Grandpa Ed was badass

Grandpa Ed was badass

Yeah. Forgive the word badass, it doesn’t come easy to my generation. But it is, in fact, the word that fits. And I thank the generation that coined it.

In 1954 my father, Edward James Howard, a black man, newly married to a white woman, moved into a neighborhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Promptly, several of the white neighbors moved out. In 1959 he sailed to Brazil, wife and four kids in tow, to “pioneer.”

Edward J. Howard thought "a little different."

Edward J. Howard thought “a little different.”

Was he for real? What made him think so differently? What was it like for him in the 1950’s? And what was going on in the world at the time? I wish that he could tell me, but he’s been gone for thirty years now.

Recently, my storage got invaded by termites. Horrible. I won’t go into how nasty that was. But one amazing thing came out of it. I had to sort through my deceased parents boxed belongings. And there I found it. This precious thing, that told me how he thought. There, neatly typed on an old fashioned typewriter, with hand-written notes in the margins, was a talk he gave in 1956, when he was 32 years old. This is the average age of his current grandkids, most of whom never got to meet him. And it’s titled “Fast Evolving World – to What?”

Seriously? He thought his world was “fast evolving”? If he were here now his head would be spinning like a top. The other question, “To what?” is almost funny. But don’t we all want to know where we’re going, what we’re evolving into?  I know, some think we might actually be “devolving.”

In order to preserve the disintegrating document I digitized it, so that his descendants could decide for themselves whether he was a dreamer, a philosopher, or a revolutionary. It’s freaky how current some of his comments are. I know for sure his grand kids are smart and enterprising global citizens, but then, maybe Edward J. Howard started this trend.

Precisely at this moment in time it became very important to share his thinking. Why? Because at this juncture in time it is imperative to know one’s north. So that events in the world don’t defeat us, or cause us to lose our footing before we get where we’re going.

Here’s his talk, given in 1956, at LouHelen Bahá’í School near Davidson.



By Edward J. Howard

In an age wherein we are inclined towards and have our attentions constantly drawn to the negative things of life; in an age wherein we have witnessed opinions and viewpoints expressed on every imaginable idea in every conceivable subject; in an age that has produced so much confusion, conflict, and catastrophe, I would like to speak to you upon a more positive vein this afternoon and tell you some of the deeper values and spiritual implications found in the Bahá’í World Faith as it pertains to this disturbed and fast evolving world of ours.

The material and spiritual history of mankind has been a continuous process of evolution or gradual and constant unfoldment -and with all processes of unfoldment or development, as with the life of an individual, we might well ask ourselves the question – to what?

In the case of the individual, we can readily observe the seed of the man contained in the boy and through the various stages of growth and development the reality of the man who consumes the boy. Likewise, we observe the processes of history in civilization and see mankind march from family to tribe, from tribe to village, from village to city state, from city state to nation, and from nation today we hear the soundings of world government in the making.

You will notice I have mentioned world, for that is exactly what the Baha’i faith is- a universal, all inclusive, all embracing global movement of spiritual impetus signalizing the coming of age of the whole human race and the consummation of mankind’s material and spiritual progress on this planet.

Jane and Ed married in 1954, bringing his daughter Mary, and her daughters Tina and Carolyn into the family. Baby Tracie was a new addition in 1956.

Ed married Jane Reynolds in 1954, bringing his daughter Mary, and her daughters Tina and Carolyn into the family. Baby Tracie was a new addition in 1956.

To those of us accustomed to thinking in terms of limited concepts such as nationalistic states, geographic religions, class groups, and racial identities it is perhaps difficult to readily grasp concepts and the avenues of progress which eliminate all barriers in human endeavor based upon such limitations, and to begin anew with a simple thought such as – one God, one religion or one earth, one country. And yet, in the subconscious reality our deeper senses should demonstrate and confirm these basic truths.

It is clear and evident that the direction in which civilization is moving, and the swiftness of events that accompany this fast evolution, requires of us a new orientation in regards to our mental outlook, in order to make those necessary adjustments so essential to a positive approach to the problems of this age.

There is not one individual in this gathering whose conscience does not testify that in this day there is no more important matter in the world than that of universal peace. If the 19th century witnessed an age of industrial change, the 20th century is witnessing an age of changing concepts about people, about religion, about political ideologies and many other aspects of our civilization. As a matter fact, there is no facet of society that has not come in for a new closer scrutiny, and re-evaluation. The fundamental challenge of our day is the re-ordering of human affairs on the basis of justice and a genuine concern to understand the essential values and real purpose of life. The most outspoken opponents of truth and justice must and do rely on antiquated and unscientific information to make their points. Those people who distrust the democratic processes of freedom offer nothing new. They use the oldest kinds of religious and political devices to divide and rule. Any successes which the enemies of mankind can claim are won through the default of those who can and should promote the spiritual way of life. We as individuals bear a great responsibility to mankind to make clear (in both word and deed) our fundamental principles based upon some higher spiritual process such as those given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Baha’i Faith over 100 years ago. Hot air may serve a very comforting purpose on a cold winter’s night, but it leaves a very noticeable chill in terms of human rights.

Another aspect of this swiftly developing need and demand for re-orientation (and reorganization of our thinking processes) in order to see the great transition through which the world is passing, lies in our ability to gain perspective. To attempt in this day to visualize the world as anything other than a complete unit is a failure to understand the lofty purpose of divine wisdom. A most important concept is that of universality. The human situation concerns everyone, and not only do we have a religious precept on which to base our action, but they are in accord with and supported by all kinds of scientific evidence. Unfortunately our society has become so compartmentalized that many people believe that their only responsibilities are to limited groups of their own choosing. In reality the job before us is universal, it’s primarily to do with our sense of values. Any contrivances which some people use to set aside the common qualities of mankind are frustrating and annoying, but they are temporary at best. No matter how they twist and turn, regardless of their spurious arguments, in spite of their violence or turbulence, those who are unaware of the world as one community have been unable to do more than delay the constant progress of the great ideals of truth and justice as the true basis upon which universal peace can alone be established.

Brazilian friends Flavia and Newton invited Ed to settle in Brazil in 1959.

Brazilian friends Flavia and Newton invited Ed to settle in Brazil in 1959.

A standard by which we can test all valid arguments in the field of social concepts is this simple statement made in the Bahá’í Writings, as to the meaning of religion, “Whatever has to do with the universal good is divine, and whatever is divine is for the universal good; if this be true it is for all, if not it is for no one.”[i] “How pathetic indeed are the efforts of those leaders of human institutions who, in utter disregard of the spirit of the age, are striving to adjust national processes, suited to the ancient days of self-contained nations, to an age that must either achieve the unity of the world…or perish.”[ii]

We are caught in the era of change. Today’s problems and their solution were outlined in perspective over 100 years ago. The tangled mass of tensions in the world today comes from people’s past experiences, their outmoded ideas and limited vision, and their inability to meet the challenge of tomorrow. Those who oppose or hesitate to face broad moral issues, today, rely on insecurity, fear, expediency, and self-interest to sustain their position. Unfortunately too many accept the present state of affairs with complacency. We find many people who recognize the impact of change, but who insist that the only way of dealing with it is to let time solve the world’s problems. Most people abhor war, but they resist efforts to bring about peaceful solutions because they have not learned how to work constructively in the world community.

Though we view the world in its present state with apprehension and alarm, there is something strangely significant about this century we are living in, (beginning about the year 1844) which can only be fully understood and appreciated through spiritual eyes.

In the estimation of historians, this radiant century is equivalent to over 100 centuries of the past. If comparison be made with the sum total of all former human achievements, it will be found that the discoveries, scientific advancement, and material progress of this present century have equaled and far exceeded the progress and outcome of 100 former centuries.

It is evident, therefore, that this century is of paramount importance in the history of mankind. Reflect upon the miracles of accomplishment which have already characterized it, the discoveries in every realm of human research, in inventions, scientific knowledge, ethical reform and regulations established for the welfare of humanity, mysteries of nature explored, invisible forces brought into visibility and subjection, a veritable wonder-world of new phenomena and conditions heretofore unknown to man, is now open to his uses and further investigation. Day by day, discoveries are increasing. We might well say, what a wonderful century this is! It is an age of universal Reformation. The foundations of human society are changing and strengthening. Today sciences of the past are useless. The Ptolemaic system of astronomy, numberless other systems and theories of scientific and philosophical explanation are discarded, known to be false and worthless. Questionable ethical precedents and principles cannot be applied to the needs of the modern world. Thoughts and theories of past ages are fruitless now. Thrones and governments are crumbling and falling. All conditions and requisites of the past unfitted and inadequate for the present times are undergoing radical reform.

It is evident, therefore, that counterfeit religious teaching, antiquated forms of belief, and ancestral superstitions which are at variance with the foundations of divine reality must also pass away and be reformed. The morals of humanity must undergo change. New remedies and solutions for human problems must be adapted. Human intellect itself must change and be subject to the universal reformation-if universal peace is to be attained.

In this radiant century, in this fast evolving world, it becomes apparent that at no time has mankind had greater opportunity to achieve a lasting and universal peace than it has now. It is now obvious that if such an objective is to be reached, more than ever before it is necessary to re-examine and reevaluate our thinking, discard worn out and outmoded ideas, to weigh new evidence and discoveries and reapply realistic knowledge to an ever-advancing civilization.

In Brazil Ed designed and built the family home with his own hands.

In Brazil Ed designed and built the family home with his own hands.

In analyzing much of what is happening in the world today, we can clearly see a new world order being born before our very eyes, evolving out of the chaos and confusion that commands our daily attention. We are witnessing the birth pains of the reign of righteousness and justice upon the earth. The period for which the Christians have been fervently praying for 2000 years.

Baha’is throughout the world, in every land and island where human creatures exist, are laying the foundation for world unity based upon simple and broad universal principles given to the world by Bahá’u’lláh. In laying the pattern for future society, he talked on the subject of humanity-“The lovers of mankind, these are the superior men, of whatever nation, creed, or colour they may be.[iii]

Unfortunately, largely prevalent in the attitudes of nations, peoples and religions is the notion that they are on the defensive, that they must cling to some dying cannon and thus they join the ranks of the frightened, exiling themselves from the real world by fleeing from most of its inhabitants. We were all born too late for a tribal existence. The incompatibility of our desires for exclusiveness with our other aspirations for peace and security can be shown on any principal for the ordering of life. That is why nationalistic, religious, classicist, and racist thoughts and practices are ethically wrong, regardless of the intensity of the desires and fears that support them.

Some people think that religion is confined to an edifice, to the worship at an altar. In reality, it is an attitude towards divinity which must be reflected through life in all of our actions. On the subject of the foundations of religion, Bahá’u’lláh (and his son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá) had this to say, “There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God…”[iv] “the foundations of the divine religions are one and the same.”[v] Further, “The fundamental purpose animating the faith of God and his religion is to safeguard the interest and promote the unity of the human race, to foster the spirit of love and fellowship among men. Let your vision be world embracing rather than confined to your own selves.”[vi] “Religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable.”[vii]

On the subjects of universal peace, education, and economic problems, Bahá’u’lláh said; “All men have been created to carry forward and ever advancing civilization.”[viii] “That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”[ix]

The family grew in Brazil, with the addition of Rhea, Gregory and Charles, and the marriage of Tina to Celestino.

The family grew in Brazil, with the addition of Rhea, Gregory and Charles, and the marriage of Tina to Celestino.

These are just a few of the broader concepts permeating the teachings of the Báhá’í Faith but they serve to illustrate an all inclusive, all embracing philosophy rather than the limited concept so prevalent in our thinking today. They call for a wider vision, a greater loyalty, which can transcend the mental barriers of nation, religion, class or race, for most of the barriers to peace and the well-being of mankind are mental barriers only, and the only real obstacles to world peace.

Though mankind sits and waits, and expects that some great force other than himself, in this fast evolving world, will bring about a solution to the problems and conflicts with which the world is faced, until all nations and people become united by the bonds of spirituality and real fraternity, until national and international limitations are met in the reality of divinely revealed guidance, true progress, prosperity, and lasting happiness will not be attained by man.

I asked you the question: exactly what is the world evolving to? The world is rapidly and steadily moving towards unity. That the forces of world catastrophe can only precipitate such a new phase of human thought is, alas, becoming increasingly apparent. If nothing but a fiery ordeal, out of which humanity will emerge chastened and prepared, can succeed in implanting that sense of responsibility which the leaders of a newborn age must arise to shoulder, it shall assuredly come.

“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.… National rivalries, hatred, and intrigues will cease…”“The whole of mankind is groaning, is dying to be led to unity, and to terminate it’s age long martyrdom.”[x]

Back in Chicago, around 1979, some of the grandkids got to know Ed (far right).

Back in Chicago, around 1979, some of the grand kids got to know Ed (far right).

It is strange and pitiful that an inquiring age such as ours, which has discovered so much of truth, should have left the spiritual realm unexplored, and should have missed the most important truths of all.  Arnold J. Toynbee, a historian of Oxford University, recently pointed out that the practical extinction of a rational faith in Western society is the supreme danger to the spiritual health and even to the material existence of Western civilization. A deadlier danger by far, than any of our hotly contested and loudly advertised political and economic sicknesses. He further stated that historical evidence definitely reveals time and time again that religion is the cement that holds civilization together.

Reflecting the spirit of the age, and with grave concern for society brought about by those spiritual forces released through the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, down whatever road thoughtful men look today, they see before them some guiding truth, some leading principle advanced long ago. The sum and essence of the best hopes of the best minds today is contained in such simple statements as the 12 basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith revealed and proclaimed over 100 years ago.

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hallmark of the stage which human society is now approaching. But to those who are aware of the direction in which civilization is moving it can hardly fail to be significant that the Baha’i Faith is laying the foundation for the “Kingdom of God on Earth”.  It is these new patterns of thought for society which will be the agency for the reign of righteousness and justice upon the Earth.


[i] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, by J. E. Esslemont, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition, p.257.

[ii] Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974 edition, p. 36.

[iii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Paris Talks. UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972 eleventh edition reprint, p. 148-149.

[iv] Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p.217.

[v] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Foundations of World Unity. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979 sixth printing, p.92.

[vi] Bahá’u’lláh. Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1978 reprint, p. 122.

[vii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982 second edition, p.287.

[viii] Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p.215.

[ix] Ibid, p.250.

[x] Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991 first pocket-size edition, p.201 and 203.


About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
This entry was posted in baha'i, bahai, equality, freedom, global discussion, interracial, interracial marriage, multiracial, national discussion, new world order, Paradigm shift, peace, race, social justice, Uncategorized, unity in diversity, universal peace, war. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Grandpa Ed was badass

  1. wandraharmsen says:


    I can only imagine how it must have felt to have found this precious gem among your parents’ belongings. What an electrifying thrill! How forward-thinking your father was and how positive and well-chosen his words. You know the saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Well, it is certainly true and I can clearly see that your dad was a writer and this has had a great influence on your own life.

    What a blessing to have had such a dad! One who went way beyond the limits and boundaries set up by the society around him. That boldness and spiritual courage is so rare, even in our Faith. I hope you will take this writing and your pictures and perhaps write a biography of your family. The Faith really needs that and your family is quite outstanding in so many ways. We need this example so much. Think of young African-American men who would love to learn about your dad – how his example could help them move forward. Words fail me, but I hope you understand how important I think this is, not only as your family’s legacy – which is still being written – but also share with others and pay homage to those who have gone before, against such daunting odds.

    Just a thought and thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

    Much love and see you soon! Wandra

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