterpiece. It reveals, this time, not a literary critic, but a man of letters—a frustrated artist, perhaps, yet a talented one nonetheless—resulting in one of the most significant records ever written by a Bahá’í pilgrim. Without trying to read too much into it, Locke’s pen-portrait practically takes on a dimension of allegory whose theme is the synergy between “the supernatural with the natural, beauty and joy with morality”:


Everything seems to share the custody of the Message—the place itself is a physical revelation. I shall never forget my first view of it from the terraces of the shrine. Mount Carmel, already casting shadows, was like a dark green curtain behind us and opposite was a gorgeous crescent of hills so glowing with color—gold, sapphire, amethyst as the sunset colors changed—and in between the mottled emerald of the sea, and the grey-toned house-roofs of Haifa.319
Is this simply a description of a lovely sunset? Perhaps. But Locke’s use of the term, “revelation,” is especially poignant for Bahá’ís, since the truth-claims of their faith reside in a claim to the veracity and authority of the revelations of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, as having come directly from God. “Everything seems to share the custody of the Message” creates an expectation in the reader that the description to follow will somehow “translate” the Bahá’í revelation or “Message” into a “physical revelation.” Locke’s choice of precious jewels to describe the colors he beheld appears to be deliberate: In so doing, he accentuates the inestimable value of the Bahá’í revelation as reflected in the “physical revelation” of the shrines themselves. He continues:
Almost immediately opposite and picking up the sun’s reflection like polished metal were the ramparts of ‘Akká, transformed for a few moments from its shabby decay into a citadel of light and beauty. Most shrines concentrate the view upon themselves—this one turns itself into a panorama of inspiring loveliness. It is a fine symbol for a Faith that wishes to reconcile the supernatural with the natural, beauty and joy with morality. It is an ideal place for the reconciliation of things that have been artificially and wrongfully put asunder.320
Opposite Mount Carmel, across the Bay of Haifa, is ‘Akká. The scene shifts to the site of the former Ottoman penal colony where Bahá’u’lláh, his family and entourage were incarcerated beginning in August 1868. For Locke, that pestilential fortress–prison is now transformed into “a citadel of light and beauty,” gilded with spiritual as well as historic significance. In this heavenly vista, what had been “artificially and wrongfully put asunder” was the “supernatural with the natural, beauty and joy with morality.” These have been restored and reintegrated. Locke could have spoken of the “reconciliation” of races, an issue paramount both to him personally and Shoghi Effendi as well. But, like all good art in his philosophy of it, Locke exercises chaste control in his narrative in recreating the experience for the sheer sake of beauty. He resists any temptation to propagandize (as opposed to W. E. B. Du Bois’ philosophy of art).

Towards the end of “Impressions of Haifa,” Locke gives his impressions of ‘Akká. Probably on the final day of his pilgrimage, Locke visited the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh at Bahjí, whereof he writes:


Then there was the visit to the Bahjí, the garden spot of the Faith itself and to Acre, now a triumphant prison shell that to me gave quite the impression one gets from the burst cocoon of the butterfly. Vivid as the realization of cruelty and hardships might be, there was always the triumphant realization here that opposite on the heights of Carmel was enshrined the victory that had survived and conquered and now was irrepressible. The Bahjí was truly oriental, as characteristically so as Mt. Carmel had been cosmopolitan.321
The image of a cocoon evokes the drab and dismal confines of the prison in ‘Akká. The butterfly (which emerges from a chrysalis rather than a cocoon, in which a moth forms) is Bahá’u’lláh. Extending this metaphor, the butterfly, search of nectar, wings it way to Mount Carmel. Instead of finding flowers, however, this Butterfly will create magnificent gardens that, in due time, will attract others, like Locke himself, to their exquisite beauty and the “nectar” of spiritual nourishment they provide.

Curiously, Locke tells us nothing about his experience inside the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. For a sense of this, his description of the Shrines of the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will have to suffice. In his narrative, Locke takes the reader with him into the interior:


The shrine chambers of the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are both impressive, but in a unique and almost modern way: richly carpeted, but with austerely undecorated walls and ceilings, and flooded with light, the ante-chambers are simply the means of taking away the melancholy and gruesomeness of death and substituting for them the thought of memory, responsibility and reverence. Through the curtained doorways, the tomb–chambers brilliantly lighted create an illusion which defeats even the realization that one is in the presence of a sepulchre. Here without mysticism and supernaturalness, there is dramatically evoked that the lesson of the Easter visitation of the tomb, the fine meaning of which Christianity has in such large measure forgotten, “He is not here, He is risen.” That is to say, one is strangely convinced that the death of the greatest teachers is the release of their spirit in the world, and the responsible legacy of their example bequeathed to posterity.322
This is an interesting passage, for it implies that the Bahá’í Faith has its own Easter message. While not predicated on an empty tomb and post-resurrection epiphanies, Locke senses the spiritual power—the living presence—of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Thus it is that, “Moral ideas find their immortality through the death of their founders.”323 While the Bahá’í shrines somehow preserve the charisma of the personages in whose memory they were built, Locke now turns to another charismatic figure, Shoghi Effendi. Deeply impressed by this man, Locke writes of him:
It was a privilege to see and experience these things. But it was still more of a privilege to stand there with the Guardian of the Cause, and to feel that, accessible and inspiring as it was to all who can come and will come, there was available there for him a constant source of inspiration and vision from which to draw, in the accomplishment of his heavy burdens and responsibilities. That thought of communion with ideas and ideals without the mediation of symbols, seemed to me the most reassuring and novel feature. For after all the only enlightened symbol of a religious or moral principle is the figure of a personality endowed to perfection with its qualities and necessary attributes. Earnestly renewing this inheritance seemed the constant concern of this gifted personality, and the quiet but insistent lesson of his temperament.324
Locke stressed the importance of being able to see a religion in its human incarnation, “without the mediation of symbols.”325 In other words, what does a true Bahá’í look like? That ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the “Perfect Exemplar” of Bahá’í virtues is basic to Bahá’í belief. But “the Master” had already died. Locke was speaking of a living embodiment of Bahá’í qualities. In Locke’s eyes, Shoghi Effendi was the perfect model of a true Bahá’í. In coming to a deep appreciation of Shoghi Effendi as a “gifted personality,” Locke was privileged to see the Guardian’s “[r]efreshingly human”326 side as well. The two enjoyed a long walk and conversation in the Bahá’í gardens:
Refreshingly human after this intense experience, was the relaxation of our walk and talk in the gardens. Here the evidences of love, devotion and service were as concrete and as practical and as human as inside the shrines they had been mystical and abstract and superhuman. Shoghi Effendi is a master of detail as well as of principle, of executive foresight as well as of projective vision. But I have never heard details so redeemed of their natural triviality as when talking to him of the plans for the beautifying and laying out of the terraces and gardens. They were important because they all were meant to dramatize the emotion of the place and quicken the soul even through the senses.327
The conversation dwelled on the aesthetics of the terraces and gardens surrounding the shrines. Although Locke was a philosopher, he and Shoghi Effendi did not engage in a discussion of Bahá’í metaphysics, where they easily could have. Nor did the two (based on this record) talk about race relations, even though this issue had paramount importance for both of them Following their walk in the gardens, Locke was take to the house of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
It was night in the quick twilight of the east before we had finished the details of inspecting the gardens, and then by the lantern light, the faithful gardener showed us to the austere retreat of the great Expounder of the teaching. It taught me with what purely simple and meager elements a master workman works. It is after all in himself that he finds his message and it is himself that he gives with it to the world.328
‘Abdu’l-Bahá lived in almost austere simplicity. Shoghi Effendi, in furthering the Bahá’í message, gave artistic expression to it. As the master landscape architect of the Bahá’í Gardens on Mount Carmel, Shoghi Effendi’s work had permanent effect, because Bahá’ís have resolved to preserve the artistic integrity of his vision.

For Locke, his “Impressions of Haifa” were indelible. While the immediacy of it faded over time, its effects were enduring. As a result of that experience, Locke resolved to rededicate his life to the service of the “Cause,” as the Bahá’í Faith was then called. There is solid evidence for this. In a subsequent reference to the contents of Locke’s letter of 5 Dec. 1923, the Research Department relates:


As stated in the earlier summary, he shares his view that the best way for him to thank Shoghi Effendi is “to devote my best efforts to the Cause.” He also asks to be remembered with thanks to the friends” until he has had a chance to write them individually.329
Locke did not identify these other “friends” he was planning to write. There is a body of correspondence with Bahá’ís, preserved in the Alain Locke Papers at Howard University. This correspondence provides much of the evidence for reconstructing Locke’s subsequent activities as a Bahá’í, as will become evident in the succeeding chapters.

One of the ways in which Locke did “devote” his “best efforts to the Cause” was through lending his pen to it. Altogether, Locke published four major essays in several editions of The Bahá’í World volumes, beginning, of course, with his “Impressions of Haifa.” In this connection, a word should be said about the significance of the Bahá’í World volumes themselves. These were second only to official translations of Bahá’í scriptures in their importance.

“Impressions of Haifa” impressed the Guardian. In a letter, dated 12 March 1926, written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi wrote: “The article by Prof. Locke is very good and sufficient.”330 Doubtless the article itself was widely appreciated by Bahá’ís. To what extent it was known and shown to non-Bahá’ís is not possible to determine. However, since this publication was intended for public distribution, and formally presented to civic leaders and other public officials, Locke’s name attached to a Bahá’í essay lent considerable prestige to the Faith. “Impressions of Haifa” was Locke’s first public testimony of faith in being a Bahá’í. Just as his first pilgrimage experience reinforced his Bahá’í identity inwardly, Locke’s “Impressions of Haifa” reinforced his Bahá’í identity outwardly. In a brief span of time, Locke had established high-level national and international contacts with some of the most important and illustrious Bahá’í leaders of his day.

In looking back on the significance of his first pilgrimage experience, Locke’s “Impressions of Haifa” remains his most intimate testimony of faith as a Bahá’í. Locke concludes his narrative in saying:


Surely the cure for the ills of western materialism is here, waiting some more psychological moment for its spread, for its destined mission of uniting in a common mood western and oriental minds.

There is a new light in the world: there must needs come a new day.331


Here, Locke has a prevision of the “destined mission” of the Bahá’í Faith, which is to unite East and West. If this is ever to take place, the West must first achieve its own unity. Locke understood this clearly. In secular terms, he expressed this prevision in terms of America becoming more truly a democracy, thereby gaining moral ground for assuming its world role to promote world democracy. The greatest test of democracy is the minority issue. This is why Locke, within the Bahá’í context, invested most of his energies to race relations.
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