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".
- See Session # 4 in this presentation, Martha
Root, Herald of the Kingdom, Lioness at the Threshold, Bahá'í Deepening Series.
- The Star of the West, vol. 12, p.115, June 1921.