In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, the eldest son of the founder of the Baha’i faith, came to America.
Among his stops was a special visit to Lincoln to see William Jennings Bryan at Fairview, his home.
'Abdu'l-Baha spent 239 days in America, traveling coast-to-coast promoting unity, international peace and sharing a conviction establishing the “oneness of humanity.”
Imprisoned in Turkey for 40 years for his religious beliefs, ‘Abdu’l-Baha called upon America to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership and provided a vision for the nation’s spiritual destiny.
Sunday -- 100 years to the day since ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Sept. 23, 1912 visit -- Lincoln’s Baha’i community will commemorate the anniversary by touring each of the places the Baha’i leader visited during his 1912 stopover.
The public is invited to join the self-guided tours as well as attend a commemoration program at 4 p.m. at Lincoln Woman’s Club, 407 S. 14th St.
The program includes a message from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry; a presentation by Billie Kay Bodie, a member of the Regional Baha’i Council for the Prairie States; storytelling; and a performance by the Redwood Piano Trio of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The Baha’i faith is centered on one -- one God, one earth, one humanity; and the conviction that together we will find peace. Separate, intolerant and prejudiced, “peace is impossible and the human world will not be composed and secure,” according to Baha’i teachings.
'Abdu’l-Baha was 68 when he arrived in America on April 11, 1912.
His arrival in Lincoln made headlines in the capitol city's two newspapers: The Lincoln Daily Star and the Lincoln Daily News.
“Baha’is in Lincoln feel privileged that their city is an important part of Baha’i history because it was blessed by the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Baha,” said Brian Lepard, public information officer of the Lincoln Baha’i community.
‘Abdu’l-Baha spent eight months from April to December 1912 in the United States. He specifically wished to stop in Lincoln to visit Nebraska statesman William Jennings Bryan and his family because in 1906, Bryan and his wife visited ‘Abdu’l-Baha in the Holy Land and ‘Abdu’l-Baba wanted to return the courtesy, Lepard said.
Although Bryan was out of town that day, 'Abdu’l-Baha had tea with Bryan’s wife and daughter.
He penned his signature on the historic guestbook and wrote a prayer for the Bryan family in Farsi. Interpreted, it reads:
“Bless this family and grant it happiness in both this world and the world to come. Confirm this distinguished person in the greatest service to the human world, which is the unity of all mankind, that he may attain to Thy good pleasure in this world and obtain a bounteous portion from the surging ocean of Divine outpouring in the luminous age.”
The guest book and prayer are currently on display at the Nebraska History Museum, 15th and P streets, and will remain available for public viewing through Sept. 30.
‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to America was more than historic. His teachings about equality for all, peace and unity among all peoples were accentuated by highly public and symbolic acts.
On April 23, 1912 -- just 12 days after his arrival in the United States. -- 'Abdu’l-Baha was honored at a luncheon in the home of a prominent Persian diplomat. Noticing that only white faces had gathered around the elegant dining room table -- each seated by rank and social position, as was in keeping with Washington protocol -- 'Abdu’l-Baha suddenly stood and asked for Mr. Gregory.
Louis Gregory was an African-American attorney who had escorted ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the diplomat’s house. Uninvited to the white table, he had taken his leave in another room. But ‘Abdu’l-Baha not only insisted Gregory get a seat at the table, but he invited Gregory to sit in the most honored of places -- to his right at the head of the table.
Throughout his visit, ‘Abdu’l-Baha challenged America to go beyond mere tolerance and actually embrace diversity and demolish racial barriers. While in the United States, he presided over the marriage of two Baha’is of different nationalities and ethnicities. One was white and the other black.
And at all of his public appearances, he insisted that people of all races be welcomed.
In a talk to students at Howard University, 'Abdu’l-Baha said skin color was of no importance before God, except as an adornment and a source of charm. Only among humans had skin color become a source of discord, he said.
“The world of humanity, too, is like a garden, and humankind are like the many-colored flowers. Therefore, different colors constitute an adornment.
“Animals, despite the fact that they lack reason and understanding, do not make colors the cause of conflict. Why should man, who has reason, to create conflict? This is wholly unworthy of him.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha also spoke of the need for gender equality:
“The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity … humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment.”
Along his tour, 'Abdu’l-Baha focused on many other social and spiritual issues. Among them were:
* Gender equality in education. In 1912, women comprised only one-third of college students. Expectations were not as high for women as they were for men. ‘Abdu’l-Baha said men and women deserved equal education and curricula but added:
“... the education of women is of greater importance than the education of men, for they are the mothers of the race, and mothers rear children. The first teachers of children are the mothers. Therefore, they must be capably trained in order to educate both sons and daughters.”
* Women’s empowerment:
“When women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.”
* Ending extremes in wealth and poverty, saying while differences in economic standing were natural, extremes on either side prevented civilization from progressing.
* Stressing the importance of spiritual and moral education of children:
“Children are even as a branch that is fresh and green; they will grow up in whatever way ye train them. Take the utmost care to give them high ideals and goals, so that once they come of age, they will cast their beams like brilliant candles on the world, and will not be defiled by lusts and passions in the way of animals, heedless and unaware, but instead will set their hearts on achieving everlasting honor and acquiring all the excellences of humankind.”
About 100 Baha’is live in Lincoln, and there are more than 5 million Baha’is worldwide.