Louis G. Gregory, the advancement of racial unity in America.
©Copyright 1993, 1998 Richard N. Francis
The following Biography of Louis G. Gregory is a summary taken from the Bahá'í World, Vol. XII., written by Harlan F. Ober.
Louis G. Gregory was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 6, 1874. His father died when he was five years of age; until his mother remarried, matters were difficult for her and her two sons, and they were sometimes hungry. His stepfather was kind to him and when he became a youth, apprenticed him to a tailor. Later his stepfather paid the expenses of his first year at Fisk University, and Louis supported himself and put himself through this school by obtaining scholarships, by work at cleaning, pressing and tailoring for the students, and sometimes working as a waiter during the summer vacations.
After he graduated from Fisk he taught at Avery Institute, a small private school maintained by people from the North to help students of exceptional intellectual capacity. He had studied there as a young boy. After this period of teaching he began the study of law at Howard University, receiving his L.L.B. degree March 26, 1902. When he had passed the necessary examinations he began the practice of law in Washington, D.C., where he formed a partnership with another lawyer, James A. Cobb. They continued as law partners until 1906, when Louis took a position in the United States Treasury Department. James A. Cobb, later appointed Judge of the District Court, has written of Louis Gregory:
"It was my privilege to have known Mr. Gregory intimately from 1895 until a short time before his passing. I knew him as a student, teacher, practicing lawyer, lecturer and friend, and in each capacity he was strong and outstanding. In other words he was a fine student, a lovely character and a person with a great mind which he devoted to the betterment of mankind."
Louis first heard about the Bahá'í Faith while he was employed with the Government, in 1908. He always spoke with great love and appreciation of the cultivated, southern white gentleman, a co-worker in the same department, who first brought the Cause to his attention, saying: "I think that this is something that will interest you. I'm too old to investigate it. You are young and I would like you to do so." Although this gentleman did not accept the Faith, he was the means of putting Louis in contact with Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hannen, Bahá'ís of Washington, D.C., who taught him and exemplified in their lives the beauty of the Teachings, thereby attracting his heart. His first Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá came through Mr. Hannen. 'Abdu'l-Bahá called upon him to become the cause of guidance of both the white and the black races.
With a heart full of longing, Louis asked permission to visit the Holy Threshold, and in reply he received another Tablet early in 1910. 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated: ". . . Thou hast asked for permission to present thyself in this Holy Land; it is not at present in accord with wisdom. Postpone this matter to another and more appropriate time."
However, through the Bounty of God the doors opened, and in 1911 when 'Abdu'l-Bahá was in Ramleh, Egypt, Louis visited Him. He arrived in Ramleh on April 10, 1911. There and later in Haifa and 'Akká where he went to visit the sacred Shrines of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, he drank deeply from the ocean of inspiration, guidance and steadfastness. His notes of this visit and extracts from some tablets he received from 'Abdu'l-Bahá were printed in a booklet entitled A Heavenly Vista.
The words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá described this visit in Tablets written at that time, for it was apparent that this was not an ordinary pilgrimage. To an American Bahá'í 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote: "Mr. Gregory arrived with the utmost love and spirituality and returned with infinite happiness. He added to his faith and found firmness and steadfastness. Undoubtedly you shall see these things at the time of his arrival. It is my hope that he may become the cause of increasing the love of the friends and the maid-servants of the Merciful."
Louis did not return directly to the United States but, at the request of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, visited Germany amidst heavenly confirmations. Of this we are assured, because in a Tablet to one of the German friends 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote: "Your letter arrived and its contents showed that Mr. Gregory, by visiting the Blessed Tomb, has received a new power and a new life. When he arrived at Stuttgart, although being black color, yet he shone as a bright light in the meeting of the friends. . ."
Louis Gregory returned to the United States radiant and happy, filled with a zeal and determination to bring to pass the expectations and hopes of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He began a task which he pursued steadily until his death----to unify the white and black peoples of the world and to aid in establishing the oneness of humanity.
During the visit of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the United States in 1912 a luncheon in His honor was given in Washington by Mírzá Ali-Kuli Khan and Madame Khan, who were both Bahá'ís. Khan was at that time Charge d'Affaires of the Persian Legation in the capital city. Many noted people were invited, some of whom were members of the official and social life of Washington, as well as a few Bahá'ís. Just an hour before the luncheon "Abdu'l-Bahá sent word to Louis Gregory that he might come to Him for the promised conference. Louis arrived and was given the seat of honor at the Master's right. He stated He was very pleased to have Mr. Gregory there, and then, in the most natural way as if nothing unusual had happened, proceeded to give a talk on the oneness of mankind.
Louis Gregory married Louisa (Louise) Mathew on September 27, 1914 in Washington D.C. at the home of the Hannens. As an interracial marriage, it thrived despite many manifold obstacles. 'Abdu'l-Bahá addressed them when he stated: "I saw a seed in your heart."
Mrs. Agnes Parsons visited 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Holy Land in 1920. He asked her to labor for amity and unity between the white and black peoples.(1) The first Race Unity Conference resulted. It was held in Washington D.C. May 19-21, 1921 and was a great success, bringing together able and important representatives of both races. Mr. Gregory was one of the speakers and reported the proceedings of the Conference in the Star of the West. (2)
It is probable that no individual teacher in the Faith has traveled more extensively though out the United States than Louis Gregory. Living in the utmost simplicity, sacrificing at every turn, he spoke in schools, colleges, churches, forums, and conferences with individuals though out the land. With a marvelous blending of humility and courage, of tenderness and firmness and steadfastness, he met high and low, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, and gave to them the cup of the Water of Life. He spoke in Protestant, Catholic and Jewish schools and before nondenominational groups, and everywhere he was accepted.
For more than thirty-five years Louis Gregory was the mainspring behind the work for Race Amity. Whether as chairman of the Bahá'í National Committee for Race Unity or as a member, and he was either one or the other for a great many years, or as an individual, he was tireless in his activities in promoting unity. This was the case even in the face of opposition with some of the Bahá'ís as well as outside. In 1947, at Atlanta, the Ku Klux Klan broke up an interracial Bahá'í meeting. Other Bahá'ís were evicted by landlords because Louis visited them. These hostilities assured that the Bahá'í Faith would grow.
Green Acre, in Eliot, Maine, was the scene of Unity Conferences at which prominent leaders shard the platform with Mr. Gregory, the moving force and the organizer, oftentimes completely in the background. He never lost sight of the goal.
He was elected a member of the National Spiritual Assembly and served faithfully for many years. Upon being elected, Shoghi Effendi wrote to him, stating that he welcomed his election. However the Guardian wished him to concentrate, first and foremost, upon the teaching work and to arrange his affairs in such a way that no administrative responsibilities would in any way interfere with the effective conduct of his teaching work. This Louis Gregory accomplished by arranging his teaching trips so that the itinerary allowed him to attend the meeting of the National Spiritual Assembly. That his dependable, trustworthy and faithful services were appreciated is evidenced by the many letters he received from the Guardian through the years. He made the Guardian happy, and he wrote: "Your letter has infused strength and joy in my heart. . ."
The capacities of Louis Gregory were versatile, for he shone equally as a delegate to the Convention, as secretary of the Convention, as a recording secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly, as a speaker and as a writer. Articles by him appeared in the Star of the West, The Bahá'í Magazine, the World Order Magazine, and in nearly every issue of The Bahá'í World. These articles like the addresses he gave are thoughtful, factual and filled with the spirit of love and exaltation that characterized his life.
Twice at the invitation of the great black educator, Booker T. Washington, Louis Gregory visited Tuskegee Institute and was called upon to address the students on the Bahá'í Faith. Their response to the Bahá'í ideals and principles was most enthusiastic. Here, he made the acquaintance of Dr. George Washington Carver, who showed the utmost appreciation of the Faith. This was the beginning of an increasingly rich friendship. Whenever Mr.. Gregory went to Tuskegee, and he visited there many times, he had understanding and sympathetic talks with Dr. Carver in his famous laboratory or in his room.
When a serious operation and increasing bodily weakness curtailed his traveling and he was obliged to stay in Eliot and be content with shorter trips, Louis turned to correspondence and to a deeper study of the Teachings. His spiritual awareness became increasingly vivid. He lived again the high lights of his life. He drew ever nearer to the beloved of his heart, the Guardian.
On July 30, 1951 Louis Gregory passed away. His body was laid to rest in the cemetery at Eliot, Maine the following day. In November of that same year, a memorial service was held in the Bahá'í House of Worship, Wilmette, Illinois and was attended by friends from various parts of the United States and Canada. The Bahá'í school and site of the first Bahá'í radio station in the United States, WLGI, is named in his honor.
Louis Gregory was indeed, "golden-hearted".
1. See Session # 4 in this presentation, Martha Root, Herald of the Kingdom, Lioness at the Threshold, Bahá'í Deepening Series. 2. The Star of the West, vol. 12, p.115, June 1921.