Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Booker T. Washington and Baha'i Thought

LaShawn Barber had a really interesting post yesterday about the famous Black Educator Book T. Washington and the relevance of his thinking to the challenges facing African Americans today. It inspired me to reflect on the commonality between some of his philosophy of racial uplift and the Baha'i teachings on the psycho-spiritual, and social and economic development of humanity in general. This is a deep topic, so I'm only going to touch on it here, but definitely will come back to it later.

It's interesting to note that Booker T. Washington actually had contact with one of the most celebrated African American Baha'is in history, Mr. Louis G. Gregory.

"Twice at the invitation of the great black educator, Booker T. Washington, Louis Gregory visited Tuskegee Institute and was called upon to address the students on the Bahá'í Faith. Their response to the Bahá'í ideals and principles was most enthusiastic."
(taken from the Bahá'í World, Vol. XII., a biographical piece written by Harlan F. Ober.)

This is not to suggest that Booker T. Washington's philosophy was directly influenced by the Baha'i Faith, but that he saw in the Baha'i teachings something that resonated with him. Statements by Mr. Washington such as the one below offer a clue as to what he might have found attractive about the Baha'i teachings:

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Out of the hard and unusual struggle through which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence, that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason of birth and race.

Mr. Washington's statement reminds me of two quotes from the Baha'i writings that I have meditated upon as an African American male:

Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit. The labourer cuts up the earth with his plough, and from that earth comes the rich and plentiful harvest. The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him. A soldier is no good General until he has been in the front of the fiercest battle and has received the deepest wounds. (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 50)

They [Black Baha'is] must prove their innate equality not by words but by deeds. They must accept the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh for the sake of the Cause, love it, and cling to it, and teach it, and fight for it as their own Cause, forgetful of the shortcoming of others. Any other attitude is unworthy of their faith. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, February 9, 1942)

This concept of embracing the struggles inherent in being a Black person in America as a path to the development of our spiritual and moral character is truly empowering and is worthy of several posts in and of itself. For now I'll stop and go pick up a copy of Booker T. Washington's book, Up From Slavery.