Category Archives: NYC Bahá'í History


May 21, 1921:                                      First Race Amity Dinner

“Convention for Amity Between the Colored and White Races Based on Heavenly Teachings”

During the Jim Crow era, when there were few examples of interracial gathering for the purpose of race unity, the first Race Amity Convention was organized by Agnes S. Parsons, a wealthy white woman prominent in Washington, D.C. society.  Ms. Parsons organized the conference at the request of ‘Abdu’l-Baha after her visit with him during pilgrimage in Haifa in 1920.  For assistance planning the event, Agnes called upon Louis Gregory and Alain Locke, pictured below.

first amity conference planners

The convention was held in the Old First Congregational Church in Washington D.C. (10th and G, NW) and about 1500 people attended.  Alain Locke served as the session chair on Friday evening, May 21.  The Howard University chorus performed and Joseph Douglas, the grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglas, performed on the violin.


Old First Congregational Church

Ongoing Race Amity Conventions

The second Race Amity Convention was held December 5-6, 1921.  It was held at the Central High School auditorium in Springfield, Massachusetts and an estimated 1200 participated.  Alain Locke participated in the planning but was not in attendance at this particular conference.


Race Amity Convention, Central High School Auditorium

The American Baha’i community continued to organize Race Amity gatherings for decades.  Below is a Race Amity Meeting organized by the New York Bahá’í Assembly and the New York Urban League in New York City sometime in 1930.


Reprinted with permission of the Bahá’í International Community

During these gatherings children would also be integrated, as evidenced by this photo of an “Inter-Racial Amity Children’s Hour” taken April 29, 1928.


(Info and photos courtesy Christopher Buck.)


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Alain Locke Becomes Bahá’í

Along with W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke (1885-1954)  was a leading intellectual of his day.  Locke was the first African-American Rhodes scholar and he chaired the department of philosophy at Howard University.  Editor of the influential anthology The New Negro (1925), Locke was also known as “The Father of the Harlem Renaissance.”  Dr. Martin Luther King referenced Locke when he said: “We’re going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe.¹”

Alain Locke

Alain Locke

“Bahá’í principles and the leavening of our national life with their power, is to be regarded as the salvation of democracy.  In this way can the fine professions of American ideals be realized.”  -Alain Locke, Bahá’í Congress, Green Acre April 1925

A.LockeclippingThis clipping is from the October 1952 issue of Ebony magazine.  Alain Locke is pictured opposite of Robert Abbott.  The article is titled “Baha’i Faith: Only Church in the World that Does Not Discriminate.”

On June 17, 1933, the Chicago Defender published article on the Bahá’í Faith and sited Alain Locke  as a prominent member of the Faith.


Photo Courtesy of Christopher Buck

“If they will but see it, because of their complementary qualities, the two racial groups [Black & White] have great spiritual need, one of the other.” -Alain Locke, 1933

1.  Quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: Address Delivered at Poor People’s Campaign Rally. March 19, 1968. Clarksdale, Mississippi

(photos and information courtesy Christopher Buck.   Buck’s book, Alain Locke:Faith and Philosophy can be found here)

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Early African-American Women Believers

After Robert Turner joined the Faith in 1898, a small but consistent stream of African Americans came into the Faith, particularly women.  Just a few are noted below.

Olive Jackson

Olive Jackson of New York City was the first African American woman to join the Bahá’í Faith in 1899.

Harriet Gibbs Marshall

Harriet Gibbs Marshall (1868-1941) became a Bahá’í in 1912, while ‘Abdu’l Bahá was visiting the US.  An extremely educated woman for the time, she studied piano, pipe organ, and voice culture at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and in 1889.


Photo Courtesy

Marshall was the first African American to complete the program and earn a Mus.B. degree (Bachelor of Music degree). In 1903 founded the Washington Conservatory of Music.  According to “Marshall’s conservatory was a landmark in the history of black education. The Center sponsored regular concerts for the black community, trained many prominent musical professionals and attracted the nation’s most talented musicians as teachers. It remained in operation until 1960.”

Dorothy Champ

After joining the Bahá’í Faith in 1919, Dorothy Champ (1893-1974) went on to be a lifelong lecturer and teacher of the Faith.  She was also the first African American elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of New York City.

Dorothy Champ

Image Courtesy Austin/Thompson Collection

Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, co-author of Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá’ís in North America: 1898-2000 explains that “. . .the first generation of African-American women Bahá’ís set out to claim for themselves and their loved ones a new religion that offered spiritual nourishment particularly for the weary and downtrodden.” She calls Olive Jackson and her successors “the foremothers of modern-day black feminists.”

info courtesy Lights of the Spirit by Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, Richard Walter Thomas

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Filed under African American Women, Early Believers, NYC Bahá'í History