Category Archives: Chicago Bahá'í History


August 11, 1929:  Founding of Bud Billiken

The  Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, which still takes place annually in Chicago, was started  by Bahá’ís Robert Abbott and David Kellum in conjunction with the Chicago Defender.

Early photo from Bud Billiken

Early Photo from the Bud Billiken Parade

Robert Sengstacke Abbott was the founder of the Chicago Defender. By the start of World War I, the Chicago Defender was the most influential Black weekly newspaper in the United States.  Along with being a member of the Chicago Bahá’í community, Abbot was also a member of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, a committee formed to conduct an inquiry into the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.


Robert Abbott, Image Courtesy of the Chicago Defender

David Kellum was a long-time member of the Chicago Bahá’í community, an editor at the Chicago Defender, and a civil rights leader dedicated to inspiring young people and improving relations between the races.


The Bud Billiken parade is held on the second Saturday in August and has attracted more than 50 million children and their families throughout the United States for a day of community gathering and a celebration of African-American culture in Chicago.

2007 parade grand marshal senator barack obama and wife michelle

The Obama's at the Bud Billiken Parade, 2007


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April 11 1912: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá          Arrives in the U.S.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent 239 days traveling through the US and into Canada.  During his talks, which He insisted be open to all races, He proclaimed Bahá’í principles such as the unity of God, the oneness of humanity, the unity of religions and the equality of men and women.  He also placed a great emphasis on the dire need for racial justice and unity in America: “This question of the union of the white and the black is very important, for if it is not realized, erelong great difficulties will arise and harmful results will follow.”¹  A list of all of His talks can be accessed here.

‘Abdu’l-Baha visits with children, source unknown.

‘Abdu’l-Baha with a group of Baha’is in Chicago, May 3 1912

April 23 1912: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Gives Several Talks and Sets Precedent for Race Relations

Howard University

‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented at  Howard University, a historically Black University in Washington D.C.  In His talk he emphasized the Baha’i principle of humanity’s oneness: “There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God.”

Bethel Literary Society Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church

After the talk at Howard, He presented at Bethel Literary Society Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The Bethel Literary and Historical Society was established in 1881, and was the first national association of Africa-American intellectual leaders.  Frederick Douglas spoke on a variety of occasion to this group, and past presidents of this society include Mary Church Terrell and Louis Gregory.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Sets Precedent for Race Relations

After this, He went to a dinner with 18 other white attendees very prominent in the social and political life of Washington, among which were Admiral Robert Peary, who claimed to be the first person (of European decent) to reach the North Pole, and Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also invited Lewis Gregory (an Black believer) along to the dinner with Him.  Although the Bahá’í principles have always espoused equality of the races, many white Americans who joined the Faith were not instantly above the social norms of the day.  As ‘Abdu’l-Baha entered the house, the hosts turned Gregory away. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, clearly displeased about this, sent for Mr. Gregory to be invited back immediately and having Himself rearranged the chairs, put this noble soul at his right side, at the seat of honor, as yet another example of the attitude that Bahá’í must have towards all humanity.  Below is a photo of a group of Bahá’ís standing in front of  the home where the dinner took place:


April 30 1912: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addresses the 4th Annual Conference of the NAACP

Only 4 years after its founding, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited the  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, now the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots–based civil rights organization.  Below is an excerpt from His talk at Fourth Annual Conference of NAACP at  the Handel Hall, Chicago, Illinois

“Can we apply the test of racial color and say that man of a certain hue — white, black, brown, yellow, red — is the true image of his Creator? We must conclude that color is not the standard and estimate of judgment and that it is of no importance, for color is accidental in nature. The spirit and intelligence of man is essential, and that is the manifestation of divine virtues, the merciful bestowals of God, the eternal life and baptism through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, be it known that color or race is of no importance. He who is the image and likeness of God, who is the manifestation of the bestowals of God, is acceptable at the threshold of God — whether his color be white, black or brown; it matters not. Man is not man simply because of bodily attributes. The standard of divine measure and judgment is his intelligence and spirit.”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 68)


An image from 1908 of W.E.B. Du Bois with a chapter of the NAACP, Image courtesy of

September 16, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Talks at the Home of Mrs. Corinne True

‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the homes of hundreds of individuals during his travels in the US and Canada and it is far beyond the scope of this website to chronicle them all.  It is important to keep in mind that whenever possible, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to an integrated crowd and always delivered a strong and unmistakable call for racial integration and unity.  We can imagine that early groups of seekers and Bahá’í alike, out of their love for and interest in the personage of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, would mix together in integrated situations unlike any other in the society around them.

An example of these talks was one at the home of Corinne True, an early American believer who played a major role in the building of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette IL.  Below is a quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk, in which he is quoting the words of Bahá’u’lláh.   See entire text here.

“He addressed humanity, saying, ‘O humankind! Verily, ye are all the leaves and fruits of one tree; ye are all one. Therefore, associate in friendship; love one another; abandon prejudices of race ; dispel forever this gloomy darkness of human ignorance, for the century of light, the Sun of Reality hath appeared. Now is the time for affiliation, and now is the period of unity and concord. For thousands of years ye have been contending in warfare and strife. It is enough. Now is the time for unity.'”


Corinne True

1. Quote by ‘Abdu’l-Baha from first paragraph: Shoghi Effendi: the Advent of Divine Justice, pp 39-40

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September 23, 1893:  First Mention of the Bahá’í Faith in the Western Hemisphere

The first mention of Bahá’u’lláh in the Western Hemisphere was in 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in conjunction with the World’s Colombian Exposition.  In a session of the World’s Parliament of Religions, the Reverend George A. Ford, a Syrian missionary, read a paper talking about Bahá’u’lláh.

World Religions

First Parliament of World Religions 1893

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