Religion & ethics
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Boyhood home of Baha'i now a place to learn, pray
By Christina Knauss
Knight Ridder Newspapers
CHARLESTON, S.C. Few people who pass the serene exterior of the two-story house at 2 Desportes Court know of its
historic ties to a religion founded in Persia. Since early February, the house has been home to the Louis G. Gregory Baha'i Museum.
It bears the name of Gregory, who was born in Charleston to freed slaves and became a leading figure in the 158-year
history of the Baha'i faith.
The house, once a dilapidated shell, has been preserved and transformed into a museum through the efforts of Baha'is from
around the United States.
In 1988, Charleston resident Henry Wigfall attended a downtown real estate auction.
While reading through a listing of properties for sale, Wigfall, a Baha'i, recognized the address as Louis G. Gregory's
Wigfall tried to bid on the property that day but didn't have the money. He then turned to members of the Charleston
Baha'i community, who opened their pockets and solicited money from other Baha'is.
"We're proud of it because we did it all ourselves, from within the Baha'i community," said Wigfall, now one of the
museum's curators. "Funds came from around Charleston, around the state and the nation. People held bake sales, and kids opened their piggy
Baha'i belief mandates that Baha'is may not accept donations from outside their faith to build and maintain facilities.
Donations made to the museum would go to charities in the Charleston area.
The Charleston Baha'i community officially bought the home in 1989 and started restoration work. In February, after more
than 14 years of effort, the house was reopened and dedicated as a museum.
Today, work still remains, but the museum is a quiet, elegant tribute to a man and his message.
The first floor is home to a light, airy exhibit room that features photos and personal mementos from Gregory's life.
On display are his diploma from Howard University and his license to practice law, as well as programs from conferences on
racial unity that Gregory offered in the '20s and '30s.
Enclosed in a glass case is a brochure describing a pilgrimage Gregory made in the 1930s to Baha'i holy places in the
Middle East, including a holy shrine in what is now Haifa, Israel. There are also photos of Gregory with his wife and other prominent Baha'is,
as well as many of his personal letters.
The museum's second floor features an elegantly furnished prayer and conference room, used by Baha'is for meetings and
devotional time. The floors of the museum are decked with lush Persian rugs donated by a Baha'i member.
Soon, staff members hope to add new photos of Baha'i holy places and more informational displays about the Baha'i faith to
the museum's second floor.
Gregory was born in Charleston in 1874 to Mary Elizabeth and Ebenezer George. After Ebenezer died five years later, Mary
Elizabeth married Col. George Gregory, a freeborn native of Charleston who had served in the Union Army.
For much of Louis G. Gregory's childhood, he and his brother Theodore lived in the house at 2 Desportes Court.
Gregory was reared a Christian but embraced the Baha'i faith after discovering it in 1909. By then, he was a lawyer in
The Baha'i message of the unity of all humanity appealed to Gregory, whose work as a lawyer focused largely on issues of
racial equality and justice.
He quickly became a prominent figure and one of the first prominent African-Americans in the Baha'i faith. In
1912, Gregory was elected to the faith's nine-member national administrative board, a position he held until late in his life. Also that year,
he married the British-born Louisa Mathew.
Gregory gave up his law practice and a real estate business to travel the country teaching the Baha'i principles of what
he called "race unity." He spoke everywhere he was able, at churches, colleges, civic groups and women's clubs. His efforts continued until he
was sidelined by failing health in 1946. Gregory died in Maine in 1951.
At his death, high officials in the Baha'i faith gave Gregory the "Hand of the Cause," an honor given to only 47 others in
the faith's history.
Today, Gregory's name has been given to schools and spiritual centers.
©Copyright 2003, Deseret News (UT, USA)
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