#99 – 100 Years Ago — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Washington D.C.’assaulted the customs of a city that was racially segregated.’ (Part 2 of 2.)

(Continuing) 23 April, 1912, Tuesday, Washington D.C.: Following the talk at Howard University ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Dr. Fareed were taken to Mm. Khan’s for lunch; Mrs. Parsons also lunched with the party.  There were nineteen present besides ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, these being the names that I recall[:] Mirza Alí Kulí Khan [a Bahá’í and chargé d’Affaires of the Persian Legation in the capital city], Mme. Khan [and] two children, Mrs. Breede, Mrs. Severance, Mrs. Goodall, Mrs. Cooper, Miss A. Dorr, Dr. Getsinger, Dr. Fareed, Mírza Sohrab, Miss Juliet Thompson, Mr. [Louis] Gregory, Mr. Remey and myself. A Persian meal was served. The flowers were lovely, rose leaves having been strewn over the table.

NOTE: A Footnote to this entry states: Mrs. Parsons discreetly avoids mentioning here that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá broke with contemporary social conventions of racial separation by insisting the Louis Gregory, a prominent African-American Bahá’í, attend this luncheon in segregated Washington, D.C.—even though he had not been invited.

Harlan Ober tells the story. . . . “Just an hour before the luncheon  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent word to Louis Gregory that he might come to Him for the promised conference. Louis arrived at the appointed time, and the conference went on and on; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed to want to prolong it. When luncheon was announced, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá led the way and all followed Him into the dining room, except Louis.

“All were seated when suddenly ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood up, looked around and then said to Mirza Khan, Where is Mr. Gregory? Bring Mr. Gregory! There was nothing for Mirza Khan to do but find Mr.Gregory, who fortunately had not yet left the house, but was quietly waiting for a chance to do so. Finally Mr. Gregory came into the room with Mírza Khan.

’Abdu’l-Bahá, Who was really the Host (as He was wherever He was), had by this time rearranged the place setting and made room for for Mr. Gregory. giving him the seat of honor at His right. He stated He was very pleased to have Mr. Gregory there, and then, in the most natural way as if nothing unusual happened, proceeded to give a talk on the oneness of mankind.”  (Also see The Bahá’í World, Vol. XII, [Wilmette, Ill. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1956]   p. 608.)    pp 31, 33

Juliet Thompson wrote: “Gently yet unmistakably, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had assaulted the customs of a city that had been scandalized only a decade earlier by President Roosevelt’s dinner invitation to Booker T. Washington. Moreover as a friend who helped Madame Khan with the luncheon recalled, the place setting that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had rearranged so casually had been made according to the strict demands of Washington protocol. Thus, with one stroke ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had swept away both segregation by race and categorization by social rank.

To Move The World, Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of RacialUnity in America,  by Gayle Morrison,© 1982 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, Bahá’í Publishing Trust,   Wilmette, IL,USA  pp 53, 5

NOTE: According to Louis Gregory, among the persons who met with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at this time were Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, and an Italian duke. See Louis Gregory, “Some Recollections of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Faith in Washington, D.C.L.” p. 13 (in the Washington D.C.L. Bahá’í Archives).  Agnes Parson’s Diary, ©1996, Kalimát Press, Los Angeles, 1996  p. 34 footnotes

It was at this luncheon that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arranged the chairs at the dining table so that Louis Gregory could join all of the guests but sitting at the place of honor at the right of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

 To Move The World, Louis G. Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Unity in America, by Gayle Morrison,© 1982 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the  United Staes, Bahá’í Publishing Trust,   Wilmette, IL,USA, p, 52

‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to two other groups that day. One of about 30 or 40 after lunch; they had been waiting in another room. Later at Mrs. Parson’s, about 250 were present.  After dinner He spoke at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church on M Street N.W. to members of the Bethel Literary and Historical Society—the leading black organization in Washington D.C.

The luncheon was joined by Juliet Thompson who had just arrived from Washington, D. C. Bahá’í Ali-Kuli Khan, the Chargé d’Affaires for the Persian Legation was acting as minister at the time of His visit. (He is the father or Marzieh Gail.)   Among the distinguished guests were Admiral Peary and Alexander Graham Bell.

“A delicious thing happened when the Master greeted Peary, who has just succeeded in publicly disgracing Captain Cook and proving himself, and not Captain Cook, the discoverer of the North Pole. At that moment, in the Embassy,  he looked like a blown-up balloon.

“I [Juliet Thompson] was standing beside the Master when Khan brought the Admiral over and introduced him.

“The Master spoke charmingly to him and congratulated him on his discovery. Then, with the utmost sweetness, added these surprising words: For a very long time the world had been much concerned about the North Pole, where it was and what was to be found there. Now he, Admiral Peary, had discovered it and that nothing was to be found there; and so, in forever relieving the public mind, he had rendered a great service.

“I shall never forget Peary’s nonplussed face. The balloon collapsed!”

“Immediately after the Khan’s reception, Mrs. Parsons too had a large one for the Master, to which Diyá Páshá came with them.”

At Mrs. Parsons: After this first reception, the Master spoke daily in the afternoon and the whole fashionable world flocked to hear Him.


About bahaitravelswest

Researcher Bahá'í history.
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