Coralie Franklin Cook
Impressions on ‘Abdu’l-Baha
Coralie Franklin Cook
Source: Maḥmud’s Diary|The Baha’i Faith and African American History
Coralie Franklin Cook was born in Virginia in 1861, into slavery. Her ancestors, enslaved by President Thomas Jefferson and her parents were born into slavery. Raised in the wake of the Civil War, she became a gifted writer and public speaker and used her incredible talents to work for racial justice.
Coralie graduated from Storer College in West Virginia in 1880, then taught English and speech there. In 1898, she married George William Cook, a dean and professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Coralie joined the Howard faculty and became the Chair of Oratory.
Coralie and George hosted Baha’i meetings on campus. When ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the leader of the Faith, spoke at Howard in 1912, the Cooks helped to organize the event at Rankin Chapel on the the campus.
“… Howard University, an educational institution for blacks. The hosts (mostly black with a few whites) had made special arrangements …The president of the university was very cordial and introduced ‘Abdu’l-Baha as the Prophet of Peace and the harbinger of unity and salvation. Then the Master rose from His seat and spoke on the subject of the harmony between blacks and whites and the unity of humankind. The audience repeatedly applauded Him during the talk, delighted at His words. At the conclusion, the president of the university thanked ‘Abdu’l-Baha on behalf of all those gathered.”(Maḥmud’s Diary: The Diary of Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani Chronicling ‘Abdu’lBaha’s Journey to America)
Coralie became a Baha’i the following year, and her husband enthusiastically supported her faith. Her dedication to racial justice continued. She participated in race amity conferences, wrote articles, and spoke publicly, encouraging Baha’is to be champions of equality. When she visited Green Acre Baha’i School in Maine, U.S., she was inspired by the love she witnessed there. She wrote, “The dominant note was spiritual love and unity manifested in real fellowship.”
But racial segregation caused tremendous harm throughout the U.S.—even in Baha’i communities. Despite ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s clear guidance and example of unity, some Baha’is wanted separate meetings for the different races. Coralie was deeply concerned about this. She firmly believed that the Baha’i teachings were the answer to healing racism.
In 1914, Coralie wrote to ‘Abdu’l-Baha and described the crisis of racism in America. She wrote, “Race relationship … is in a deplorable condition.” She called on her fellow Baha’is to “stand by the teachings though it requires superhuman courage …”
Coralie persevered in her work for justice until her passing in 1942 at age 80. She once said, “I must in word and deed teach the Oneness of Humanity.” Using her powerful speaking and leadership skills, she fulfilled her goal, sharing Baha’i teachings of unity, and inspiring many to join her in making lasting change.