239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
115
 | 
August 3, 1912
Dublin, NH
Storify Feature

“Get the Races to Intermarry”

IMAGINE, IF YOU WILL, a boathouse of large dimensions, tucked into the trees on the shore of Dublin Lake. Water is lapping at the pylons which support it, rooted into the lake bed. It is built of natural wood and has a dock for the boat to moor. Perhaps there are some chairs or benches and the comforting smell of wood and rope.

It is Saturday, August 4, 1912, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is meeting with the servants of the summer residents of Dublin. They are mostly black. Their names will vanish from history because they were never recorded. They are known only by the names of their employers, such as Parsons’ cook and Cabots’ maid.

Now imagine ‘Abdu’l-Bahá making an announcement, and the boathouse going quiet in astonishment.

Louise Mathew had been astonished when he had told her, too. She had first heard about it on the steamer to America, but hadn’t quite grasped what he meant. In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been planning for this moment for more than two years.

Louise Mathew was born in England to wealthy parents. She did not marry, but instead she enrolled into one of the women’s colleges in Cambridge University, where she studied economics, languages, and voice. She was into middle age before she went on pilgrimage to Alexandria to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It was here that Louise met Louis Gregory. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had delayed Gregory’s pilgrimage to make sure the two of them arrived at the same time.

Louise was shy and in delicate health. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá invited her to travel to America with him aboard the Cedric, which she did. One morning, while walking on the deck with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Louise realized what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wanted: he wanted her to marry Louis Gregory.

In Chicago, Louise inquired further, asking ‘Abdu’l-Bahá if this was what he intended. “I wish the white and colored people to marry,” he said. Louise explained that, as a woman, she could do nothing about it.

Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá questioned her. “Do you love him?” he asked. “Would you marry him if he asked you?” Louise: “Yes.” “Then if he loves you he will marry you,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied.

That same morning ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called Louis to his suite in the Plaza Hotel. “[M]arriage is not an ordinance and need not be obeyed,” he said, “but it would give me much pleasure if you and Miss Mathew were to marry.”

In many states Louis Gregory could be lynched for even looking at a white woman, let alone marrying one. Interracial marriage is not recognized in twenty-five out of the forty-eight states; in many it is illegal. In fact, in a few months, Seaborn Roddenbery, the Democratic congressman from Georgia, will introduce an amendment to the Constitution that will seek to outlaw interracial marriage everywhere in America. The proposed amendment will read:

“That intermarriage between negroes or persons of color and caucasians or any other character of persons within the United States or any territory under their jurisdiction, is forever prohibited; and the term ‘negro or person of color,’ as here employed, shall be held to mean any and all persons of African descent or having any trace of African or negro blood.”

Louis froze; his hands went stone cold. He turned and left the suite. He walked into the elevator and out to the grand lobby, oblivious to the marble pillars and green velvet chairs. Out onto the Chicago streets he strode, where he wandered aimlessly for two hours before regaining his composure.

Today in the boathouse ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is announcing that the wedding will take place in September.

“If you have any influence to get the races to intermarry,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had told Louis in Alexandria, “it will be very valuable.” Little did he suspect that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was talking about him.

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  • http://twitter.com/TheStruggleWthn Malik Nash

    Interpersonal intimacy and interracial marriage was the greatest threat to systems of racial subjugation, because anything that would allow human conscience to assert itself and see subjugated human beings as such would make it impossible for people to support those systems. We continue to struggle against the ways we have been conditioned to resist interracial intimacy, black/white interracial intimacy in particular. The simple existence of interracial marriage, in and of itself, is less significant than the psychological challenge it represents to our conditioned acceptance of enforced social distance between racial groups, and the social bonds it forges between racially disparate families and communities.

    • 239Days

      “Interpersonal intimacy and interracial marriage was the greatest threat to systems of racial subjugation” …very interesting observation. 

      • Karridine

         Indeed, inasmuch as “Interpersonal intimacy and interracial marriage was the greatest threat to systems of racial subjugation” dissolves the objectification of the subjugated humans, allowing US to see THEM as US… and ooh! ouch! yow! they can’t be US because, uhm, they… we… uhm, hey! just use the right restrooms, boy!

        • 239Days

          Though, to be fair, segregated restrooms is a thing of the past. Whether one considers the dissolving of that touchstone of prejudice to be a great leap or a small increment, there most certainly is progress.

        • Ndchase

          The ancients were more enlightened. Moses had a black wife, Ziporah. King Solomon loved the Queen of Sheba, and many of their descendents live in Israel and Ethiopia.

  • Loie Mead

    I think the impact of interracial marriage has had on American society is proving enormous.  The development is still too recent for us to fully measure as we are still in the process; however, the benefits are with us every day in America. Dear ‘Abdu’l-Baha! Two of my children have intermarriages, both bringing bright and beautiful grandchildren who care about “setting the world right”.  Their marriages have opened up our family, advanced our understanding, helped us all  to see how much the Creator loves His Creation. Interracial marriage (spiritually lived), actively heals the injuries and separation of the past.  To a great degree the result is family unity AND we know what that means!

    • 239Days

      I agree completely about the impact of interracial marriage being enormous, and your thoughts about being too close to the process (which is a transition that’s really rooted in the 20th century) are likely quite accurate. As the decades and centuries pass, the full impact of racial harmony that leads to marriage will be much clearer. I also think you’re right about it healing injuries and separations of the past; where can there be room for resentment and enmity when you’re in the process of living with and building a family with someone for 50+ years? That’s a heavy anchor to drag, for certain.

      I want to just take a moment to mention with respect that not all the people who read 239 Days are Baha’is, and so when you refer to Abdu’l-Baha as “Master”, not everyone will be able to follow your conversation easily. Just food for thought.

      Thanks again for all your comments. They’re a pleasure to read.

    • Karridine

       Well put!
      Sometimes, as we go about our lives in those ‘interracial’ marriages, we might inadvertently drift into a musing state, where we see spirits, loving other spirits, acting lovingly, and race never even crosses our minds… :D

  • Anita

    Loie Mead — What a joy it was to read your comment below. My sense about the impact is in total agreement with what you articulated so well. My heart is always deeply moved by the story of The Master, Louis, and Louise, but you “iced the cake” with the description of your beautiful family…pure and sweet evidence of what Abdu’l-Baha knew regarding the unifying results of intercultural marriage. (I use intercultural as I have always believed there is one race–human.) I have always marveled that with the exception of the “e”, every letter of their first names is identical.

    • Karridine

       Fill in the form:
      State your name, surname, age, race … “human”
      Yeah, that’s me… we are US, even if your circle of US puts me outside, God’s circle of US puts you INSIDE… intercultural, yes, but inter-racial? No…

      And there is scientific basis for this, as the recent unraveling of the human genome has revealed, that from the yellowest yellow to the bluest black to the whitest pink and brownest brown human, we ALL carry markers from Momma Lucy, our common ancestor, our ONE COMMON MOTHER, back upline… forebear…

      So this ‘racial differences’ is external, trivial and divisive at best, being a shadow only, whereas the light of reason shows us all blood brothers and sisters…

  • Paul

    It’s had a tremendously positive impact.  For example, if it weren’t for intermarriage, there’s no way the U.S. would  have elected a President of African-American descent.

  • Rooplall Dudhnath

    This subject of inter racial
    marriage is a great one and if it is properly nurtured and cared for would
    surely assist in thousands of ways to solve many the varied problems of mankind
    and the diverse ways of society. It is a potent antidote for civilization and Abdul
    Baha indeed set a paradigm with His blessings here. Thank you Abdul Baha!

  • Karridine

    I can’t speak from direct experience for the last century, but the most recent HALF century started for me in 1956, as my family was traveling by car from the west coast to our port of embarkation in New York… We paused for a pit-stop in southern Ohio, and I made a beeline for the restrooms around back…

    But as I was about to step in, a white hand grabbed my left shoulder and the man said, “YOU don’t go there, Boy, that’s for coloreds… you use the WHITE toilets…” and pushed me toward the separate-but-equal segregated restrooms… My first recorded incident of racial bias-bigotry, but not my last. (I’ve live these last 31 years ex-patriate, out of country, mostly in the Far East, marked as ‘one-of-them’ and ‘non-us’ and ‘outsider’)

    Which allows me to benchmark, even if informally, ‘how fare we’ve come’ since 1912 by observing how far we’ve come since 1956… especially since the next three years of my young life were in lily-white England, where I caught a lot of guff for America’s PUBLIC civil-rights efforts (not human rights, mind you…) from Brits who would chide me with ‘WE don’t have race problems here, YOU should do as WE do!” except that even a cursory glance around London revealed 1%… maybe 2% non-White humans…

    So compared to today? We HAVE made much progress, and it has NOT always been easy. We may have a LOT MORE to go, because we CANNOT legislate justice or courtesy, only laws… and laws alone are NOT enough to touch, move and inspire hearts and minds…

  • William Maxwell

    Marriage is the most fundamental of all human institutions — unless we consider the mother-child relationship an institution — and therefore is more fundamental to civilization than any other, religion included.  What is shockingly negligent is some requirement of schools to teach young people how to choose a mate. Left to their own devices, boys rank attractiveness over all other variables and girls choose the jocks or the OJ Simpsons over the nerds or geeks almost every time, that is, until they grow up.  But the urge to mate will not wait that long.

    In the Baha’i Civilization we of course will not be as negligent as the past religions.  We will teach young people how to choose a mate, character comes first.  And lasts.

    William

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