Opening the Doors of
the Past

Opening the Doors of the Past

O Divine Providence! Perplexing difficulties have arisen and formidable obstacles have appeared. O Lord! Remove these difficulties and show forth the evidences of Thy might and power. Ease these hardships and smooth our way along this arduous path. O Divine Providence! The obstacles are unyielding, and our toil and hardship are conjoined with a myriad adversities. There is no helper save Thee, and no succorer except Thyself. We set all our hopes on Thee, and commit all our affairs unto Thy care. Thou art the Guide and the Remover of every difficulty, and Thou are the Wise, the Seeing and the Hearing.

Preparing for “Open Door Policies” in Loveland

You have a challenge. You and your friends have discovered a completely uninhabited island. You wish to move there and call it “Loveland.” Others want to follow. Will you welcome everyone? Will you ask that those who come commit to a common code of ethics?

To ensure a civil society, you have decided to meet with delegates from each region of travelers who want to live on the island. Each delegation must research the past, so history will point the way toward creating a land based on love.

You have copied some headlines at your nearest archive, from a library of newspapers, magazines, and early films, some published by William Randolph Hearst. You added undiscovered documents based on journals, new books, and Library of Congress records. Your research has taken you back as far as the 1850s, as you prepare to write your own constitution.

A “congress” describes a forum for coming together to discuss and agree on how to influence some aspect of society. Before gathering the delegates for such a congress, each group will study the stories and bring recommended clauses, to reflect the lessons learned from each of those chapters in history.

The delegates will then hold caucus, presenting, demonstrating, and sometimes even illustrating their ideas. You will post clauses in the room for ratification by the group. When combined, these clauses will form the constitution of Loveland, based on a common code of ethics. (See the template.)

Note about the Headlines and Delegate Groups:

In a large group of participants, you may want teams of two or more to cover two or three stories. In a smaller class, you may want each delegation to cover more stories and thus allow additional time segments for the activity. You will see a sample clause template on the following page.

A scene of a boat on the water with nature reflected in the water.

Prepare to create an ideal civilization as you head toward the place you will call the land of love.

Loveland Creed

Constitutional Clause # _____

Regarding: ____________________________________

Authors: ______________________________________

Whereas we embrace the following ethical value:

Our constitutional clause recommends the following action/s:


Reading the Writing on the Wall

Robert Chaittle Turner was born on a farm outside Norfolk, Virginia in about 1855. His mother, Emily Wilson, an enslaved American, worked for Margaret Edwards Grice, wife of the mayor of Portsmouth. Robert would later become the American Baha’i community’s first Black believer.

We know little of the history of his mother Margaret or her ancestors. What did she experience working for the wife of a mayor? What attributes did she model in her relationships and in her belief system? What do we know of her intellect and spirit? What lessons did she teach her son?

Few journals exist to show us history from the point of view of the servant in the pre-Civil-War South. However, one such narrative, acquired by the Library of Congress in 2017, is deemed authentic because the author wrote it in Arabic, a language the Americans could not read, edit, nor translate. Could the relationships within a household affect the life of an enslaved American differently if each party saw the intentions, potentialities, and true spiritual nature of the other? Decide for yourself after reading the following account.

Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim scholar, came from Senegal, where his village had been raided in 1831. He penned an autobiography later in life, at about the time of Robert Turner’s birth. Omar wrote the story of his experiences in Arabic. No slaveholder could read it and edit it, making it the perhaps most authentic narrative of the period.

Omar said he was born of the Fulu tribe “between the two rivers” that define the borders of Senegal and the Gambia. A devout Muslim, he had been on pilgrimage to Mecca. Orphaned at an early age, he then studied under his brother and other religious leaders for 25 years, until age 37, when cruel captors raided his village, killed many of his people and led him to a large ship.

A month after the ship docked, he tried to escape the cruelty of his main captor, Johnson, but instead he landed in jail. There, for 16 days, he wrote on the walls of his jail cell in Arabic—the first indication of something different about this man. Someone released him from jail—the records do not indicate whether by purchasing his bail or his bondage—and soon introduced him to the governor, Jim Owens. After experiencing the gentleness of the Owens family for a few days, he was given a choice about where to live. He asked to remain with Owens for the rest of his life. He praised Mr. Owen for his kindness and for clothing and feeding him with the same quality of food and clothing he chose for himself, and for giving him work matched to his capacities. He challenged more Americans to live up to this example of dignity shown by the Owens family. He wrote, “During the last twenty years, I have known no want in the hand of Jim Owen.”

The translation of Omar’s writings apologized that he was losing facility with his own language, and yet he wrote with eloquence. His writings include evidence that throughout his travails, he continually turned to God to help him transcend the losses. He also wrote cautionary words to those who were thoughtless about their lives and actions:

“...Do you see anything trifling in creation? Bring back your thoughts. Do you see anything worthless?

Recall your vision in earnest. Turn your eye inward...”

“... He who regards you with care and who has made for you the heavens and the earth and gives you prosperity, it is Him you think little of. This is He that planted you in the earth and to whom you are soon to be gathered...

Did Jim Owens take an interest in Omar only to rescue his dignity after hearing about his abuse? Did he need another servant in his household and purchased Jim for that reason, although he was instinctively kind?

We cannot know the motives of others. However, from the prayerful messages in Omar Ibn Said’s original narrative, we might note evidence of his overarching identity as a spiritual being—and his tendency to see the spiritual nature of others as their own overarching identity.

Perhaps other enslaved Black people would have told a similar story if we could read their thoughts, even the mother of Robert Turner.

Discuss your convictions about measuring the worth of another. Write a clause for your constitution.

Image of the 23rd PsalmPortait of Omar Ibn Sayyid, seated.


Ideas Still Matter in a Century or Two

Women discovered new ideas, if not new voices and votes, in the mid-19th century. Eunice Newton Foote, an amateur American scientist, tested the heat-trapping ability of different gases. She found that air trapped in a container with water vapor and CO2 became hotter in the sun and could not cool down. Her 1856 article in The American Journal of Science noted, “An atmosphere of that gas [CO2] would give our earth a high temperature.”

When the time came to present the paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she was not allowed to do so, as she was a woman. A man was asked to read the article, and her work—the cleftrest of several attempts to predict and prevent climate change—was lost to history.

How might we rewrite history and prevent crises if we considered not the loudest banter but the most thoughtful voices of saints and scientists and those who serve with a true intention to help humanity? Consider this question as you discuss your convictions in relation to those of Eunice Newton Foote. Write a clause about inclusion for your constitution.


A Mind, a Voice, a Pen

Two young men grew up witnessing the plight of the powerless. One, a tall boy from rural Kentucky, studied law, became president of the United States, and discovered the perplexing challenges of uniting the different factions in the country on various issues, especially the question of slavery.

Another young man had grown up with the astounding tenacity to leave his life as an enslaved American and become a legendary lecturer and writer. Reading, thinking, writing, and speaking became his tools for change. The compelling rationale of Frederick Douglass, according to scholars, influenced Lincoln’s views on slavery until he finally determined that he must abolish it.

Douglass published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1860. Hear a dramatic reading in the words of Frederick Douglass, performed by Masud Olufani, on the link below.

Video: The same artist speaks on art as social commentary - Masud Olufani at SCAD

Ultimately, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, ending the enslavement of African people in states controlled by the Confederacy. Two years later, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the entire United States.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass

 Frederick Douglass in an 1862 portrait; Library of Congress

Families standing in front of a long building.

 Library of Congress – Families at a “contraband school” in Freedman’s Village,  Virginia, read books while awaiting a visit from President Lincoln (photographed between 1862 and 1865)

A family photo, the children are two girls one on each side of their parents.

Unidentified soldier with his family (Library of Congress)

Below: Sioux Chiefs, Oglala Sioux Girls, a Child whose family was freed from slavery in Virginia was then required to baptize to remain in the home.

Sioux Chiefs on horsebackOglala Sioux girls on horseback


Free to Go—or to Stay

Many Black Americans experienced only limited freedom in some states even after emancipation. Other states expelled them. Still others, on the Southern border, did not even inform them of their free status. Finally, the Union army marched into Galveston Texas on June 19, 1865, demanding enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation among the 250,000 Black people living in the state of Texas. The Juneteenth holiday tradition began with a bang!

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 followed, granting full citizenship and civil rights to Black Americans. A Freedman’s Bureau was set up in some regions to help formerly enslaved people restart their lives, by offering marriage licenses, family reunification, and genealogical records. Within a decade, US civil rights laws, where enforced, established penalties for those who denied citizens equal employment and the use of inns, theaters, and other places.

By the time Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, the process of reintegrating the south into a unified system of government had been set in motion, but where did the freed families go?

More than a few migrated across the plains, and many marriages occurred between tribal members and freed Black people during the post-Civil War era. Another new trend, the migration of people from plantations to cities, spurred the engine of manufacturing, launching the nation’s second industrial revolution.

The telephone was still a decade away from its first patent, but other new technologies of the age included the first Transatlantic cable and the first transcontinental railroad, which connected both sides of the country at Promontory Point, Utah.

The steamboat was still a major mode of travel and shipping, but the railway system made it easier to travel West, to where goldmines had transformed the economy, especially in Northern California. Cities such as San Francisco—and even the smaller gold mining towns--began to flourish and to offer the bon vivant lifestyle of Europe by the time Robert Turner reached his teens.

Were the choices of freed Black Americans – the choices about starting a new life – always simple? “The complex truth of American history... was never simply black and white,” Henry Louis Gates reminded us in an article about families who remained in the South before, during and after the Civil War. (Some remained even when their government, as in Robert Turner’s birth state, Virginia, required that they leftve.) Gates wrote:

“Of the 488,070 free African-American people in the United States in 1860 — 11 percent of the total black population — according to the federal census, some 35,766 more lived in the slave-holding South than in the North.” At that time, 89 percent remained enslaved.

He offered various reasons why some people, when freed, remained in the South:

  • Some states restricted the numbers of freed Blacks who could enter;
  • Sometimes they were given land or goods by their owners and preferred the known conditions of their current residence to the unknowable conditions in the North;
  • Some families did not have had the funds, the health, or the stamina to start life over elsewhere;
  • Some wanted to stay to maintain family unity;
  • Some had developed a sense of family among those with who they worked and did not want to leftve. (In fact, some set up camp on the property and declared it their home.)

We do not know the reasons why Robert Turner’s mother chose to stay behind, while both the law and the treatment of young males bade him leftve the state.

As you empathize with the diverse perspectives of families facing a life-changing decision, do their choices and reasons surprise you? Discuss the role of open-minded research in creating a just society. Write a constitutional clause accordingly.


No One Wins in an Unjust Battle

Conquests of culture and equality took place not only in the South but in the Plains States. Westward expansion had led to the forced removal of First nations people from their homelands to more than 20 reservations by the mid-1870s. The Indian Appropriations Act was passed in 1871. This made all indigenous people wards of the state.

By now, the government also introduced the first national park, at Yellowstone. As in many historical developments, these parks brought mixed results. They protected wild areas from over-development, increased support for conservation and good forestry, and created spaces residents of all economic classes could enjoy. However, designating parklands meant evicting the original residents who had carefully preserved their homelands over the centuries.

Chromolithograph had become possible by the time Joseph Hoover published painting in the 1870s, documenting the everyday life of the original villagers who inhabited the land. The Paiute, Mono, and Maidu not only lived on the land and environmentally protected it but also held spiritual walks across the mountain to Mono Lake.

History books and newspapers veiled the stories of many of the families whose villages were destroyed to build parks. Some tribal representatives, however, later quelled their bitterness with quiet relief that at leftst their homelands were protected and not submerged under a reservoir or a cityscape.

Not all government land grabs were based on the motive of conservation. Some were prompted by greed. For example, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, a few decision makers with government positions placed profits over people.

The Lakota Sioux tribes had formed an alliance with the Arapahoe and Cheyenne, after pushing out the Kiowa, to roam the Great Plains, hunt buffalo and enjoy the lifestyle associated with their sacred homestead. The treaty of

1868, signed in Wyoming, gave them a wide reservation and ensured protection for their sacred lands in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Just three years later, General George Custer arrived to make a military outpost and explore natural resources. Realizing the potential of the gold in the Black Hills, he tried to negotiate an offer with the chiefs, but they rejected it. The seizure of these lands did not seem just to them. The famous Battle of Little Big Horn ensued, captured in the painting, The Custer Fight, by Charles Marion Russell.

Custer plotted a surprise attack, but the warriors outwitted, outnumbered, and overpowered him. He and every member of his company perished. This battle backfired, bringing a harsh reaction from the US government. Within a year, all members of the Plains tribes were moved to reservations.

Meanwhile, in California, families were separated and sold on the auction block to work on rancherias long past the restrictions of the Emancipation Proclamation. The federal marshals did not get so far west that they could monitor violations of slavery laws as they pertained to the more than 100 tribal nations living there.

The introduction of disease, the assimilation of cultures and the loss of language, tradition and family would go on for another century, as children were separated from parents and enrolled in residential boarding schools against their will. A call for civil rights and a revival of traditions emerged in the 1900s, and some tribes were granted official status in 2008 with the Tribal Recognition Act, which now allows those with sufficient members to register as official sovereign nations with their own governing bodies, although it leaves other tribes unrecognized.

The message that spoke to Robert Turner also resonated with those looking to fulfill the native prophecy that a time of harmony would one day arrive. Honoré Jackson became the first known indigenous American to have affiliate with the Baha’is, after hearing about the religion at a First Nations protest march in Canada. He became a Baha’i in the late 1990s. Many others saw in the traditions of their people a parallel between oral traditions, messengers, and prophecies of the coming age of peace. By 1963, 83 nations had joined the religion.

View a 12-minute segment of video featuring First Nations Canadian, Buffy Saint Marie, singing two songs and discussing cultural alienation with Pete Seegar. End after her song, “My Country Tis of Thy People.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie became a friend of the Baha’is and sang at the third National Youth conference in 1973, performing at events ever since.

Below: The Custer Fight, by Charles Marion Russell,

Warriors on horseback
black and white photo of trees and land of a rancheria
Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley, still untouched

Some indigenous American Baha’is give prophetic status to Kumeyaay, the ancient leader whose Southern California tribe was named for him, as just one example of a sacred messenger who led his people mostly through oral tradition. Several bands of Kumeyaay exist in Southern California.

Preservation Models for Each Group

Describe what you felt as you listened to Buffy’s song. Did you learn more by hearing the lyrics or by watching her emotions as she sang?

Explain how a deeper understanding of history prevents the repetition of tragedies and connect us with awareness of deeper truths?

How can we honor and value specific cultures?

List specific ideas for preserving the life, health and traditions of each person in the quest for unity in diversity. Write a constitutional clause accordingly.


Fanning the Flames to Save Infrastructure, Both Moral and Material

Activity: Create Cultural

Huts built from wood

Kumeyaay-Ipai Interpretive Center, Poway, California

Industrialization brought growth to America, and wages increased by up to 60% between 1860 and 1890. Laborers had better lives and shorter workdays. People had more time to expand the exploration of religion and charity work. Colleges and hospitals thrived. Phoebe Hearst had spent her earnings on expanding education, research, health care and culture. She expanded her philanthropy to include travel when she funded the trips of friends who could not otherwise see Paris, Egypt and Israel, encouraging their spiritual and intellectual growth. (Robert Turner and a number of young women were among her travel companions, as she mixed classes and cultures in a radical show of unity.)

Not everyone spent their wealth on humanitarian endeavors, however. Immigrants still suffered great poverty, and individual investors pursued wealth when cities needed rebuilding.

The Panic of 1873 occurred when bank reserves were strained by overzealous railroad investors, losses due to the Chicago fire and the Boston fire, and other causes.

Leaky water mains, narrow streets and poor infrastructure had not prepared these cities to lose so many businesses as corporations continued to grow. Mark Twain published his book, The Gilded Age, in the same year to describe an age glittering with wealth based on corruption. Panicked business owners and looters did more harm than good in putting out the Boston fire. Clearly, more thought, more planning and more humanitarian effort would have saved the city.

Discuss possible systems for ensuring the material needs of a society and encouraging voluntary giving. Write a constitutional clause accordingly.


Altruism versus Alcoholism

Men lay on a boardwalk while a woman stands with her child in her arms.

The second industrial age showcased the increased likelihood of injuries when drinking on the job. With more people living in crowded cities, alcohol also became associated with crime and domestic violence.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) decided the only way to increased moderation was to stop the flow of liquor altogether. They formed a movement to conduct nonviolent protests against the sale of alcohol, due to its negative impacts on society. (The photo features the 1879 chapter from Illinois.)

These women wanted to prevent misery in the world. Their movement, in later years, finally resulted in the Prohibition of liquor sales in 1920. However, this event gave way to an organized crime movement to open speakeasies (where alcohol was sold under cover and public officials were bribed to keep establishments open) and clip joints (where money was violently extorted from customers who did not want to be turned in).

Old image of the women of the Temperance movement arrayed in a circle.

The law and the motivation to live up to it were misaligned, and eventually, in 1933, alcohol was legalized again. Today, alcohol still takes 88,000 American lives each year through accidents, diseases, and overdoses. It imposes family traumas, job loss, and generational impacts such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

Early in its history, the WCTU had also broadened its mission to advocate for just labor laws, prison reform, and suffrage. Its membership dwindled after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1919, but it continued to operate through the next century.

Activity: Public Health Protections

Discuss the balance between free will and the protections needed to protect the health of individuals and families within a society. Write a constitutional clause accordingly.


Visions and Voices from the Far East

When Robert Turner reached San Francisco, Chinese people comprised one of every three residents. Still, at that time, the 1875 Page Law made “Mongolians” ineligible for naturalized citizenship.

Despite their presence on the streets, immigration of new Asian families was banned for ten years, to limit the number of Asian women who might become “temptations for men.”

This came after a litany of tragedies such as California’s Chinese Massacre, in 1871, in which 17 Chinese workers were lynched by a mob of 500 whites and Latino men, whose convictions were soon overturned. Even earlier, in the 1954 People v. Hall murder of a Chinese girl, the Supreme Court denied the right of an Asian to testify against a white person in court.

Illustrating harassment against Asian Americans.

Many proud Chinese families had originally saved money for their own ship fare and had come to California for honest labor. They had helped fill the vast need for workers to build railroads, dams and mines, tolerating extreme discrimination in almost every field of labor. In gold country, they were not allowed to shop in the main part of town stores and in one case, were starved out of a town in the middle of winter.

If not isolated in labor camps, Chinese Americans had to live and work in segregated commercial districts, and in places such as Nevada City, had to walk home in underground tunnels for their safety. (Underground tunnels in 14 cities across the country were used for other purposes–to advance the Underground Railroad or to hide liquor during prohibition–but Portland Oregon’s tunnels, originally meant as storm drains, became hideaways for slaves captured on the streets or on ships sometimes from the Asian community.) Hence the term, to “shanghai” someone.

China’s warm hospitality and kind people may come as a surprise to visitors traveling in the opposite direction, if a class could take a field trip there. Young people are devoted to grandparents and even make extreme sacrifices for strangers. Covid-19 created misplaced blame on innocent Chinese and other Asian people.

Even now in California communities with high Asian- American populations, school children still report facing traumatizing stereotypes.

One California city, Torrance, originated when immigrants worked in strawberry fields near the coast after the turn of the 20st century. An annual Visions of Unity event began with the publication of the Vision of Race Unity a century later, to encourage the highly diverse population of students from five high schools to use the arts as a tool for acting on their convictions. (Pictured here, one art winner’s piece on mixed- race students became the logo for the event. She went on to design school in college.) The entries arrive on Martin Luther King Day and result in a public reading-in-the-round and art show each spring. A higher number of Asian students feel impelled to participate than from any other ethnic group. Some of the works of literature and art articulate prejudices still alive, while others preserve and celebrate culture and seek new means for inclusion in the melting pot their city has become.

Painting of an Asian person by Janice Lee.

Activity: Creating a Service and Arts Corps

Discuss the meaning of the word “inclusion” to you. How could incorporating the voices and actions of the young generations affect this process in a society? Write a clause that gives young people a role in understanding and practicing inclusion.


Religion as an Instinct and a Freedom

Religion refers to a system of beliefs about a greater-than-human power. These traditions and belief systems have been documented in every part of the world through written and oral histories.

Two stained glass windows with a smaller stained glass window above them.

In Africa, for at leftst 5,000 years and perhaps up to 60,000 years, people believed in ancestral spirits whose values guided the boundaries and framework of society. Hopes were fulfilled mostly by offering up animals to make pleftsing sacrifices to the deities.

A black and white image of a building in the distance.

Sacred writings in most religions evolved over time, defining spiritual sacrifices as metaphorical in nature. The earlier acts of sacrifice became symbols for giving up time, physical and material attachments or negative habits. Sacrifice became associated with wise choices that do no harm to others but instead increase comfort and good in the world. African believers from some contemporary churches, however, still held onto ancient practices, asking traditional religionists for help with a difficult challenge in exchange for a traditional sacrifice.

The tango between reason and religion bears a long history. During the Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason, as it was designated in the 1700s), religionists feared that new scientific discovery would make faith seem obsolete—unneeded and unpopular. They began to actively teach the importance of Christianity by emphasizing that all people are sinners and need forgiveness and salvation through a personal relationship with God.

The lights dimmed on this movement but sparked again during the Second Great Awakening in New England, toward the end of the 1700s. In the 1850s to the early 1900s, religions again vied for believers by countering science with the need for salvation. Calvinists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and other protestant religions had to make room for new brands of Christianity.

Black and white image of an old church

While Baptists and African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) churches swelled in the South, the North teemed with new thoughts about a coming age. Place of birth affected the message a child heard growing up.


Which Church Doors to Enter

Doors to an old church

The Life of James Mars, a Slave, published as an autobiography about growing up in the North, details the advantages of Northern worshippers’ perception of Black Americans as “having a soul.” Comparing enslaved people living in the North to those in the South, James also wrote on page 5: “... they were permitted to be a species of the human family.”

This sense of humanity increasingly disrupted ideologies that needed refreshing and raised the popularity of more democratic systems of worship. Quakers believed in nonviolence. Millerites believed Christ had returned. Mormons accepted progressive revelation for Judeo Christians. Presbyterians wanted to distinguish themselves from Catholics. Many of the spiritually inclined feared that the Unitarians had gone too far in scientifically rejecting deity.

Eastern religions also arrived, with Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism landing by boat on the Pacific Coast. In the following decade, some Protestants engaged in the Vedanta Society, a form of Hinduism, and others studied Orthodoxy, Islam.

The top of a mosque shown between tree branches.

Everyone had suddenly become a seeker. New discussions about the rights of women, the abolition of slavery, and the right to public schools had created discussions of the relationship between social systems, scientific systems, and mysticism. One faith just entering the Western hemisphere combined all these systems in a new one. The Bahai Faith decried prejudice and embraced the unity of faiths.

The World Parliament of Religions, in Canada, featured an exhibit on the Baha’i Faith, which united Black and White, Easterner and Westerner, female and male, science and mysticism, in a new balanced belief system geared to achieve peace in the coming age. This message attracted Thornton Chase and Kate Ives to become the first male and female Baha’is from the U.S.

A grey haired man lights a lamp

A religious exhibition in Chicago, held in the same year, brought people out in droves to make further religious comparisons, and it also featured information on this new religion, the Baha’i Faith.


What evidence do we have that the desire to give, to sacrifice and to live according to a system of common beliefs may have existed as long as homo sapiens and may unite all humans?


The Worth of Words and Deeds

America tangled with Spain over control of Cuba in 1895. Cubans had risen up against colonizer Spain, but instead of helping the nation maintain its independence, the US sent in ships to oust Spain and install its own control in exchange for this protection, insisting on a constitutional amendment that secured US control of Cuba. The US president wrote that he wanted to prevent an integrated black-and-white controlled territory in the Caribbean. Many soldiers came from the African American community to help fight the war.

Although William Randolph Hearst said that his newspapers influenced US involvement in the war, his mother Phoebe wanted to instead focus on her positive work in the world, teaching young women to think and act for themselves and to turn to a life of spirituality and humanitarian endeavor.

A child is consoled

The one to whom she looked for an example, ‘Abdu’l Bahá, knew that young soldiers were victims of their nations’ politics. He advised new crop planting projects in Europe to keep soldiers alive during the war and helped Lady Blomfield establish an organization called Save the Children to care for war orphans. ‘Abdu’l Bahá’s advice, in general, was to “oppose war with a stronger thought of peace” and to “oppose hate with a stronger thought of love.”

A portrait of a woman's head from the side as she looks down.

Activity: Write a Preamble for Peace

Discuss your own convictions about the relationship between hate and violence. What clause could you add to your constitution to encourage love and peace as substitutes for war?


Literacy Brings the Clash of Ideas

A portrait of W.E.B. DuBois

W.E.B. DuBois

A portrait image of Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

During the years of slavery’s forbidden literacy, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) had launched a progressive education movement, setting up private schools in church basements. Students began to attend private Black universities in the East, such as Fisk and Tuskegee, which turned out prominent scholars, but not every scholar agreed.

In 1897, the Haitian sociologist, historian and economist W.E.B. DuBois delivered a speech to the new American Negro Academy, in Washington, D.C. He explained his theories on the sociology and preservation of black culture in a speech called, “The Conservation of the Races.” He wrote about cultural preservation from an empirical as well as an intuitive perspective, based on field research. His political positions, especially in his book, The Souls of Black Folks, stood in stark contrast to the views of Booker T. Washington, a contemporary whose recent Atlanta Compromise Speech he opposed.

Called to bring diversity to a Cotton Exposition in the South, Washington’s speech called for “making friends...with the people of all races by whom we are surrounded...” He built a pathway for smoother relationships by suggesting that the Blacks accept jobs in the name of Reconstruction, rather than settling only for political representation or scholarly recognition, knowing that “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” The speech proved highly influential in building trust in the South but also stoked resentment among Black intellectuals with opposing views.

Booker T. Washington insisted that assimilation was a big step forward, writing, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles he has overcome. I would like to keep working on self-mastery for now.” (68)

Imagine that you are Dubois and Booker debating the approach that will bring both nobility and belonging to the people.

W. E. B. Dubois insisted that beyond this sense of resiliency, the group of intellectuals must also help the literati (educated blacks) achieve full integration into society. In fact, he wanted to start a movement and a publication for this purpose.

Stage a constructive conversation as if you were Booker T. Washington and W.E. B. Dubois. Remember that there is more than one right answer to a question, and your goal is to develop respect and a listening ear.

Activity: Different Paths to the Same Goal

Meet in pairs and use the following steps to role play the discussion that ensued, as if you were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Apply unity by the time you reach the sixth step and the end of your conversation. The one making the request should begin.

Bridging a Conflict

Facing one another, a few feet apart, alternate responses to each of the following questions.

1.My position is:

2.I feel:

3.I feel this way because:

4.I understand that you feel the way you do because... (the empathy statement)

5.Maybe we should try to ... (state what you will personally sacrifice to contribute to the joint solution)

6.Shake hands to solidify your agreement

Young children shaking hands on the conflict bridge

Variations of the bridge appear on the following images, so you may construct your own.

Adults on the conflict bridge resolving solutionsAnother image of adults on the conflict bridge communicating with each other.Students observe as two of them use the conflict bridge


The Pen Tells what the Eye Sees

A portrait image of Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells began her professional life in 1896. She turned her newspaper into a channel for decrying the practice of lynching after seeing her own friends murdered in Memphis and later took on writing assignments in New York and Europe to expose the horrific practice.

She wouldn’t be the last woman to make a difference. Some women made it by expanding the consciousness of the spirit.


The Power of Faith in a Young Woman

The search for a personal awakening stirred the heart of Lua Getsinger (born Lucinda Louise Aurora Moore). She came from the “Burned-over” district of rural New York. The term referred to a region in which every soul had been touched by religious fervor from the various competing protestant religions claiming a new day of mysticism and renewal.

A portrait of Lua Getsinger

The young woman and daughter of a homeopathic physician, Lua, engaged her curiosity and attended. There she met a Lebanese Baha’i and physician, Dr. Ibrahim Kheiralla, who enlisted her in study classes on the Baha’i Faith. She became one of his earliest students and one of the Faith’s most immediately effective teachers.

She would eventually influence Baha’i leaders of diverse backgrounds, including Phoebe Hearst, Robert Turner, Louis Gregory, May Bolles, and Ruhiyyih Khanum.

Women would not have the right to vote in US political elections until 1920, and yet young women such as Lua already played leadership roles that would influence the course of global religion for the foreseeable future.

The following year, when Phoebe invited Lua on a trip to Paris, they sat down for tea, and Lua began describing her newfound faith. As she gushed over the exciting concepts that had gripped her heart, the gentleman pouring her tea listened as closely as the wealthy philanthropist at her knee, for the same concepts spoke to the hearts of all three of them.

Imagine what message could have engaged the imagination and conversation of a feisty young woman from a farm region, a wealthy businesswoman-turned humanitarian, and a gentle Black American who had leftrned to complement every social occasion without calling attention to himself.


What common values do you think drew these three different people into the conversation? What barriers do you think they had to overcome to participate equally in that discourse?

Needless to say, Phoebe Hearst and Robert C. Turner both became Baha’is when they returned to California in that summer of 1898.

Activity: Ensure Freedom of Worship

Discuss the benefits of a system that allows freedom of worship and study among diverse races, genders, and classes. Write a constitutional clause accordingly.


Looking Within, Despite Injustices

June 2, 1899, became a “day of fasting and prayer” throughout Bethel A.M.E. churches, as a protest against lynching. Turned away from housing, jobs, and even the use of parks and public places, African Americans felt continual frustration, but the protest dealt primarily with the murder of 100 to 200 young men each year through lynchings, often on unproven charges.

Ministers challenged African American communities to rise above the prejudice and hypocrisy that had made their lives so difficult. A speech offered by A.M.E. Reverend D.A. Graham cited the number of lynchings or burnings in the South committed against black men for the alleged assault of white women, while the assault of white men on Black women went on unchecked. Even in the North, he pointed out, a 19-year old walking down a path, more than twenty feet from a white girl, was sentenced to prison because she screamed in fear.

The minister, however, encouraged the Black community to see its own potential, and to “cast our eyes to the summit,” saying “Under all these afflictions we have a great work to perform.” While citing many unproven crimes that resulted in extreme, unjust, or capital punishments, the minister cautioned that “the injustice and cruelty of others should not divert attention from our own shortcomings and need to cultivate character and education.” Many Black Americans took this message to heart in the decades to come, emphasizing the pursuit of education, both in churches and in new universities.

Rows of pews in the church


Music to Soothe the Soul

The Baha’is grieved over injustice. They thirsted for days of prayer and unified inspiration, through music and the sacred word. They wanted a place to invite others to join in the healing process.

The first weekly Bahá’i devotionals documented in America occurred in Chicago, starting in 1901. Each gathering included the reading of an English translation of a text by Baha’u’llah or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, followed by music.

Persians were accustomed to hearing the Writings in the chanting associated with their traditions, but American Baha’is wanted to add participatory music that would speak to the hearts of the participants. Their first leaflets included known hymns, published for the devotionals. These hymnals included songs such as Abide with Me, Joy to the World, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s favorite, Nearer My God to Thee.

Meanwhile, Baha’i composer Louise Waite began writing new songs for meetings, one of which the Master requested as the benediction at every gathering, because it ended the meeting in a spirit of love.

Over the next century and a quarter, hundreds of Baha’i musicians created worship music reflecting the teachings of their Faith. The influence of those of African heritage enriched the Baha’i repertoire not only in their country of origin, but in America. You may hear such choral influences in songs such as Thixo, recorded in South Africa.

Also, listen to the original version of the Baha’i hymn Benediction, compared with an arrangement updated in 1990s for the Badasht series of CDs.

The songs of worship sung in those first Baha’i devotionals of 1901 still communicate a universal spirit of faith, evidenced in these recordings of Abide with Me and Nearer My God to Thee, sung by followers of many religions today.

Activity: In-Class Choir

Preview these five selections first for your own enjoyment and inspiration. Consider whether you would like to sing one of them together. (Lyrics appear in the Appendix.)

Song: O Thixo - Joburg Baha’i choir puts “O God Guide Me” to music:

Song: Benediction (original): The Baha’i Choir in Chicago honored Louise Waite’s version of the song for the Sixth Annual Choral Music Festival

Song: Benediction (updated): Sandy Simmons soloed on an arrangement by Eric Dozier for the Badasht CD)

Song: Abide with Me: A five-year-old church organist delightfully leads his choir in this universal hymn

Song: Nearer My God to Thee: 800 musicians gathered online to sing one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s favorites, which includes a tribute to Christ


Voices for a New Century

Several people walking past a building

Progress in race relations occurred people worked together to address as prejudice after the turn of the century. By 1905, Booker T Washington had founded a prestigious African-American university, the Tuskegee Institute (pictured), making him one of the most influential men in the country.

Meanwhile, W.E.B. DuBois had assembled a gathering that led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Composed mostly of white Americans, this group conducted legal action to end racism and to advance education about the merits of the African American community. It served to advance his mission of the conservation of culture.

DuBois would later meet with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and make him the Man of the Hour in the monthly publication of the NAACP, so taken was he with the message of the mystic from the East. DuBois’s own wife, Nina, later became a Bahá’i.


Earthquakes and Equality

The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 caught everyone by surprise. Rushing out their doors and running for safety, they saw the elegant hotels topple, along with the poor tenements. However, the playing field only leveled briefly.

After four days of fires and mayhem, the wealthy could rebuild. But one part of town, Chinatown, would soon be wiped off the map if not for the tenacity of the people, who promised a booming tourist attraction if the mayor would enable them to rebuild.

Many Chinese had paid their own expenses to travel to America, seeking better jobs touted by the railroad, the strawberry fields, and the mines that proliferated after the gold rush. Discrimination, extremely low wages had forced them into isolated communities. In San Francisco, Chinatown had a reputation as a slum. In fact, ever since the Chinese exclusion act of 1882, racist rhetoric had declared Chinatown the “cancer of the city,” but now an eager community would rebuild it as a gem, featuring restaurants, shops and doors open to all cultures in the space now cleared by the earthquake. A Chinese leader named Look Tin Eli championed the cause and made the exotic fairyland a reality.

The first image shows Chinatown before the earthquake, in the bustling marketplace near the gold-rush area of San Francisco. The next image reveals the rubble days in the days afterward. The final image reveals the rebuilt Chinatown.

A Chinese family in San Francisco around 1906The destruction of buildings in San Francisco 1906San Francisco rebuilt after the earthquake

Do Cataclysmic Events Change Context?

1.Draw a Venn diagram, with a large bubble and overlapping bubbles.

2.Write Chinatown in the center bubble. Label each of the three side bubbles, 1897, 1906 or 1915.

3.In each one, list adjectives to describe the photo.

4.In the center, write any words that describe overlapping features of Chinatown during each of these years.

Discuss changes occurring between one period and the next.

Do you think people living in Chinatown today feel the effects of shifting attitudes from one time period to the next?

Do you see parallels between this pattern and cataclysmic events occurring during the same period among other groups, such as Black Americans or tribal nations and immigrants?


Women Seek Justice

A portrait of Elsie Austin

The twin issues of gender equality and racial equality gradually gained attention in American universities. A bright light, Elsie Austin, was born in 1908 in Tuskegee, Alabama, in time to play leading roles in these movements. As the first black woman to graduate from Cincinnati’s law school, she became Ohio’s first to serve as Assistant Attorney General. She later worked in Africa as a foreign service officer and introduced the Baha’i Faith to Morocco. Elsie Austin inspired several generations of women who followed in her footsteps.


As a Life Ends, a Trend Gains Momentum

Howard University had emerged as a school dedicated to improving the circumstances of people in the search for peace and justice and had produced a generation of leaders. The school committed to the elimination of inequities related to race, color, social, economic, and political circumstances. Its coursework appealed to students of the arts, sciences, and humanities. Among them, a young man named Louis Gregory studied law and went on to work at the US Department of Treasury. He heard about the Baha’i Faith and soon afterward attended a lecture by Lua Getsinger. He became a Baha’i in July 1909 and eventually left his job to teach racial amity.

A portrait of Louis Gregory

Louis felt inspired to hear about Robert Turner and began to study his life. Three years after Louis entered the Faith, he became a frequent companion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when this beloved son of Baha’u’llah came to America and visited 40 American cities, giving lectures on the unity of all faiths. He promoted integration and inclusion of minorities and women. He insisted on harmony between the Black and White races. He introduced biracial marriage. He spoke in civic centers, universities and churches and met with scholars, scientists, and dignitaries.

A portrait of Louis Gregory and Louisa Mathew

He also laid the cornerstone for the first Bahá’i temple in the West, in Wilmette, Illinois. His constant message and role modeling communicated love not for some more than others but for all. Newspapers, convention halls, churches and people across the country listened to this message. Louis made these teachings not only his belief system, but his life’s work.

He also laid the cornerstone for the first Bahá’i temple in the West, in Wilmette, Illinois. His constant message and role modeling communicated love not for some more than others but for all. Newspapers, convention halls, churches and people across the country listened to this message. Louis made these teachings not only his belief system, but his life’s work.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá counseled young Louis to marry Louisa Mathew and enter into the first biracial marriage in the American Bahá’i community. In his personal life and in his race amity work, he publicly broke the color line, especially at podiums and in restaurants when traveling. ‘Abdul-Bahá famously would not start a meal until Louis was seated with the others.

Louis went on to write humble tributes about the contributions of Robert Turner as the first African- American Bahá’i and pilgrim in whose shoes he walked, for Robert Turner died in 1909, the same year Louis Gregory became a Bahá’i.

Robert Turner had passed away without seeing the unity that would unfold in the years just beyond his passing. How does this story show one example of the pattern he set, opening doors for people in the new century?


Agronomy in a Time of War

Ten million people died in WWI over a period of four years. Hunger took the lives of 20 million more. The powerful countries of Europe fought over colonies and “spheres of influence in the Middle East. France and Great Britain (the Allied Forces) fought against Germany.

Plants growing from the soil

‘Abdu’l-Bahá made himself part of the solution, averting famine by encouraging agriculture and the storage of grain. He was later knighted for his effort.

It wouldn’t be the last time the Baha’is would act on issues of sustainability. His grandson, Shoghi Effendi, an inveterate hiker, remembered the lovely flowers first planted to welcome guests to the garden of Ridvan. He directed the planting of flora around the shrines. He later became a lifetime member of the Men of the Trees, an organization founded by St. Barbe Baker, a Baha’i who would influence environmental policy, launch the Save the Redwoods campaign in California, inspire Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and inspire reforestation projects around the world.

The Bahá’i faith would establish a relationship with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that led to participation in many summits and conferences in the century to come. It all began when ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed the importance of seeking for positive solutions to the impacts of war rather than focusing on its devastation.

Discuss the concept of environmental stewardship – caring for the land—and sustainable development— also caring for the people. Write a clause that focuses on the need to do both.


Public Health—Prevention and Protection

An old black and white photo of a ship

During the First World War (WWI), the Germans sunk the Lusitania, a passenger ship moving from the UK to the USA, which secretly harbored weapons. To revenge US deaths and to preserve its shipping interests, America entered the war. Fifty-thousand Americans died, but divisions deepened, along with the fear of social movements.

WWI contributed to the migration of many minority communities to cities seeking work. Conditions were crowded and not always sanitary.

Two nurses look over a person laying on a stretcher.

When parades of patriotism still clogged the streets, the influenza pandemic broke out. San Franciscans especially suffered in the second wave, and 3,500 died. Anyone caught in public without a mask went to jail until the city siren rang out to tell them it was safe to unmask once again.

The effects of the pandemic affected many industries, even the “talking machine” (phonography or musical recording) industry. Performers kept playing upbeat music to help people forget their fears, although some performers passed away during the scourge.

Discuss the double tragedies of war loss and pandemic losses. How would you encourage people in such a scenario to protect the health and safety of others in society? Write a clause that prepares people to rise to their highest instinct for good in times of conflict.


Race Amity and Conversations about Color

Amidst conversations about the “Red Summer of 1919,” many shuddered to realize how many race riots and white-on-black assaults had left hundreds of people dead across the country.

A photo of Sadie Oglesby

Sadie Oglesby, the first African American woman to travel to the Holy Land, returned with her husband Mabry to help integrate the community in Boston. She and another Boston Baha’i, Barbara Talley, helped to the first Pupil of the Eye conference in 1919. Sadie would become a lifelong advocate for recognition of the contributions of Black Baha’is to the heart and warmth of the Faith.

During his lifetime, ‘Abdu’l-Baha had twice asked American Baha’i Agnes Parsons to remind the community of its obligation to reduce racial disunity.

In 1920, her efforts paralleled those in Boston as she organized the elite of Washington, D.C. in a national convention to promote amity among Blacks and Whites. She enlisted Howard professor Coralie Cook, attorney Louis Gregory, and Senator Moses Clapp, of Minnesota to join the planning team. The Amity Conference, held in 1920, would repeat ten times over the next century.


The Exemplar Passes

What does the word “exemplar’ mean? Consider the root word, example, and the desire of the Baha’is to look to their one living example, ‘Abdu’l- Baha, for guidance on how to live a good life.

On that day in 1898 when that first entourage had departed Akka, including Lua Getsinger, Phoebe Hearst, Robert Turner and their friends, they had all felt depressing about leftving the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. He had sweetly turned to them and urged them to remained united and to love one another as he had loved them—to weep their lives away through sacrifice, even as a candle, even as He had shown them how to do, living in perfect harmony.

After he had spoken those words, the pilgrims had been “clasped one after the other in the arms of the Holy Family.” The clasping that remained would now be in spirit only, for the Master passed away in the Holy Land on November 28, 1921, after a brief illness.

He had fed the hungry, clothed the poor, listened to all heartaches and seen each person “with the eye of perfection.” Thus, ten thousand mourners attended his memorial.

Abdu'l-Baha's coffin carried through a crowd of people.

The whole world felt the loss, but surely no one more than His grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who felt so overwhelmed, he spent time meditating in the mountains to collect himself before he could step into his role as Guardian of the Bahá’i Faith, a role that until his own passing in 1956.

The American Bahá’is also took ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words to heart and strived to dissolve whatever barriers prevented their acting as one soul in many bodies.

Activity: How to Create a Soul in Many Bodies

How would you translate ‘Abdul-Bahá’s instructions to act as one soul in many bodies? Do you think the blessings to America were deferred as a result of his caution that unity would be delayed without this effort—or have you experienced the blessings brought by sincere, equal love and friendship among all?

What could you do today to create this sense of one soul existing in many bodies? Write a clause that aspires to create such a condition.


Short-Term Justice versus Long-term Change

A migrant family sitting around a dinner tableA migrant family prepares a car for journey

Migrant families flowed into the country. The Immigration Act of 1924, intended to stop the flow, limited the number of newcomers. This left job openings in the Detroit auto industry for families trying to escape the Jim Crow South. Still, few people would sell a home to an African American family, so despite their position, Black workers and struggling White families filled the tenements and unsafe buildings in the cities.

Fear of losing their dominance in society underscored old prejudice, driving 4.5 million people to join the Ku Klux Klan.

A car from the times

It began as a violent hate group based only in the South, whose numbers had weakened due to federal legislation by 1872, but after WWI, the group resurged, regionalized and expanded in its areas of antipathy to include Catholics, Jews, foreigners and labor groups.

Remembering the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, what strategies would you choose to calm the activities of a hate group? Would you befriend the leader and seek common ground around jobs or family issues? Would you write a letter explaining your principles and purpose? Would you go through the courts to create change? Would you lead by example? Write a clause that allows for nonviolent actions that strive for justice, peace, and economic security.

Painting in black and white

Aaron Douglas's painting appeared with Locke's 1925 publication of The New Negro (Library of Congress)


Artists Walk in Lockes Step

A Bahá’i named Alain Locke became the first African-American Rhodes Scholar. Many other writers and artists followed in his footsteps as trendsetters when his essay, “The New Negro,” gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance. New York’s Harlem community incubated this cultural revival, a flowering of African American literature, music, art, and dance. Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston, Josephine Baker, Marcus Garvey, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay and other talents emerged as the voices and faces of the movement.

As a Howard professor with a Harvard PhD inphilosophy, Locke, in his essay, declared that ...

“the younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology; the new spirit is awake in the masses...” He also asked: “Why should our minds remain sectionalized, when the problem itself no longer is? Then the trend of migration has not only been toward the North and the Central Midwest, but city-ward and to the great centers of industry—the problems of adjustment are new, practical, local and not peculiarly racial. Rather they are an integral part of the large industrial and social problems of our present-day democracy...”
Photo of Alain Locke

In the arena of religion, a less convivial conversation erupted about evolution during this period. The jury of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925 convicted John Scopes of teaching evolution in the classroom. Most religions drew a bright line between science and religion and held to the literal meaning of the Creation stories. They did not want to confuse students with controversial or unproven scientific theories.

Before the unanimous conviction of John Scopes, a racist cartoon aired in which Darwin debated with monkeys—whom some believed were to represent Africans—about their relationship to humans. The jury spoke out and barred Scopes from the classroom.

In this same year, a religion with an alternate message became more ensconced in the Western religious community. The Baha’i Faith initiated its first American/Canadian National Spiritual Assembly this year. Formerly called the Temple of Unity in 1909, the assembly began to organize actions on a national basis.

The rising of a religion associated with uplifting cultures and embracing unity—and a religion whose main tenets espouse the harmony of science and religion—stood in stark contrast with the pruning shears that isolate and divide.

Activity: Making Room for New Ideas

Discuss the contrast of a celebration of culture and new ideas, and the fear that new ideas will replace comfortable or cherished traditions. How do you make room for both? Write a clause for your constitution that honors the freedom to think and create and that honors the contributions of others.

A drawing of Langston Hughes

Enjoy samples of Harlem Renaissance artists below. Poet Langston Hughes wrote about rivers. You can hear his influence in the later poem of Maya Angelou, in her 1992 inaugural poem.

Langston Hughes reads his poetry

Maya Angelou reads her inaugural poem, 1993

Zora Neale Hurston, an Anthropologist and writer from the renaissance era, wrote Their Eyes were Watching God. A host of singers, from the early crooner Bessie Smith to Ella Fitzgerald, known as the First Lady of Song, and the voice of joy, Louis Armstrong, changed the way Americans heard music. Some of them led social movements that also shifted the way people viewed the measure of a life. Dancer Josephine Baker, a once controversial dancer, became an outspoken voice to end segregation and prejudice. Paul Robeson, perhaps the greatest male singer of 20th century America, bartered his career for his principles.

A photo of Zora Neale Hurston

Activity: Making Room for New Ideas

Discuss the contrast of a celebration of culture and new ideas, and the fear that new ideas will replace comfortable or cherished traditions. How do you make room for both? Write a clause for your constitution that honors the freedom to think and create and that honors the contributions of others.


The Voices of Rural Communities

The renaissance going on in the city did not stop people in the country from craving a musical culture all their own.

Coal mines, lumber mills and small farms set the backdrop for poor families growing up without electricity or comforts living in the Appalachian Mountains. Ralph Stanley, born in West Virginia, came from such a family. His music often described the desire to find a better life not always available to those who could not afford a railway ticket or conceive of a different lifestyle.

Faith in God--and in the fiddle--often helped turn dreariness into light. The banjo, an instrument originally from Africa, became a trademark of the music.

Whether singing communal hymns or early Kentucky bluegrass people found comfort and hope through music. The songs of the late Ralph Stanley offer many examples, including a tune that combined the secular longing to travel with the promise of return to loved ones after death. View the video of one of the legends of bluegrass, Ralph Stanley.

A family in a horse drawn wagon in 1939

Ben Turner and family on the move in 1939

Song: Man of Constant Sorrows

Ralph Stanley on stage in front of a microphone

Ralph Stanley entertains with his banjo, late in life

Activity: A Place to Sing

Will your definition of Loveland cultivate spaces that welcome communal singing, expressions of creativity among all classes, and the free expressions of worship? Write a clause explaining your vision.


A Nation Hungers for Hope

Newton’s law of gravity says that what goes up must come down. Wealthy people had purchased stocks during the 1920s, as did banks. When the stocks dropped in value, everyone tried to sell at once, leading to a crash in 1929. Even with food and housing and goods to sell, businesses had no customers. Up to a third of all workers lost their jobs. The Great Depression had begun. Evicted from homes, people lived in “Hoovervilles,” shacks built on trash dumps, named for President Hoover.

In the Midwestern United States, the “Dust Bowl,” weather extremes plunged farmers into despair, and they felt the worst economic declines, losing their farms and moving to California to respond to false advertisements of abundant work. The arts community responded. John Steinbeck’s wife, an avowed socialist, referred to “grapes of wrath” to describe the empty promises of pay for work in orchards, vineyard and fields. The term became the title of his most famous book. Meanwhile, the iconic photojournalism of Dorothea Lange captured the desperate lives of American families who lived through this period.

Photography by Dorothea Lange is on file at the Library of Congress, U.S. Farm Security Administration Destitute pea pickers in California. Her most famous picture is the 32-year-old mother of seven children, camped in Nipomo, California.

A woman stares off while her children bury their faces in her shouldersA man with his guitarA woman looks into the cameraA man looks into the cameraA family with their truck at the side of the road


The Price of Honor Unpaid

Speaking up for justice was a challenge in the American South of the 1930s. Harper Lee based her book To Kill a Mockingbird loosely based on the famous trial of the Scottsboro Boys, which stayed in the courts more than 80 years and caused eight innocent African American boys a century of prison life.

Traveling from the same town on a train, one boy fell into an argument with a white boy who stepped on his hand. At the next stop, the white boy disembarked and made up a story about the nine boys from Scottsboro who assaulted him. Angry mobs met them at the next station, hauled them off the train, and jailed them, along with two white girls accused of inappropriate behavior. Few of the youth knew each other.

The girls escaped blame by making up a story about the boys molesting them. An all-white jury convicted all nine, and the boys were sentenced to death, but the judge declared a mistrial for the youngest boy. The Supreme Court then took up the case and demanded a retrial to allow them adequate legal representation, but the boys turned to men while awaiting their freedom through a series of retrials. They had become pawns in the game of justice. The perseverance of their attorneys did lead to limited national reforms, including the requirement for more diverse juries.


Racial profiling made it easier for the accusers of the Scottsboro boys to avoid punishment by shifting the blame. Justice requires honesty, but profiling encourages dishonesty.

As we lament the painful and unjust outcomes of profiling, how can we abolish it? What processes might encourage personal accountability? How can individuals and systems promote widespread honor as an antidote to negative stereotyping?


Summer Schools as Incubators for Action

A group photo at a summer school

Summer schools became a source of learning for Baha’is despite the economic strife in the country.

Individual initiative played a strong role in the sacrifices that started these schools.

On a week when the news told of fire danger from low humidity and entertainment promised as the Cotton Blossom singers came touring from Mississippi to sing at the Lion’s Club, page 3 of the and the Santa Rosa California Press Democrat, on July 20, 1933, announced the grand opening of Geyserville Baha’i School. The article listed speakers and guests from across the West. The first session included a course on “The Influence of Religion on Society.” Owner of the property, John Bosch, would hold the first feast “under the big tree.”

Countless Baha’i, some pictured here, recall halcyon days spent at the school over the next half century. When the state purchased the land by imminent domain to expand the highway system, the National Baha’i Assembly moved the school to the Santa Cruz mountains and named it after John Bosch. That school served families for the next half century and burned down in the Complex Fire of 2020.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Lou and Helen Eggelston held a picnic on their property in 1930, turning it into a school the next year.

An outdoor photo of a group at summer school

They soon had developed laboratory sessions for summer schools. The National Spiritual Assembly acquired the property in the 1950s, as the couple became older.

A third family property, and the very first of the US summer schools, lies on the path of the Underground Railway, where abolitionist Hannah Tobey Shapleigh had originally opened a cottage for unwed mothers. Hannah married Moses Farmer, a transcendentalist and inventor who felt his inventions were gifts from God, and that he should not patent them. Their daughter, Sarah Farmer, inherited the cottages, which she redubbed the Sarah Farmer Inn and later turned into Green Acre Baha’i school. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pictured walking across the acreage, mingled and addressed audiences there. Louis Gregory also delighted the crowds with his remarks.

Abdul-Baha walking ahead of a groupLouis Gregory giving a talk

Sarah had raised a peace flag as the banner announcing the summer school.

A banner that reads PEACE

Shoghi Effendi made an important observation to about summer schools in 1932:

Definite courses should be given along the different phases of the Faith and in a manner that will stimulate the students to proceed in their studies privately once they return home, for the period of a few days is not sufficient to learn everything.


Describe the value of exploring spiritual topics with others. Have you through about how you will act on your learning when you returned to your daily life? Could your experiences be similar to those of the original summer school founders? Imagine the influence their efforts had on generations to come. Today, how might “properties” refer to spiritual and intellectual properties and the acquisition of an honorable character?


Building Economic Capacity

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many Blacks would become Communists to fight the economic system that had created the depression. They formed organizing committees to seek help for the needy, sometimes going to jail for their activism. They defended falsely accused members of the community and spoke up to improve education in Black neighborhoods.

A photo of Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson, baritone Library of Congress Photograph Gordon Parks

One of these members, a famous attorney- turned-singer named Paul Robeson, eventually was forbidden to perform in many cities, for the safety of his supporters who faced riots in the parking lots. He became the first activist to compare the fascism in Europe with the racism at home in America.

One of his epic songs, “Old Man River,” from the film Show Boat, envies the carefree movement of the river as the worker sinks under the burdens of cotton bales on the dock of the Mississippi River. He turned this song into an anthem of activism again when finally able to return to the stage, changing the lyrics to refer to the experience of being jailed or blacklisted speaking out.

The symbolism of the song recalled the crossing of the Ohio River, the underground Railroad that promised safe passage out of slavery and also a spiritual promised land.

Observe the fans listening to his song. Because of his magnificent voice and his social principles that empathized with the working poor and all those suffering through the Great Depression, he developed a following among a wide audience of admirers.

Song: Old Man River

Activity: Charity or Honoring Capacity?

Listen to Paul Robeson’s song. Discuss the question of whether ethnic identity or even poverty itself unites people in a cause or whether the effort to ease suffering and dignify capacity is truly what inspires and brings people together. How will you convey a code of ethics in your constitutional clause that limits extremes of poverty and wealth while encouraging equality and capacity building?


New Deal Offers the Dignity of Work

Workers on a trail with a mountain backdrop

Library of Congress, U.S. Farm Security Administration

The power of banks and landowners increased during the Great Depression. An influx of migrant workers felt forced to move West, hoping for menial work on farms that had over-advertised the number of positions. The resulting labor glut enabled growers to reduce wages they had promised and turn away other families to starve. The labor camps where people lived in squalor were nicknamed Hoovervilles, after President Hoover.

By 1935, Roosevelt replaced Hoover in the Whitehouse and instituted the Works Projects Administration (WPA). This action not only brought about the Conservation Corps and new environmental projects. It also put 8.5 million people to work over eight years. With 20 percent unemployment, people needed jobs in every sector. The government started new infrastructure projects to erect schools, post offices, bridges and roads. Artists were paid to paint murals on the walls of these buildings. Writers wrote travel guides for their cities. The “New Deal” funded jobs that helped people use their work skills, maintain their dignity, and feed their families.

As the final capstone, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act established a minimum livable wage, limited required hours, and prohibited children from working in dangerous conditions, creating more jobs for adults. (The law was expanded in 1949 to also prevent children from working during school hours.)

As families in more parts of the country had a chance to “belong” again, Woodie Guthrie wrote a song to capture the spirit. Pete Seeger made the song famous. Listen to the response of audiences to the song.

Song: This Land is Your Land

Activity: Describing a Global Home

Discuss the value of work in helping everyone feel a sense of belonging and fulfill their potential. How can you incorporate this concept as a clause for your constitution?


The Cost and the Cause

Have you ever watched a movie scene with a brawl in which everyone fought? Regardless of who started the argument, these scenes often show the destructiveness of conflict and an outcome in which everyone gets hurt in the end. Such is often the case in war. During the second World War, the government called on artist Norman Rockwell to create posters advertising war bonds, to give Americans a stronger motivation to support the war.

Poster that reads Ours to fight for Freedom from Fear

Norman Rockwell
Library of Congress, Office of War Information

WWII seemed to offer everyone a reason to fight— to defeat hate, tyranny, and genocide--but some of its many background stories also stemmed from complicated political ambitions involving domination of one country over another.

Germany’s Hitler had begun attacking Jews and other minorities in 1939. Next, Germany began invading and occupying the nations of Eastern and southern Europe and even Ethiopia. Known as the Axis, these forces stood against the allied nations of Great Britain and Russia. In Asia, Japan then attacked China and began threatening to seize the rich resources of smaller nations in the Southeast Asia. Next, they moved farther west in the Pacific.

In 1941, Japan attacked a Naval base off the coast of Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor. The US decided to retaliate, allying itself with Britain and the Soviet Union to protect its economic interests in shipping, oil, and treasures around the world. To the public, however, support for the war still meant staving off a despotic tyrant, Hitler. Ultimately, it became easy to promote this as the most popular war in US history. In reality, the single act of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed between 129,000 and 226,000 men, women and children. No other armed conflict in history has involved nuclear war.

While talking of saving German Jews from discrimination and death, the government came to the homes of Japanese American families and forced their removal to internment camps (prison camps), which were improvised from horse stalls or barracks surrounded by barbed wire fences. Families lived there until after the war.

An american flag raised in front of rows of small buildings

Internment Camp at Manzanar

Military captors confiscated the worldly goods of each family and robbed them of professions and access to health, social services and education. Some of the resourceful Japanese-American families, however, formed their own schools, clinics and civil societies within the camps. Young Yoshiko Uchida saved an in-camp newspaper and later compared it with the San Francisco Chronicle’s euphemistic accounts of happy families vacationing in the wilderness by choice—behind barbed wire fences. Simultaneously, Japanese-American young men had enlisted and now had to defend the US as soldiers in the war.

After several post-war requests for redress, the Civil Liberties Act finally made reparations and reimbursed Japanese-American families for lost property, but not until half a century after the war.

In the WWII years, peace activism was uncommon. However, it did thread its way into literature and music. Watch the video of one of the most popular tunes of WWII, Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.” You can see her perform it for soldiers on the following link:

Music became a tool for peace activism in the African American community as singers revived the classic, “Down by the Riverside.” Listen to the message of gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose masterful work as a guitarist later influenced Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and many other rock-and- roll artists.

Song: Down by the Riverside

Activity: Resolving Conflicts over Property

Conduct a conflict resolution exercise as if you were two people seeking the same piece of property. One of you is a school principal, wanting a larger patch of land where children can exercise. The other person heads a hospital and insists that quiet is needed for sleeping patients. That person wants more space between the patients and the playground. In this case, there is no enemy, only two people who both want access to the same piece of property.

Determine who will play the roles of these two – Ms. Health and Mr. Education. Act as their conscience and guide them through the five steps to a resolution as they discuss their property line. The hospital worker takes the first step. They take turns expressing their position on the steps without judging one another.

It may be helpful for each partner to create the five steps on blank pieces of scratch paper and place them on the floor, so they can visually follow the process as they approach one another.

Step 1: I want... or my position is... (Simply make a one-sentence statement or request.)

Step 2: I feel... (Name an emotion with no explanation for it until you hear the partner’s emotion)

Step 3: I feel this way because... (Build empathy for your position through reason and logic and by creating empathic understanding of the impact of the problem on others and yourself, without mentioning any antipathy toward your partner.

Step 4: I understand that you feel this way because (Paraphrase your partner’s emotion and reasons for it, without adding any interpretation, judgement, request, or rebuttal. Just show that you used active listening and understanding.)

Step 5: Maybe we can try... (Each one offers to make a sacrifice, compromise, or act of service to contribute to the solution. Classmates, as their conscience, help the two determine whether their solutions show honor and create a sense of mutual belonging. They may need to trade places on the bridge, for example, to truly see through the eyes of the other. When satisfied, they can embrace or shake hands.

You may have other scenarios to apply to the conflict bridge that suggest the parallel between war and any property-related, power-related, or identity-related situation that can erupt in conflict.

Now, as a group, discuss why a conflict becomes more manageable when power and judgement are not the tools chosen to negotiate the conflict but, rather, empathy, understanding and sacrifice. (Note the emotions and biological processes triggered in conflict that differ from the conflict bridge experience.

Based on this experience, write a clause for your constitution that will pave a bridge toward peace through careful conflict resolution.


Heroes and Hidden Histories

An old style sewing machine

Unsung heroes lived across the nation. There aren’t enough history books to hold all the stories of those who made a difference in the lives of others over the 20th century, including these three African American Baha’s who came of age in the mid-century.

Zylpha Johnson Mapp Gray 1890-1970 started a women’s club to do good works. She led by example, personally sewing 50-60 dresses each year for Native American children from her women’s club. She rewrote poetry as well.

A photo of Haley Creadell

Haley Creadell (1916-2000) had a passion for planes. She broke the glass ceiling as the only female pilot and airplane pilot in Illinois, but that wasn’t enough. She also flew back and forth to California to get a degree in music. On one of these trips, she learned of the Baha’i Faith. This not only influenced the music she wrote but turned her interests to moving to Venezuela to teach others. She lived there until retirement. Listen to one of her songs below.

Photo of Ron McNair

Baha’i astronaut and physicist Ron McNair grew up with such technical aptitude that he earned the nickname Gizmo. As a boy in Lake City, South Carolina, he once refused to leave the library without being allowed to check out his books.

Ron gave his life to discover more about the universe. He flew on the Challenger, a mission that ended tragically during the launch phase in 1986.


Listen to Creadell Haley’s song. What talents would you give to act on your faith or to improve the world? Tell, write or draw the story you would like to have lived in 25 years.

Song: Baha’u’llah

Creadell Haley – Baha’u’llah – (


A Beacon of Unity Arises in the Heartland

Outside photo of the Bahá'í Temple in Wilmette

Long ago, the architect Louis Bourgeois had consulted with ‘Abdul- Baha to create a blueprint for the Baha’i temple in Wilmette. At last, in 1953, Baha’is gathered to dedicate this shining beacon to the goal of unity. Over the coming decades, many visitors would see the shining light by the lake and come to meditate beneath its dome.


Wheels of Change Turn Slowly

The blueprint for unity in action throughout society called for commitment to a long-term plan, just as the temple had arisen slowly.

Photo of Claudette Colvin

The American Committee on Civil Rights had been in effect since 1946, but enforcement required individual action. For example, a courageous 15- year-old, Claudette Colvin (pictured), exercised her right to sit on a bus long before Rosa Parks responded to the call to do so. Several other girls and women, in fact, preceded Rosa Parks’ action.

The blueprint for changed called for legal action as children continued to lose opportunities in school that did not serve their needs. A Black American man named Oliver Brown wanted to enroll his daughter at the Topeka school closest to his home. He took his case to the Supreme Court when local efforts to do so had failed.

The 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, overturned the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson case. Now public schools had to stop their “separate but equal” treatment of children and instead to integrate schools, and yet a decade later, 75 percent of Southern schools were still segregated. It would require patience, persistence and nonviolent action to continue to push the wheels of change.

Activity: Linking Patience to Planning

Discuss the idea that a blueprint or strategic plan includes an overall objective, specific action steps, a realistic timeline for each action.

Add a clause to your constitution that encourages planning based on a long-term objective, with a process for setting deadlines for specific action.


Connecting all Countries

The Baha’i Faith had reached 25 territories around the world by the 1950s. The leader, Shoghi Effendi (grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá) announced a ten-year crusade to send effective Baha’i teachers to the outlying corners of the world to start new communities. He called these 254 people Knights of Baha’u’llah, and collectively, they settled in 121 far- flung localities throughout the early 1950s. During this period, the Baha’i Faith took on the spirit of the community in which people practiced it. Eventually, it became the second most geographically diverse religion in the world.

A photo of Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum

On November 4, 1957, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, died unexpectedly of heart failure after a long bout of the Asian flu. The believers felt berea and no one more that his widow, Amatu'l- Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanum, whose later book of poetry describes her great personal loss. Still, she rose to the occasion, calling on the 27 Hands of the Cause to fulfill the role he had designated for them weeks before, as “Chief stewards of Baha’u’llah’s embryonic World Commonwealth.” (These “Hands” were people given their lifelong title to serve the Faith and protect it from schism.)

Two definitions of “commonwealth” are “an international community or association of shared interests” or “the common good.”


Do you think the Guardian intended the first, the second or both definitions when He asked stewardship on the part of the Hands of the Cause?


A Nonviolent Movement Gains Speed

Back in America, shifts in social consciousness occurred during the 1960s, in the fields of civil rights, labor and peace. By the end of the decade, these causes left martyrs in their wake who would create a turning point in history.

Martin Luther King, Jr. led a nonviolent resistance movement. He had been influenced by Gandhi, who had spoken about the merit of the teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Dr. King called for dignity and equality for minorities, especially Blacks, and the poor, and yet he also advocated justice without harm, saying, “We must use the weapon of love....”

A diner with a row of chairs at a long counter

Four black college students at the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina walked into a Woolworth’s in February of 1960. They sat down at the drugstore’s lunch counter where they had been banned. Even though they were not served, they returned each day, coming in increasing numbers for these sit-ins. They inspired 50,000 black and white demonstrators to help desegregate lunch counters by the end of the year.

The following year, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) united Blacks and Whites to desegregate buses. Calling themselves Freedom Riders, they set out from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans. Their bus was stopped and burned in Alabama. Musicians and marchers took to the streets in greater numbers to protest in the coming years.


A Reverend Helps Folks Dream

At the March on Washington, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, gave his “I Have a Dream” Speech.

View of the Washington Monument over a crowd of people

Musicians gathered to reinforce his effort. The event stirred multi-ethnic support for the civil rights movement.

As a result, more diverse youth faced grave dangers to become Freedom Riders, desegregating buses, or to register Black families for the vote, until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These new protections and community action helped raise the number of African American voters from 20 percent in 1952 to 60 percent in 1968. John F. Kennedy was also assassinated in 1963, sending shock waves through the country. Artists of multiple genres began singing for change. A song by Dion captured the symmetry of the lives of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

View the video and discuss what types of freedoms you believe the song referred to.

Song: Abraham, Martin and John

Song: Change Gon’ Come


Tested by Outer and Inner Demons

Laws do not undo long-seated issues of injustice, however. In 1965, the Watts riots erupted in Los Angeles, followed by riots across the country through 1967. The peaceful protests of the King movement now vied for attention with calls for action at the voting booth and in the streets from a radical fringe, whose volcanic emotions needed only a signal to erupt. Their provocative new leader, Malcolm X, gave the signal.

Malcom suffered a great deal during childhood, from family challenges as well as discrimination. He ended up in prison on drug charges. Rejecting the surname given by his European ancestors, Malcolm studied the dictionary in prison and became a scholar of the law and of the unique, Nation of Islam religion, based in the U.S.

“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything,” said Malcolm X. He began to promote radical resistance to the point where his views contrasted greatly with those of Dr. King and others who advocated nonviolence.

A photo of Malcom X

Finally, after becoming disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, he traveled to Mecca on pilgrimage. There he discovered that the original teachings of Mohammed did not align with his exclusionary thinking. He converted to Sunni Islam and renounced his earlier stereotypes about “the white devil” as racist, now confessing his misguided anger and telling his followers that “racism does not apply on the basis of skin color but refers to a collection of attitudes and actions.”

A member of the Nation of Islam assassinated Malcolm X in 1965. By the time of his own death, he had expressed deathbed regrets for any harm his earlier teachings had caused and had become a racially tolerant Sunni Muslim named El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.


A Twist of Fate, a Portal to Faith

Martin Luther King continued his path of nonviolent resistance and added the Vietnam war to his causes. He also supported labor movements and spoke out of justice in all its incarnations. He had the full support of the civil rights community, but some thought he had taken too many risks in defending the oppressed in other issues, such as labor union strikes.

When the garbage workers held a strike in Memphis, declaring, “I am a Man,” he felt he had to go. On that trip, in April of 1968, as he stood on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room, an unseen gunman shot and killed him.

Within a few short years, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr. and President John Kennedy had all been assassinated. This final tragedy brought increased violence to the streets, but it also focused attention on the need for racial harmony and nonviolence.

Marchers arrayed with signs that read I am a ManDr. King and others linked arm in arm

Clearly, protest had not been enough to herald in an age of peace, integration, and true amity and love.

America grieved deeply over the death of the beloved spokesperson for love and justice.

One faith, however, promoted the concept of one soul in many bodies.

The famous trumpeter of the Harlem Renaissance era, Dizzy Gillespie, was among those who turned his attention to the solutions offered by the Baha’i Faith. He enrolled and became an ardent ambassador of its teachings.

A photo of Dizzy Gillespie

Many young people also heard about the Faith from friends, attended firesides and youth activities and became Baha’is. One youth who enrolled in 1968 recalled that the number on his Baha’ enrollment card was in the 1400s. Within the space of two years, his friends had cards numbered in the 100-thousands. At his high school alone, fifty students became Baha’is in the same year. Rather than bomb draft centers, burn draft cards, and fight with angry protesters, they turned to their religion to seek the most effective ways to bring peace, unity and love to the world, in keeping with Baha’u’llah’s teachings.

Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in’ the Wind” written in 1962, had become a mantra in the effort to protest the war and advocate for peace. Dylan later became the only songwriter to win the Nobel prize in literature in 2016.

Meanwhile, the headquarters of the faith drew attention in August 1968, as nearly two thousand Baha'is from many countries assembled at Bahji to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Baha'u'llah in the Holy Land. Remembering His own exile and hardship, they hoped to bring new commitment and ideals back to their homelands.

Activity on Choosing Alternatives

The famous trumpeter of the Harlem Renaissance era, Dizzy Gillespie, was among those who turned his attention to the solutions offered by the Baha’i Faith. He enrolled and became an ardent ambassador of its teachings.

Discuss the value of nonviolence and love in the face of trial. Did the fate of Martin Luther King, Jr. parallel the path of other martyrs you have heard about who called for these same ideals? What clause can you write to call people toward a loving response to abasement and poor treatment?


A Seamless Mission, a Seamless Planet

America had vowed to put a human on the moon and bring them back safely by the end of the decade. The plan succeeded. The world would now forever be visible as one colorful planet, without borders or boundaries.

Astronaut on the moon

When Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon’s surface, his muffled voice came over the receiver, declaring, “One small step for man, one huge leap for humankind.”

If only we could transverse the space within the human heart as easily as we could travel through space.

A presidential statement explained the nation’s intention for that trip to the moon, even beyond scientific research:

“Some way, when those two Americans stepped on the moon, the people of this world are brought closer together... It is that spirit, the spirit of Apollo, that our nation can now bring to our relations with other nations.” Meanwhile, astronaut Michael Collins watched from the spacecraft as Armstrong took a photo of Buzz Aldrin, who had stepped onto the lunar surface to assist the commander. Glancing back at the home planet, Collins noted the fragility of the world when seen from space. He wrote, just before he passed away in 2021, “If everyone could see the earth floating just outside their window, every day would be Earth Day.”

Astronaut with a camera

Activity on Scientific Research

Discuss the purpose of scientific research in the world you hope to create. How would you encourage the opportunity for full participation among of diverse people, to use untapped human resources to bring about your vision? Write a clause that promotes this possibility.


Weighing the Value of Life

The Vietnam war had escalated into an increasingly controversial war throughout the 1960s. Many servicemen were drafted and did not go by choice, returning home angry at the violence they had been forced to witness or to perpetrate. Some fled the country rather than report for draft duty. Baha’is, Quakers, and Seventh Day Adventists who were drafted obeyed their government but went as conscientious objectors. Rather than carry a weapon, they were sent onto the battlefield as medics, defenseless against injury while striving to ensure the survival of others.

Soldiers in green uniform stand for group photo

By 1970, 335,000 troops were still in Vietnam and 50,000 had been killed. In 1973, North and South Vietnam agreed to end the war and leave the original border line in place. While accomplishing no gains for the people, 58,000 US soldiers had died, along with 200,000 from South Vietnam and 100,000 from North Vietnam. Civilian deaths, however, reached the shocking total of two million. Neither enlisted men nor protesters nor grieving families felt the ill-considered war had turned out well.

Activity Allowing for Peace

How do you respond when asked to violate your own convictions? Discuss this question in light of the choices made by conscientious objectors in the war or in the social movements to today. Write a clause that will engender procedural order and prevent chaos while encouraging people to exercise moral conscience.


Music Calls Youth to an Age of Peace

A generation of young people used their feet to march, their hearts to act and their voices to sing in the search for peace and justice. They raised their voices in song as well, to call Americans to turn toward a period of peace. Baha’is England Dan and John Ford Coley’s popular song “Love is the Answer” implored help from the “Light of the World” to help us find the strength to do so. Later in Dan’s career, a song about prejudice song called One Family was not well received in Nashville but, unbeknownst to Dan, touched hearts in the far-reaching corners of Africa, according to a traveling journalist from Benin.

Meanwhile, Dan’s brother Jimmy was busy, as the band Seals and Crofts were giving onstage firesides after their concerts that attracted thousands. Their signature song, “Hummingbird,” told of a new day dawning. You may hear their studio performances still on Youtube.

Young people joined in the effort to turn away from prejudice and work toward stronger civil rights. They longed to bring about an age of peace. As youth of all backgrounds embraced one another, many embraced the Baha’i Faith during this period.


Women Write the Hidden Chapters

The secret is out about the late Hedy Lamar, the glamorous actress whose hidden passion as an inventor led her to design a communication device that became the basis for WIFI in 1941.

Ms. Lamar’s fame on the screen made the story a hit, but the hidden chapters of history open to many pages of other female engineers, inventors and pioneers of communications technology whose names few people know, such as these:

Photo of Hedy LamarPhoto of Radia PerlmanPhoto of Marion CroakPhoto of Stacy HornPhotos of Stacy Horn and Ada Lovelace
  • Radia Perlman, credited as the “Mother of the Internet,” created the technology while designing an inter-office communications system in 1969.
  • Marion Croak, a Black American, holds 200 patents, mostly for the Voice Over Internet Protocols (VOIP) that made Skype, Zoom and other audio-video technologies possible. She anticipated the need for this next phase of technology soon after the birth of the internet.
  • Stacy Horn’s borrowed computer in her New York apartment became the first laboratory for an online social media platform in 1990. 
  • The earliest scientist and mathematician to lay the groundwork, Ada Lovelace, saw the potential of algorhithms and developed the precursor to computer programming. She died at age 37 in 1852.

Among these stories, Dr. Croak’s case in particular reveals the positive potential of science when inspired by vision. She explored in her father’s in- home lab as a child and grew up to attain degrees from UCLA and Princeton by 1982. Hired by AT&T, she advised them to prepare for the switch from landlines to wireless, later earning the award for “Black engineer of the Year” in 2014. Through her text messaging inventions, the world raised 30 million dollars of relief money after the Haiti earthquake of 2010. By laying the groundwork for remote work, her VOIP technologies changed the world of communications for families, organizations and schools, particularly during the pandemic that beset the world a decade later.


Defining Honor in Humanitarian Work

The word “honor” has three meanings. It can refer to great respect, such as, “The one we honor most lives far away.” It can also mean a state of wanting to do the right thing or adhere to an ethical standard, as in, “Based on my sense of honor, I will carry out my promise.” Or it can mean a rare opportunity and privilege, as in, “It was an honor to hear your speech.”

Two students hold up a sign that reads One Ocean - One Climate - One Future Together

These three meanings all play a role as we think about people who have, due to their lives lived, been given a place of honor in history. (For example, see the sampling of names of people of color who have received world’s best known humanitarian prize.)

Many of these people have names we recognize, but others live their days out with courage, truthfulness and service to others, while invisible to historians.

Students at a school gather in front for photo

Social and economic development, as a concept, grew in the twentieth century after the many years that people from advantaged nations had spent traveling for work and adventure in less economically advantaged nations.

In the early years of travel, Westerns often hoped to colonize or to proselytize. (They wanted to take resources or to teach religion.) Those who became involved in charity soon realized that the most charitable acts honor the skills and inborn talents of the people in a region. Working with them instead of dominating them, these altruists took on the role of collaborators. They help communities in need to strengthen their health, education, security and economic systems.

In the Baha’i Faith of 1987, the office of Social and Economic Development formed, to encourage individual and organizational initiatives with these collaborative goals in mind. The Black men’s gathering also began, as a tool to help men find solace and support for their grievances and inspire one another to travel and serve.

A graphic that reads - For the Betterment of the World

Later collaborations of the Baha’i Community and nonpolitical agencies would bring about systematic plans on which nations could agree. Some examples include international treaties such as the Millennium Development Goals for 2020, the Paris Climate Accords of 2015, the 2021 Global Conference on Health and Climate Change, and the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainability.

Photo of celebration at the United Nations

However, actions that affect the destiny of nations call for honorable actions on the part of many individuals.

Many workers in charitable organizations came to believe that society benefits from the contributions of diverse people whose talents and instincts lean toward concern for the wellbeing of the human family. As we honor their worth, we live up to our own code of honor.

Activity: learn a Song to Perform

Learn the song you can teach to younger students or perform at a public event. Discuss its meaning in relation to the qualities of those honored for their humanitarian achievements. Read “About the Nobel Prizes. How will you help the people of Loveland aspire by live by a code of honor? Write a clause accordingly.

Listen to the song Honor on the following website. +Anna+Barnes%2C+Kristin+Barnes%2C+Kevin+Clayton%2C+Dar rell+Metcalf%2C+Alison+Trahela+-+Honor.mp3

To see the lyrics and perform the song, go to:


Evaluating the Magnitude of Sacrifice

Wangari Maathai, admired by Americans, Kenyans, and people the world over, became known for many things, as the first African woman to earn a Phd and the first to plant a million trees as part of her Green Belt movement, earning her a Nobel prize (in 2004) for the great impact of her work.

Some may not realize that in 1988, the Green Belt Movement also carried out pro-democracy activities such as registering voters for the election and pressing for constitutional reform and freedom of expression.

In most cases, in fact, a Nobel prize comes not as the result of a single action, but only at the end of long years of commitment to a humanitarian cause.

The earliest prize winners included women such as Madame Curie, whose prizes in chemistry and physics led to the X-ray machine, used to treat one million soldiers in WWI.

A few of the people of color on the roster of Nobel prize winners include the following:

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1964 Martin Luther King Junior, for nonviolent resistance to race prejudice

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1974 Eisaku Sato, for promoting close and friendly cooperation among nations

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1984 Desmond Tutu, for addressing solutions to apartheid

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1986 Sole Wolinksi, for a body of Nigerian poetry and influence on world literature

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1992 Rigoberta Menchú Tum, for her struggle for cultural reconciliation in Guatemala based on respect for the rights of indigenous people

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1993 Toni Morrison, for giving life to an essential aspect of American reality

Photo of the Nobel Prize

1993 Nelson Mandela, for co-authoring the new democratic regime in South Africa and ending apartheid

Photo of the Nobel Prize

2009 Barak Obama, for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy

Photo of the Nobel Prize

2010 Liu Xioabo, for long, nonviolent struggle for human rights in China

Photo of the Nobel Prize

2011 Ellen Johnson Sirleftf and Leyma Gbowbee, for negotiating peace in the Liberian civil war

Photo of the Nobel Prize

2016 Juan Manuel Santos, for resolute efforts to bring an end to a 50-year civil war.

Photo of the Nobel Prize

2019 Abhijit Banerjee shared the prize in economics, for co-authoring a plan to address global poverty

Photo of the Nobel Prize

2021 Abdulrazak Gurnah, from Tanzania, won the Nobel prize in literature for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism”

Hear the story of the late Wangari Maathai by pressing the link. Today, commitment to the environment, girls’ education and character development and service to society characterize many projects across Africa and in the West as well.


The Color of a Heart, Regardless of Class

Baha’is continued to travel the world, settling in communities where their presence could bring about unity among diverse peoples and where they often served in humanitarian jobs while also developing new Baha’i communities.

One such African American girl had an unusual story. She grew up in Los Angeles as Sandy Par, where she became a Baha’i. While traveling the country, she fearlessly stood up to police and spent a night in a Louisiana jail for walking down the street with a white friend to buy refreshments for a Baha’i meeting. (She had spoken up to defend their action, declaring that they believed in the oneness of humanity.)

Photo of Sandy Par

While attending the University of Massachusetts, Sandy met and fell in love with a Namibian man from the Herero tribe named Mosé Tjitendero. As the chief of his tribe and a leader in the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), he spent many years as an ally of Nelson Mandela, working toward the freedom and self- determination of apartheid-era. When apartheid fell, Mosé became the Founding Speaker of the National Assembly of the new nation of Namibia. He wrote a constitution aligned with Baha’i-like principles and later served as the Vice-Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the focal point for world- wide parliamentary dialogue, established in 1889. It was during this time that Sandy left the US to move to Windhoek, Namibia and participate in the building of a constitution and nation based on oneness. She was given a Herero name Vajoroka, meaning “We have rejoiced.”

Three women standing in Namibian dress

Sandy Tjitendero became a beloved figure in that new nation, radiating love and unity to all. She taught at the university while developing housing and feeding programs and personally raising orphans, including the children of assassinated comrades, along with her own children. Through the remainder of her life, as Namibian royalty or a girl from the neighborhood, she carried the same big heart and that smile demonstrated the principle of oneness she had embraced so many years ago. At her memorial in 2015, African officials sang her praises.


Religion Confronts the Issues

The Black church played a strong role in building a sense of resiliency in communities through the times of the plantation, the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Cleaving to a belief system and style of worship and fellowship had given people strength, whether they believed in ancestral traditions or only in the practices of their current faith community.

Just as the First Nations people honored spiritual messengers of the past while adapting their beliefs to modern life, so did the practitioners of other faiths in America.

While all religions, at their core, teach love and honorable action, many houses of worship still faced the challenge of appealing to an integrated audience. The separatism in the church and in civic life persisted. Segregation in faith centers – and less participation in religion itself—made it more difficult to appeal to the honor, the love, or the conscience of those who helped sustain institutional prejudice in the courts, the schools and the law enforcement system.

Baha’is began to talk about what they could do to help address the healing of racism. In 1991, The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Vital and Challenging Issue was distributed by the US National Baha’i Spiritual Assembly to public leaders as well as to Baha’is across the United States.

Projects, presentations to local officials and a variety of activities were unleashed throughout the 1990s as a result.

People working together to repair destruction

The statement includes admonitions such as Baha’u’llah’s plea in the Hidden Words: “Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from the same substance, it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.”

The statement gave many communities a framework with which to pursue projects that united secular, civic, and religious pursuits.

When civil unrest broke out in Los Angeles, for example, a number of alliances resulted, influencing the conversations among human relations agencies, rival gang families, educators and leaders of labor, culture, and religion. A series of townhall meetings held at the Los Angeles Baha’i Center among these groups in the early 1990s resulted in a document presented to the Black Mayor, Tom Bradley, recommending the Vision of a New Los Angeles. Mayor Bradley embraced the document and declared he would leave it as his legacy.

Other examples followed, as communities engaged in the hard work of reducing prejudice and increasing collaboration and amity over the next three decades.

Some faith groups began an array of nonprofit projects that revived the vitality and hope of their people when public works projects fell short of the goal in the years after the Mayor’s passing.

Social services helped, but more often than not, individual initiatives and patient long-term relationships best helped to chip away at the most vital and challenging issue.

The Baha’i Black Men’s Gathering also helped African American Baha’i men address challenges together and foster a sense of fellowship and service. Men gathered to encourage one another in service, in pioneering and even in a joint pilgrimage.

Nationally, a Million Man March in 1997, attracted a larger crowd to Washington, D.C. than had ever assembled there, crying out for the many changes still needed in the 21th century.

Partial view of a drum circle

Bahá'í Black Men's Gathering plays in Chicago

Activity: Evaluating Relationships as a Bridge

Discuss the experience of the town hall meetings, in which all groups came together equally to suggest prevention strategies for avoiding conflict and creating equity, security and justice. Why do you think repairs and changes came mostly through individual action and relationship building?

In the case of the rebuilding of a community in rubble, the most sustainable new relationships crossed the boundaries of organizations, faiths and ethnicities, the projects strengthened over time, while legacies designed to last only through one political term met with delays or stalled completely. How did this relate to Baha’u’llah’s quote?

Write a constitutional clause that both encourages meeting together to plan but also encourages initiatives and relations that sustain action when policies lag behind.


Bahá’i Centenary Event Attracts 180 Nations

View of the stage at the World Congress

Photo compliments of Arts Dialogue

The Baha’i World Congress became a once-in-a- lifetime event for Americans and Bahá’is worldwide. In 1992, to commemorate the hundredth year since the passing of Baha’u’lláh, the Bahá’is came to New York from around the globe, gathering with 30,000 members from 180 nations at the Jake Javits Center. The second in history and the first in the United States, this Baha’i World Congress represented a parade of nations bound not only by birthright but by ideology, faith and belief in peace and unity.

In the case of the rebuilding of a community in rubble, the most sustainable new relationships crossed the boundaries of organizations, faiths and ethnicities, the projects strengthened over time, while legacies designed to last only through one political term met with delays or stalled completely. How did this relate to Baha’u’llah’s quote?

The Bahá’i Universal House of Justice included the following excerpt in its message to those gathered for that historic multi-day congress:

The Universal House of Justice The Bahá’í World Centre, 26 November 1992

To the Baha’is of the World,

.... Let us by word and example show that "it does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world." Finally, let them appreciate that "it calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race"; that "it insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world"; that "it repudiates excessive centralization on one hand, and disclaims all attempts at uniformity on the other"; that "its watchword is unity in diversity"...

The Congress featured drama, music, talks and special activities for global teenagers under the banner “Youth Can Move the World.” Royalty as well as rural youth from around the globe attended.

Bahá’is reported, upon entering taxis, that drivers sensed a vibrant new spirit in New York. Riders exuded kindness and enthusiasm, not the usual frustration or patience of finding a taxi in the crowded streets. The drivers had wondered, amongst themselves, what accounted for the change.

Indeed, those who attended felt a connection to everyone on the planet as they watched the parade of nations enter the stage at the event. The only other Bahá’i World Congress had occurred in London’s Albert Hall in 1963.

The mayor of New York City, David Dinkins, made a special appearance at the 1992 event, announcing the declaration of Bahá’i World Congress Day.

Overhead view of the city

The Jake Javitz Center, New York's 840,000 square-foot green roofed convention center, housed the World Congress.

Activity: Youth Can Move the World

Based on the events of the 1990s, what types of experiences helped youth gain the spiritual strength, as well as the constructive resilience, to “move the world”? Write a constitutional clause that gives special support for positive youth movements.


Music and Momentum

Music played an increasingly vibrant role in the American Baha’i community in the years after the Baha’i World Congress. Director Tom Price took many of the World Congress Choir members on global tours. The Chicago-area Bahá’i Gospel choir first performed at the Baha’i National convention and eventually began singing regularly for the public.

Community-based Baha’i gospel choirs also formed. By 2005, a choral performance began occurring each Sunday in the Wilmette House of Worship, under the direction of Van Gilmer. Community-based Baha’i gospel choirs also formed.

All over the world, more Baha’is began using the music of every genre to convey their message.

Large audiences attended after-concern firesides inspired their mystical song. Over the next 50 years, new generations of Baha’i performers continued to enrich devotionals, firesides and public events with their music.

Enjoy samples of the music that emerged out of the World Congress. The first song featured soloists Sandy Simmons and Van Gilmer, and the second song featured Susan Engle.

A New Millennium: Conspiracy vs. Controversy

A classic keyboard with the words Y2K Help! on the enter and shift keys

Some fears in life play out. Others do not. Before the turn of the century, many banks, corporations,technicians,utilities, and governments began to worry. They feared that computer systems developed in the 1960s, when they completed the year 1999, would revert to 1900, as they had not been programmed for a new century, causing systems failures, interest rate miscalculations, and even natural disasters. Essentially, technologists figured out how to add the digit “2”, and Y2k never happened.

Sometimes when fears don’t come to pass, as in the story of the boy who cried wolf, people feel less likely to believe everything they hear. They start to dispute truths and choose their news sources, according to preferences.

Over the next two decades, the United States would struggle to balance the social, environmental, and spiritual exigencies of the times while battling information wars about how to evaluate truth.

Meanwhile, reality marched on:

Climate change impacts would touch every corner of the earth, marked by weather extremes increasing in their severity and frequency. Youth would lead change movements to address these impacts.

Fire burning through a forest on a mountain sideDestruction of buildings

To transcend the challenges of the first quarter century, it would become essential, though not easy, to find ways to unite rather than to divide.

A person smiling with a covid mask on


Race Amity Returns

In 2011, the Race Amity conferences were revived, with the help of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. Rural youth gathered to engage in learning with authors and nonprofit leaders.

The program expanded to include not only human relations but global issues, such as small holder farms and tree planning in Africa.

Afterward, a series of regional conference occurred at colleges from Nashville to Phoenix. The plans culminated in plans for a May 2021 Race Amity conference in response to the social justice movements of 2020 across America.

People seated in rows listening

Activity: Defining Friendship

Discuss the word amity, the root word of amiable. Synonyms for this word include good-natured, friendly, loveable, warmhearted, welcoming and pleasant. Why do you think ‘Abdu’l- Baha urged Amity conferences instead of simply Unity conferences? Is it hard to develop “amity” when you don’t feel “unity” – or “unity” when you don’t feel “amity”?

Pair up with the person next to you. Identify at least one thing you both love. It can be an object, cause, food, place, role model, plant, quality, experience, book, song, animal, etc. Explore the reasons why.

After three minutes, move over two chairs and repeat this exercise with a new object and a new person.

After three rounds, tell the group how many new friends you made based on their animated expressions and shared interests. Describe the underlying grounds of amity (empathy, joy, understanding, etc.)

Write a clause for your constitution that encourages amity on positive grounds.


Accords and Unity

A person looking out sitting above the clouds on a mountain

The United States, in the new century, had struggled to balance the social, environmental, and spiritual exigencies of the times. The world held its breath until the US participating in the signing of the Paris Climate Accords of 2015, which attracted signatures from 196 nations, more than any other treaty in earth’s history. Still, these voluntary commitments didn’t guarantee rapid enough containment of rising CO 2 levels nor guarantee climate justice among the participating nations.

Meanwhile, new challenges lurked just around the corner. Aging astronaut Michael Collins had referred to the earth, from space, as full of fragility even fifty years ago.

Compassion for others during consultation became a key consideration as people struggled to find ways to unite rather than divide.

View of the Earth in the distance seen from the Moon.

Activity: Testing a Theory

What do you think “accord” means? Break it into two syllables to find the answer. Find out how much an accord gains from universal commitment.

In groups of five or more, each person will choose a few strands of yarn of a different color. They will hold up their strands to try to suspend an object such as a paper or a pencil in the air.

Next, one person will hold all the ends of all the colors taut while the others braid their strands together into a much thicker cord. Tie it at both ends.

Now two people will hold the ends as someone tries to suspend an object. Was it easier?

Try the same experiment again, but this time one of the cord holders will loosen their grip or drop their end while the object is suspended. Draw your conclusions.

Write a clause about how to encourage the honoring of agreements among people of multiple perspectives.


Technology Brings New Traumas

Technology has shaped our awareness. On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse sent his first public telegram, declaring, “What hath God wrought?” Indeed, the coming age of technology in that year launched a new religious era, which would portend our capacity to unite, to communicate, and to love our neighbor all the way around the globe.

In 2016, a widely televised presidential campaign brought a backlash from years of firsts, such as the first Black American in the White House. A candidate built a campaign stirring false fears and turning covert into overt biases based on gender, ethnicity and nationality. While people of all backgrounds abhorred the new acceptance for hate speech, the controversy itself pitted one American against another. New tensions and mistrusts emerged, especially for people of color.

Simultaneously, new social media platforms for young people expanded greatly between the years 2016 and 2021, but not everyone used it to love their neighbor. Some students used their favorite app to develop supportive new friendships around the world. Students in schools around the United States revealed that their social media had exposed them to new class distinctions and stereotypes.

A person walks past a building

When the algorhythms eventually were designed to build viewers by engaging strong emotions based on resentment, self- hate, bullying, insurrection, or ethnic violence, Congress had to explore whether and how to create new online regulations.

Meanwhile, youth bore the extra responsibility for self-regulation.

One bright middle school girl, the daughter of Black African immigrants, confided to a grandmother and auntie that she felt traumatized by a new trend. Students everywhere were daring one another to vandalize restrooms and to strike their teachers. Consequently, students were not allowed to use the restrooms, and counselors were continually busy reducing student conflicts.

The girl’s relatives had come to the US partly for the advantages of its educational system. Now she worried that the level of disrespect for teachers and schools had made the classroom an intolerable place. She felt helpless to stop the trend.

The three discussed a plan to start a positive countermovement. The girl realized she could connect with school friends and challenge peers to beautify society instead of destroying it. They could document acts of kindness and respect, capturing videos in senior centers, parks, homes and at school. They could record friends speaking helping siblings at home. They hoped their challenge to beautify society would attract a following among the many other well-intentioned youth in the country and overwhelm the resisters with constructive resilience.

Activity: Imagining Your Response

‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered a similar challenge—that we fight a thought of hate with a thought of love and a thought of war with a thought of peace. If He were here now, what do you think He would say about using images to fight acts of random rebellion with kindness and dignity? Discuss how you would respond if you received such a challenge online.

Try the same experiment again, but this time one of the cord holders will loosen their grip or drop their end. Draw your conclusions.

Write a clause about how to encourage the honoring of agreements among people of multiple perspectives.


A Wide-Angle Look at America

Technology, in the hands of individuals, began to document the need for change.

A person walks through a dark street

Such was the case when systemic acts of injustice were suddenly caught on the cell phone cameras of individual citizens. Acts of brutality formerly hidden or disputed were suddenly captured by everyday witnesses and could no longer remain disputed, now recorded not just through official media outlets but by citizens with cell phones.

Youth would lead movements calling for the fair treatment of African Americans, motivating a new generation to commit to the cause of equality.

The Baha’i Gospel Choir, at the Light of Unity Festival, sang songs to fortify the community, such as “In this Day, Baha’u’lláh,” among many others. This Youtube recording of the song was later made at the 2018 Light of Unity Festival. This recording features soloists Van Gilmer and Sandy Simmons.

Song: In this Day, Baha’u’lláh


Where to Turn in the Search for Change

The death of George Floyd gave rise to protests across America and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Young people walked in multi-ethnic droves along the streets of many cities. In some, they met with teargas or counter protesters. In a few larger cities, they forced the closure of police departments to demand an end to institutional racism.

Radical hate groups seized the opportunity to loot, to distract, and sometimes to attack the Black Lives Matter protesters. The marches, as well as the mayhem, would be televised widely and repeatedly, fomenting a complex mixture of encouragement, anger, and concern across America.

Marching shed light on the issues, but long-term change called for a long-term systemic approach and a commitment to constructive resilience. Young people turned to one another for camaraderie and empathy. Some people turned to faith leaders for healing.

Participants of a conference raise their hands standing in front of their seats

Three-hundred African-American Baha’is gathered for a Pupil of the Eye conference, inspired by the original conversations Sadie Oglesby had with Shoghi Effendi almost a century prior. The Black Baha’is searched for inspiration and the hope needed to return and contribute to the transformation of their Baha’i communities. The words ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had written to Robert Turner about his radiant insight inspired the name of the Pupil of the Eye conference.


Finding Power in the Light of Unity

The Bahá’i National Spiritual Assembly offered a letter to the U.S. Bahá’i community in July, 2020. Acknowledging the pattern of institutional errors but also urging personal self-reflection, the document, read in meetings and reprinted in newspapers, included this passage:

To create a just society begins with recognition of the fundamental truth that humanity is one. But it is not enough simply to believe this in our hearts. It creates the moral imperative to act, and to view all aspects of our personal, social, and institutional lives through the lens of justice...

It reminded the readers, “Bahá’u’lláh said: ‘So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.’”

Activity: Constructing a Conversation

Discuss this paragraph in terms of the difference between resistance and constructive resilience.

You have now seen multiple generations of effort applied to uniting diverse peoples. How must it feel for elders to work toward this ideal over a lifetime and to know that young people will soon need to take the reins? Write a clause that honors the efforts of those who came before by continuing to commit to a path of oneness.

Two unknown people on a road in the desert with a sign that reads 100 years


Unification Over Vilification

Division continued to mark the context of the times in 2021, after the first fifth of the new century had passed. Social media algo rhythms led readers down divergent paths based on political inclinations, on issues ranging from pandemic science to climate change impacts to social change.

Factions split so severely, in fact, that some citizens no longer readily accepted democratic elections in America. This resulted in an attempted violent insurrection on the US Capitol during a presidential transition in January, 2021. At least five people lost their lives as a result of the violent attack.

Never before, it seemed, had disunity been so rampant on so many topics in public discourse. Theories on the inevitability of racism, along with everything else, provoked heated debate.

Compassion for others during consultation became a key consideration as people struggled to find ways to unite rather than divide.

To top it off, racial stereotyping persisted in some circles. By the end of the last century, science had shown the illegitimacy of identifying a person’s race on the basis of physical characteristics, yet still, racial profiling resulted in miscarriages of justice in legal systems, policing, housing, education, organizational work and in undetected biases communicated among each cultural group’s expectations of the other. Only deep bonds of love and friendship could outweigh the perception that prejudice was unstoppable.

A group of people with light blue shirts walking arm in arm

In this milieu, members of the Baha’i Faith wrote to their leaders about how to approach the patterns of change available to them and whether to promote one social theory over another as the solution to society’s problems on the topic of race relations.

In the summer of 1921, the Universal House of Justice, the Baha’i global governing body, responded to the question, citing a response to an individual believer’s letter. They responded:

Sadly, at the current time instead of a united effort to resolve the remaining challenges pertaining to racial prejudice in America, the matter all too often takes the form of politIcal or contentIous debate—whose aim is to contest and to defeat opposing views. In this perspectIve, thoughtful ideas that may provide insights useful to effectIng lasting social change are distorted and exaggerated to emphasize divisions and make constructIve exchange of views impossible. This has occurred with certain concepts and with ideas of partIcular thinkers, making it difficult to evaluate any merit they may contain without being drawn into a polarizing debate. Baha’u’llah has counseled his followers “not to view with too critIcal an eye the sayings and writIngs of men. Let them rather approach such sayings and writIngs in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy.” Therefore, the friends are advised to avoid two extremes: either uncritIcally acceptIng every theory put forward, or dismissing entIrely every theory because it falls short of the Baha’i teachings or has flaws within it. Rather, it would be more helpful for the believers to consider such ideas as contributIons to a public consultatIon that seeks to identIfy solutIons to the problem of racial prejudice. Insights could then be drawn by the friends which they find to be compatIble with the teachings to enhance their own efforts.

While the methods and approaches adopted by believers may vary—some seeing value in certain ideas from the wider society with which others may disagree—the friends should not allow differing opinions to become a point of dispute and contention in the community. And of course, there is no justIfication for the vilification of any group of people.

The letter goes on to advise that “it is not possible to effect transformation merely by adopting the perspectives, practices, criticisms, and language of contemporary society” but rather by “maintaining a humble posture of learning” and “consulting to harmonize differing views and shape collective action and marching forward with unbreakable unity in serried lines.”

In the Twenty-first Century, many religions now open their doors to diversity and honor paths of humanitarian service. Secular organizations also strive to move the world toward universal education, economic equity, social justice, and global peace. These many likeminded but uniquely styled efforts challenge us to act as one soul in many bodies of every hue.

A circle of hands put in representing multiple races

The Universal House of Justice has frequently urged Baha’is to turn to the sacred writings, in the search for responses to the questions of the day. Indeed, the writings state:

“The prosperity of every individual, every family, every people [should] be sought in the well-being of the entire human race.”

The first African American Baha’i, Robert C. Turner, opened the doors for the sincere in heart to follow, seeing with new eyes the spiritual station and overarching identity of his own people, but also answering the call of an overarching spiritual identity as an equal member of the human race.

Activity: Write a final clause

Discuss the value of declaring your own devotion to the cause of unity, even while acknowledging the unique needs and perspectives of divergent life experiences. Translate your discussion into a final clause for your constitution, driven by an inspired code of ethics.

Compiling the clauses: Gather all the clauses and reflect on their meaning. Does the whole group’s code-of-ethics offer a sense of belonging to everyone? Will you suggest any edits in the final draft? Create a document from all the pieces.

Two hands with puzzle pieces being fit together

How will you put all the pieces together?