Angelina Diliberto Allen has written a vivid and striking biography of John David Bosch, an early American Baha’i. Based on her extensive research, we learn about how John discovered and embraced the Baha’i Faith under the tutelage of Helen Goodall, and his deep and lasting friendships with such luminaries as Thornton Chase, Hands of the Cause Amelia Collins, Roy Wilhelm, and Louis Gregory. We learn about how, along with his wife, Louise, he helped establish a Baha’i school in northern California. We hear about his encounters and his letters to Abdu’l-Baha. And we learn what it was like to be in Haifa in the hours and days following the passing of Abdu’l-Baha. Baha’i history comes to life in the pages of this book and it’s called John David Bosch: In the Vanguard of Heroes, Martyrs, and Saints. Angelina graciously agreed to tell us about her book and how it all came together:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was raised in a Baha’i family—and, like most Baha’is in America, I can trace my Baha’i ancestry back to the time when Abdu’l-Baha came to America in 1912. I guess that means that we can all trace our Baha’i ancestry, in one way or another, directly to Baha’u’llah! When I was a child, my family pioneered to Argentina and to several countries in Central America. As an adult, I pioneered to Southern Africa—mainly Swaziland and Botswana. I currently live in California where I have been a public high school English teacher for over 30 years. When I think about who I really am, I think I am like any Baha’i who has a longing for others to know this Cause. We all have moments when we wonder about how we could more effectively convey to our friends and neighbors the miracle of this Day and the bounties of becoming a Baha’i. Many of our friends wonder what it means when a person becomes a Baha’i: What’s different about it? What does “being a Baha’i” really look like? What happens? So, I wrote this book as a way to explain the extraordinary thing that can happen when an ordinary person becomes a Baha’i.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to write this write this biography?
As time goes by, we will come to realize the unique significance of John Bosch in the history of the Baha’i Faith. He is best known for establishing a permanent Baha’i school, but what is less known is that John Bosch was present in Haifa at the time of the passing of Abdu’l-Baha in November 1921 and he was present at the public reading of the Master’s will and testament in January 1922. As announced in the 2018 Ridvan message of the Universal House of Justice, the centenary of these two events—the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha and the public reading of His will and testament—will be commemorated by the Universal House of Justice with a gathering in November 2021 in Haifa of elected members (rulers) of the Baha’i Institutions to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha, followed by a gathering in January 2022 of appointed (learned) members of Institutions for the 100th anniversary of the commemoration of the public reading of the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha. The Universal House of Justice further explained that these two commemorative events in 2021 and 2022 will be “the first in a series of subsequent events that will prepare the believers for the demands of the decades ahead.” So, it seems to me that it is necessary for us to fully understand these two events—and I could not think of a better way of understanding these events than through the observations of John Bosch, who was an eye-witness to both events. In fact, the family of Abdu’l-Baha told John Bosch that he was a witness to these events on behalf of all American Baha’is.
Baha’i Blog: What was the process like to put this book together?
The story of John Bosch’s life is told through his personal letters and personal accounts. John wrote a striking account of the passing of Abdu’l-Baha, as well as a detailed account of the reading of His will and testament. These accounts are preserved in this book and will be highly valuable to any Baha’i who wishes to have a feeling of what it must have been like to be in the room of Abdu’l-Baha just moments after His passing, when His body was still warm, and how John Bosch assisted with the placing of the Master’s body in His coffin and how he participated in the carrying of His coffin up the slopes of Mount Carmel to the Shrine of the Bab. John Bosch’s descriptions will take your breath away!
Baha’i Blog: What’s something that you learned while writing this book?
Although I knew about John Bosch’s presence in Haifa at the time of the passing of the Master, and I knew about his work to establish a permanent Baha’i school, I was not aware of how actively John Bosch worked to promote race unity. Chapter 9 of the book begins with an account of Louis Gregory’s talk on race unity given in 1926 in San Francisco. Many readers will be familiar with this particular talk because it is the talk wherein Louis Gregory develops the analogy of the “lever of Archimedes” and how, like a lever, the message of Baha’u’llah gives us the power “to move the world.” John Bosch was in the audience listening to Louis Gregory’s talk, and, as a result, John’s teaching efforts to advance the principle of racial justice were guided and influenced by that talk given by Louis Gregory. Further in that same chapter of this biography, many readers will be keenly interested in reading the transcript of Sadie Oglesby’s address to the 1927 U.S Baha’i National Convention—an address that is (aside from the Guardian’s letters) unrivalled in its directness about the responsibilities of Whites in their efforts to gain the trust of Blacks who are interested in joining the Cause of Baha’u’llah—and all of this a decade before the Guardian’s 1938 letter called “The Advent of Divine Justice”!
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope readers will take away with them, long after they’ve read the last page?
When I began this book, one of the archivists at our National Baha’i Archives reminded me that many books can be written on John Bosch—this is just the first one. It is comprised of letters and personal papers from the treasure trove of our U.S. Baha’i Archives. Our U.S. National Spiritual Assembly is very generous in allowing the Baha’is such open access to the gems that are there! I made sure that each chapter has a spiritual gift—a little surprise to delight the heart—and some chapters have more than one spiritual gift. By the time one gets to the last page of the last chapter, the reader will feel as though they have been given a box of gifts from our U.S. Baha’i Archives.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Angelina! You can purchase ‘John David Bosch: In the Vanguard of Heroes, Martyrs, and Saints’ here on Amazon.