Remembering the First African American Bahá'í

The Pupil of the Eye

No correspondence from Robert Turner to `Abdu’l-Bahá – the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh, and the head of the Bahá’í Faith after his father’s passing – has been found. However, an early American Bahá’í, Sarah Farmer, may have sent Robert’s photograph to `Abdu’l-Bahá. In a subsequent tablet written to Turner, `Abdu’l-Bahá compared the dark color of Robert’s skin to “a fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world” and to “the pupil of the eye:”

O thou who art pure in heart, sanctified in spirit, peerless in character, beauteous in face! Thy photograph hath been received revealing thy physical frame in the utmost grace and the best appearance. Thou art dark in countenance and bright in character. Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye which is dark in colour, yet it is the fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world.

I have not forgotten nor will I forget thee. I beseech God that He may graciously make thee the sign of His bounty amidst mankind, illumine thy face with the light of such blessings as are vouchsafed by the merciful Lord, single thee out for His love in this age which is distinguished among all the past ages and centuries. – Selections From the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá #78.

This unique Bahá’í metaphor of the pupil of the eye, which compares people of African descent to the optical portal of light that gives us all vision, has since become a much-beloved descriptive phrase among the millions of Bahá’ís worldwide, and a signifier of the vitally important role those with African heritage play in the Bahá’í vision of racial unity.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Hearst Years
  3. Turner Encounters the Baha’i Faith
  4. The Pupil of the Eye
  5. The First Western Baha’is Meet `Abdu’l-Bahá
  6. A Lifelong Connection and a Solemn Promise
  7. Robert Turner’s Passage to the Next World
Remembering the First African American Bahá'í