Twentieth Century Renaissance and Race Unity

Twentieth Century Renaissance and Race Unity

Bahram Nadimi

The last few blogs I talked about the subject of Islam and the Renaissance and how it created the foundation for modern advances.  I like to step down from and touch upon another renaissance—the twentieth century renaissance. This period, I believe, will be regarded in the future as the dawn of a most glorious era, the birth of a magnificent global civilization, that cannot be visualized at present.

I have been especially interested in the period of 1900-1920, the period that is considered to be “Progressive Era” in the West, a time of reform and great expectations about the future, and “the proliferation of international conferences and agencies”[3] .

To echo a quote from yet another shining star of early Islam, Ibn Khaldun:

“He who finds a new path is a pathfinder, even if the trail has to be found again by others; and he who walks far ahead of his contemporaries is a leader, even though centuries pass before he is recognized as such.”

In this blog, I will talk about an example of activism and anti-racism in the twentieth century, an early fruit of the pathfinders of light: the first Universal Races Congress that convened one hundred years ago, in July 1911.  About thirteen years ago, a dear friend—Ms. George—and I wrote an article on this subject, that was published in the United Kingdom Baha’i Journal.[1] I have taken bits and pieces of this article and included it in this blog.

First Universal Races Congress, London England, 1911

It is hard to believe, that a congress on race unity, with such high motives, was convened so early in the twentieth century. This universal races congress was held at the University College of London (a college that I studied at decades later) in the hot and humid days of July 26-29, 1911. The Congress was initiated by the comments of Felix Adler in 1906 and largely executed due to the efforts of Gustov Spiller[2].

The original call for the Congress included these remarks about its purpose:

“To discuss, in the light of science and modern conscience, the general relations existing between the peoples of the West and those of the East, between the so-called “white” and the so-called “colored” peoples, with a view to encouraging between them a fuller understanding, the most friendly feelings, and the heartier co-operation.… The interchange of material and other wealth between the races of mankind has of late years assumed such dimensions that the old attitude of distrust and aloofness is giving way to a genuine desire for a closer acquaintanceship. Out of this interesting situation has spring the idea of holding a Congress where the representatives of the different races might meet each other face to face, and might, in friendly rivalry, further the cause of mutual trust and respect between the Occident and Orient, between the so-called “white” peoples and the so-called “colored” peoples.[3]

W.E.B. Dubois

At that time it was an unprecedented and remarkable gathering of people of capacity exchanging views on race, culture and religion. It was motivated by a strong sense of urgency to abolish ignorance and prejudice, and to kindle the light of unity between different races, and of East and West. More than fifty countries and twenty governments sent official representatives, resulting in fifty eight papers that were categorized into five groups[2]:

-Fundamental Considerations,
-General Confitions of Progress,
-Special Problems of Inter-racial Economics and Peaceful Contact between Civilizations,
-Modern Conscience in Relation to Racial Questions,
-Positive Suggestions for Promoting Inter-racial Friendliness.;

Attendees  included delegates from the second Hague conference, British governors, members of clergy and academics.   Participants also included scholars from many parts of the world, such as the great African-American scholar, W.E.B Du Bois and Dr. L.L Zamenhof, the originator of the international language of Esperanto, and religious speakers such as Thomas William Rhys Davids, Genchi Kato and Alfred Caldecott.  The head of and son of the Prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Abdu’l-Bahá, was invited to speak but could not travel to England in time to attend[5].

The uniqueness of this congress prompted Abdu’l-Bahá to send an encouraging letter which was read in His absence[4].  The letter was published with the other papers submitted by the leading intellectuals of that time. This paper—though brief in comparison to the other papers presented—set the tone with these inspiring words:

“This Congress is one of the greatest of events. It will be forever to the glory of England that

it was established at her capital. It is easy to accept a truth; but it is difficult to be steadfast in it; for the tests are many and heavy.”

His letter encapsulated the very substance of the origins of racism and how to eradicate it:

“Rivalry between the different races of mankind was first caused by the struggle for existence among the wild animals. This struggle is no longer necessary: nay, rather interdependence and co-operation are seen to produce the highest welfare in nations. The struggle that now continues is cased by prejudice and bigotry. Today nothing but the power of the Divine Word, which embraces the Reality of all things, can draw together the minds, hearts, and spirits of the world under the shadow of the heavenly Tree of Unity.”

Abdu’l-Bahá continues to say:


“The call to arbitration, to peace, to love, and to loyalty is the call of Bahá’u’lláh. His standard floats since fifty years, summoning all of what ever race and creed.”

He then summoned the participants to the Call of His father, Bahá’u’lláh:

“O ye friends of God! Acknowledge this pure light; direct the people who are in ignorance, chanting the melodies of the Kingdom of God, until the dead body of mankind quickens with a new life… O friends of God! strive to dissipate the darkness and reveal the hidden meanings of things, until their Reality becomes clear and established in the sight of all.”

It is now been almost one hundred years since the world’s first congress on racial unity, and the work ahead to dispel racism and prejudice from our midst is still plenteous.  At this centenary it behooves us to set far-reaching goals in our personal and collective lives, to promote racial unity, and most of all, to remember the words of Abdu’l-Bahá:

“O Ye People! Cause this thing to be not a thing of words, but deeds.”

Next time: Efforts to create world order in early twentieth century.

================= References================================

[1] First ever Universal Races Congress- July 1911, Baha’i UK Journal, 1998
[3]  G Spiller, ed., Papers on inter-racial problems:  Communicated to the first Universal Races Congress, july 1911
[4] “Star of the West” Vol 1. March 1910-September 1911 (20  August 1911)



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22 thoughts on “Twentieth Century Renaissance and Race Unity

  1. I thought I was the only person who has ever mentioned Du Bois and Zamenhof in the same sentence. You’re the only person I have found so far who is thinking of the centennial of the Universal Races Congress. Do you know of any commemorations anywhere in the world?

  2. Hi Ralph

    Thanks for your comments.

    I have been thinking about the 100th anniversary commemoration too, and like you like to know if anything is organized. Something should be done. Unfortunately I don’t live in the UK any more, hence have few if any contacts.

    I’ll snoop around and will let you know, and please post something if you hear anything.

  3. Hi Ralph

    I looked through your website, nice, will have to study it.

    Here is something you may be interested in:

    I have been working with and supporting a film project regarding the Garifuna, who are descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people who live in the coastal regions of Central America.

    Like the Races congress, hardly anyone has heard of the Garifuna.

  4. I have found no recognition of the centennial, or of the original congress, whatsoever, but I’ll keep working on it. Right now I’m compiling a bibliography of literature on the Congress.

  5. Nothing on my end. Even PhDs in the area of Black Studies I’ve mentioned this to have never heard of the URC. So I guess something would have to be organized from scratch. I wonder if there could not be some modest commemoration organized in the DC are: it could be of interest to Esperantists. Bahai’s, humanistic Jews, and devotees of black history, for example. Here’s my contribution for starters:

    First Universal Races Congress, London, July 26-29, 1911: Selected Bibliography
    compiled by Ralph Dumain

    1. Hi Ralph,
      Thanks for sharing the Bibliography. I was thinking, may be sending some sort of package with all the info on URC, to selected newspapers in the UK and here. This way, a large viewership will get exposed to this noble effort, one hundred years ago.

      What do you think? (Actually I think you’d be the right person to do this)

    1. Hi Ralph

      July is fast approaching, and alas it seems that this important anniversary will go unnoticed. This Sunday is race unity day, and I sent this blog to some of the organizers of local events with the hope of a mention.

  6. I’m checking in for the first time in a few months. I’m concerned about this as well. I wonder what I could do in the next month. I’m really bogged down at the moment with some projects I have to complete this month, but I want to put this anniversary back on the agenda. It’s remarkable nobody has ever heard of the URC. I do have an important contact in the black academic world I need to consult on this.

  7. Hi Ralph

    I also have a contact in the black academic world, who had written about URC, and he said as much as he was interested to do something about it, his current projects with deadlines will prevent him.

    The only course of action that may get some publicity is for some newspapers to write an article on this in July (100th anniversary month)

  8. Today’s the day. No mention in Wikipedia, none in the press. I see a couple of Baha’i blogs mention the congress. Otherwise, nothing except one article on one participant a couple months ago:

    [Predictions are always deceptive: João Baptista de Lacerda and his white Brazil.] (In Portuguese)

    I got no response from anyone. Perhaps I can blog somewhere besides my own sites to salvage the situation?

  9. I’ve updated my bibliography (with links), adding a couple more scholarly articles, & mentions of the URC as a historical landmark, as well as centennial notes in Baha’i & American Indian blogs. (Click on my name).

    1. Hi Ralph

      Yep today is the day until the 29th, I have written a blog that will get published here this Friday that will touch on the 100th anniversary at the end. Thanks for the links. I sent an Email (just as an individual) to a couple of British newspaper Editors, nothing seems to have transpired. I have done all I can, as a lowly individual interested in this congress

  10. thanks!

    Pretty good article.

    BTW I am sure you noticed the irony and sad situation of riots in LONDON a few days after July 26-29th of this year.

  11. Thanks for your comments. Yes Baha’is take race unity very seriously

    BTW…The author of the wikepedia page on the race unity congress seems to also be a Baha’i. See first comment of this article.

  12. Bahram dear…
    Ralf and you added a lot of what I wanted to ask and say,,,,
    so all I want to comment here that yes the 20th century is a transformation point in this issue …I think its time for all humanity to think of the global civilization because as Bahaullah said: “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizenship”
    And since we are all flowers of one garden, the more different flowers they are the more beautiful and colorful garden it is, which means we should the unity in diversity…..its the time for it in this century
    Thank you dear for this really nice article as your articles 🙂
    All the best

    1. Yes Randa A new Global civilization is where we are going towards, and this means every race and culture will be instruments in a symphony and every instrument will pay a key part.

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