Louis George Gregory

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Louis George Gregory (born June 6, 1874 in Charleston, South Carolina; died July 30, 1951 in Eliot, Maine) was a prominent member of the Bahá'í Faith posthumously appointed a Hand of the Cause, the highest appointed position in the Bahá'í Faith, by Shoghi Effendi.

Early years[edit]

He was born on June 6, 1874 to African-American parents liberated during the Civil War whose number included his future stepfather 1st Sgt. George Gregory. His mother was Mary Elizabeth whose mother, Mary, was African and whose father was an enslaver named George Washington Dargan of the Rough Fork plantation in Darlington, South Carolina. When Gregory was four years old, his father, Ebaneezer George died, and his mother remarried to George Gregory. At this point Louis George Gregory took the name of his step father.

During his elementary schooling, Gregory attended the first public school that was open to both African Americans and whites in Charleston, South Carolina. He then attended the Avery Institute, a private secondary school in Charleston, and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he completed his Bachelor's Degree. He continued on to Howard University in Washington D.C., one of the few universities to accept black graduate students, to study law and received his LL.B degree in March 1902. He was admitted to the bar, and along with another young lawyer, James A. Cobb, opened a law office in Washington D.C. The partnership ended in 1906, after Gregory started to work in the United States Department of the Treasury.

Becoming a Bahá'í[edit]

At the Treasury, Gregory met Thomas H. Gibbs, with whom he formed a close relationship. Gibbs, while not being a Bahá'í himself, shared information about the religion to Gregory, and Gregory attended a Bahá'í lecture by Lua Getsinger in 1907. In that meeting he met Pauline Hannen and her husband who invited him to many other meetings throughout the next couple years. When the Hannens received permission in 1909 to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá in Palestine after he was freed from the Ottoman Empire, Gregory returned to law, establishing his practice in Washington D.C. When the Hannens returned, Gregory once again started attending Bahá'í meetings and on July 23, 1909 wrote to the Hannens that he was an adherent of the Bahá'í Faith:

"It comes to me that I have never taken occasion to thank you specifically for all your kindness and patience, which finally culminated in my acceptance of the great truths of the Bahá'í Revelation. It has given me an entirely new conception of Christianity and of all religion, and with it my whole nature seems changed for the better...It is a sane and practical religion, which meets all the varying needs of life, and I hope I shall ever regard it as a priceless possession."

At this point, Gregory started organizing Bahá'í meetings as well, including one under the auspices of the Bethel Literary and Historical Society, a Negro organization of which he was president previously.[1] He also wrote to `Abdu'l-Bahá, who responded to Gregory that he had high expectations of Gregory in the realm of race relations. Gregory at this point stopped working as a lawyer and travelled, wrote and lectured on the subject of racial unity.

In 1910, he travelled to Richmond, Virginia, Durham, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina and Macon, Georgia where he taught about the Bahá'í Faith. He also participated in the early Bahá'í administration. In February 1911 he was elected to the Washington's Working Committee of the Bahá'í Assembly, the first African-American to serve on that position.

Louis G. and Louisa Mathew Gregory

Pilgrimage[edit]

On March 25, 1911, at the behest of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Gregory sailed from New York through Europe to Egypt and Palestine to go on pilgrimage. In Palestine, Gregory met with `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and visited the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and the Shrine of the Báb. After he had returned to Egypt from Palestine, the discussion of race unity in the United States came about with `Abdu'l-Bahá and the other pilgrims. `Abdu'l-Bahá stated that there was no distinction between the races, and then gave blackberries to each of the pilgrims, which Gregory interpreted as the symbolic sharing of black-coloured fruit. During this time, `Abdu'l-Bahá also started encouraging Gregory and Louisa Mathew, a white Englishwoman who was also a pilgrim, to get to know each other; on September 27, 1912, Gregory and Mathew married becoming the first Bahá'í interracial couple.

After leaving Egypt, Gregory travelled to Germany, before returning to the United States, where he spoke at a number of gatherings to Bahá'ís and their friends. When he returned to the United States he continued to travel mainly the southern United States talking about the Bahá'í Faith but elsewhere as well.[2] In 1912, during `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to the United States, Gregory organized speaking engagements at Howard University and the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church for him.

During his travels, whenever he was accompanied by his wife, they received a range of different reactions because interracial marriage was illegal or unrecognized in a majority of the states at that time.

Later years[edit]

During the same year, on April 30, 1912, he was the only African-American elected to the first national administrative body of the Bahá'í Faith in America. Later, he was also the first African-American to be elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, a body which he would be elected to in 1922, 1924, 1927, 1932, 1934 and 1946. Correspondence and activities he carried on sometimes was carried in local newspapers in the US and beyond.[3][4][5] In his later years, he travelled to Africa and Haiti teaching the Bahá'í Faith.

Gregory died aged seventy-seven on July 30, 1951. He is buried at the Green Acre Bahá'í school in Eliot, Maine. On his death, Shoghi Effendi cabled to the American Bahá'í community:

"Profoundly deplore grievous loss of dearly beloved, nobleminded, golden hearted Louis Gregory, pride and example to the Negro adherents of the Faith ... Rising Bahá'í generation in African continent will glory in his memory and emulate his example."

He was posthumously appointed a Hand of the Cause by Shoghi Effendi.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas, Richard Walter (2006). Lights of the spirit: historical portraits of Black Bahá'ís in North America. US Baha'i Publishing Trust. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-1-931847-26-1. 
  2. ^ "Mr. Louis G. Gregory...". The Appeal ((Saint Paul, MN, USA). 17 June 1911. p. 2 (5th col, down from top). Retrieved Oct 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Bahai Movement". The Dallas Express (Denton, TX, USA). January 3, 1920. p. 9 (3rd col, down from top). Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  4. ^ Lowery, Rev. L. E. (February 19, 1921). "Rev. L. E. Lowery's Column; The Bahai Movement". The Southern indicator (Columbia, SC, USA). p. 6 (3rd col, top). Retrieved Oct 12, 2013. 
  5. ^ Chandler, Rev. C. W. (18 March 1944). "He Hath Made of One Blood All The Nations". Auckland Star (Aukland, Australia). p. 4. Retrieved Oct 12, 2013. 

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