In 1905, Robert S. Abbott founded The Chicago Defender, which became the most widely circulated black newspaper in the country, came to be known as “America’s Black Newspaper” and made Abbott one of the first self-made millionaires of African-American descent.
Abbott met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1912 covering a talk of his during his stay in Chicago during his journeys in the West and was listed as a frequenter of Bahá’í events in Chicago with his wife in 1924. The Defender published several articles about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit (see links below).
Howard Colby Ives was born in Brooklyn in 1867. His youth was spent in New York state, with some time spent in Wyoming overcoming a lung difficulty. He graduated from a Unitarian theological school in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1905, at the age of 38. He served as a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, building two small churches in the cities of New London, CT and Summit, NJ. Howard describes the 46 years of his life before 1912 as a period of “gestation” before the spiritual “birth” that then occurred.
Helen Goodall became one of the earliest American Bahá’ís in 1898. Her daughter Ella Cooper learned of the Bahá’í Faith from a friend of Phoebe Hearst and told her mother about it. Residents of the San Francisco Bay area, both women traveled to New York to learn more about the Faith from Anton Haddad, one of the first Bahá’í teachers sent to America by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Mother and daughter went on Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1908. Of these early Pilgrimages, Shoghi Effendi wrote
Sometime in 1898, Robert Turner (1855/56 – 1909) became the first African-American member of the Bahá’í Faith. He was the butler of Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, an early Bahá’í. Mr. Turner visited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the Holy Land (then Palestine, now Northern Israel), arriving on December 10, 1898 and staying into 1899. The photo shows Robert Turner in the Holy Land in 1898.
In 1912, American society practiced strict racial segregation. Blacks or “coloreds” as they were then known were second class citizens by law. In 1896 the Supreme Court (Plessy v. Ferguson) permitted enforcement of segregation wherever races comingled. Indeed, 30 of the 48 states enforced laws banning interracial marriage.
Against this backdrop ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in April 1912, ready to dramatically demonstrate by word and deed the Bahá’í teaching of the ‘Oneness of Mankind’.
Repentance and Renewal: The story of Fred Mortensen
Fred Mortensen had traveled to Maine, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was staying, the only way he could—by “riding the rods.” He rode underneath and on top of coal-fired railroad cars, from Minnesota to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, then traveled across the river, arriving in filthy clothing at Green Acre, Maine.
Saichiro Fujita, known to the worldwide Bahá’í community simply as “Fujita,” became the second Bahá’í of Japanese ancestry in 1905, in California. He came to America to further his education during his teen years, and learned of the Bahá’í Faith in Oakland. In 1912 while attending school in Cleveland, he traveled to Chicago to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who invited him to travel with Him to the western United States. Fujita interrupted the course of his studies in horticulture and electrical engineering for two months to accompany ‘Abdu’l-Bahá west through Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and California.