May 22, 2010

Louis Gregory – First Hand of the Cause of Negro race; “noble-minded”; “golden-hearted”; “pride (and) example (to the) Negro adherents (of the) Faith”


by, Harlan F. Ober

"Profoundly deplore grievous loss dearly beloved, noble-minded, golden-hearted Louis Gregory, pride (and) example (to the) Negro adherents (of the) Faith, keenly feel loss (of) one so loved, admired (and) trusted (by) 'Abdu'l-Baha. Deserves rank (of) first Hand (of) his race. Rising Baha'i generation African continent will glory (in) his memory (and) emulate his example. Advise hold memorial gathering (in) Temple (in) token recognition (of his) unique position, outstanding services."
-Shoghi
Cablegram received August 6, 1951.

Dearly loved, universally respected Louis G. Gregory passed away on July 30, 1951. Although he had been frail in body for many months, the luminous spirit and great heart were so apparent, so overwhelming, that none anticipated his sudden departure.

Only a week before, he had arranged and carried out a meeting in his home in Eliot, Maine, where he discussed the prophecies in the Bible, with their import for these perilous times. The dozen or more who gathered there will forever treasure this meeting which proved to be his last. Seated at his desk, his warm and radiant smile welcoming everyone, with his indescribable spiritual dignity, a manifest evidence of the world in which he lived, he carried on the meeting with joy and radiance.

His body was laid to rest in the burying ground at Eliot, Maine. On Wednesday afternoon, August 1, a Memorial Service was held at Fellowship House in the large room which was filled to overflowing, not only with the members of the Eliot Baha'I Community but also with the many friends who were attending the Green Acre Baha'I School. In this room he had conducted teaching meetings, fireside groups and conferences on race amity, the subject so close to his heart, and it seemed fitting that in this beautiful spot the prayers of the friends should pour forth in gratitude for such a wonderful life lived in their midst, and in supplication for his eternal progress.

On November 24, 1951, a memorial service was held in the Baha'i House of Worship, Wilmette, Illinois, under the auspices of the National Spiritual Assembly. It was attended by friends from various parts of the United States and Canada who had come to pay tribute to this great soul.

Louis Gregory was born in Charleston, South Carolina, June 6, 1874. His father died when he was five years of age; until his mother married again 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 university 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 LL.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. Those of us who knew him well cannot but mourn his loss, but there should be some comfort in the fact that he lived long and well, and those with whom he came in contact were and are better for their association with him. In fact, he was one of those who enriched the life of America."

Louis first heard about the Baha'i 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 am 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, Baha’is 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-Baha came through Mr. Hannen.

We know at present relatively little about his childhood and youth. The picture of his mother reveals a person of great love and spiritual beauty. We have no picture of his father. When we realize how well prepared Louis was for the Baha'i teachings, we can well appreciate how deep and wide his inner life had really been. There is no doubt that he was created with a great destiny and that time would show that in the history of his race he would stand among its leaders. In fact, in response to his letter to 'Abdu'l-Baha telling of his acceptance of the Faith, 'Abdu'l-Baha called upon him to become the cause of guidance of both the white and the colored races. In this beautiful Tablet 'Abdu'l-Bahi wrote:

"O Thou Wooer of Truth! Thy letter was received. Its contents indicated thy attainment to the Most Great Guidance. Thank God that thou hast attained to such a bounty, discovered the Path of the Kingdom and received the Glad-Tidings of the Universe of the Most High. This Divine Bestowal is conducive to the Everlasting Glory in both worlds. I hope that thou mayest become the Herald of the Kingdom, become the means whereby the white and colored peoples shall close their eyes to racial differences and behold the reality of humanity, and that is the universal unity which is the oneness of the kingdom of the human race, the basic harmony of the world and the appearance of the Bounty of the Almighty.

'"In brief, do not look upon thy weak body and thy limited capacity; look thou upon the Bounties and Providence of the Lord of the Kingdom, for His confirmation is great, and His Power unparalleled and incomparable. . . ."

With a heart full of longing, Louis asked permission to visit the Holy Threshold, and in reply he received another Tablet early in 1910:

". . . 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-Baha was in Ramleh, Egypt, Louis visited Him. He arrived in Ramleh on April 10, 1911. There and later in Haifa and 'Akka where he went to visit the sacred Shrines of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, 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-Baha were printed in a booklet entitled ‘A Heavenly Vista’.

The words of 'Abdu'l-Baha described this visit in Tablets written at that time, for it was apparent that this was not an ordinary pilgrimage. To an American Baha'i 'Abdu'l-Baha 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."

To another 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote: "Mr. Gregory is at present in great happiness; he went to 'Akka and visited the Holy Threshold and the Supreme Court. He is now, day and night mingling with the friends of God and 'Abdu'l-Baha, in joy and gladness. He will return to America very soon, and you, the white people, should then honor and welcome this shining colored man in such a way that all the people will be astonished."

Louis did not return directly to the United States but, at the request of 'Abdu'l-Baha, visited Germany amidst heavenly confirmations. Of this we are assured, because in a Tablet to one of the German friends 'Abdu'l-Baha 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 of 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 a determination to bring to pass the expectations and hopes of 'Abdu'l-Baha. He began a task which he pursued steadily until his death -- to unify the white and colored peoples of the world and to aid in establishing the oneness of humanity.

During the visit of 'Abdu'l-Baha in the United States in 1912 a luncheon in His honor was given in Washington by Mirza Ali-Kuli Khan and Madame Khan, who were both Baha'is. 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 Baha’is. Just an hour before the luncheon 'Abdu'l-Baha sent word to Louis Gregory that he might come to Him for the promised conference. Louis arrived at the appointed time, and the conference went on and on; 'Abdu'l-Baha seemed to want to prolong it. When luncheon was announced, 'Abdu'l-Baha led the way and all followed Him into the dining room, except Louis. All were seated when suddenly 'Abdu'l-Baha stood up, looked all around, and then said to Mirza Khan, Where is Mr. Gregory? Bring Mr. Gregory! There was nothing for Mirza Khan to do but find Mr. Gregory, who fortunately had not yet left the house, but was quietly waiting for a chance to do so. Finally Mr. Gregory came into the room with Mirza Khan. 'Abdu'l-Baha, Who was really the Host (as He was wherever He was), had by this time rearranged the place setting and made room for Mr. Gregory, giving him the seat of honor at His 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.

Addressing Mr. and Mrs. Gregory in the early months of 1914 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote:

"O ye two believing souls! Continually do I remember you. I beg of God that through you, good fellowship may be obtained between the white and colored races, for you are the introduction to this accomplishment . . . I know also that your thought and mention by day and by night is the guidance of souls . . . white and black. Therefore be ye most happy, because ye are confirmed in this great matter."

When Mrs. Agnes Parsons visited 'Abdu'l-Baha in the Holy Land in 1920 He asked her to inaugurate, in Washington, D.C., the first Conference for Amity and Unity between the white and colored peoples. Assisted by a capable committee Mrs. Parsons organized this Conference. It was held in Washington, May 19-21, 1921, and was a great success, bringing together able and important representatives of both white and colored peoples. It became a prototype of many similar meetings held in cities large and small throughout the United States and Canada in the years to come. Mr. Gregory was one of the speakers and reported the proceedings of the Conference in the Star of the West?

It is probable that no individual teacher in the Faith has traveled more extensively throughout the United States than Mr. Gregory. Living in the utmost simplicity, sacrificing at every turn, he spoke in schools, colleges, churches, forums, conferences and with individuals throughout the land. With a marvelous blending of humility and courage, of tenderness and adamantine 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.

His radiant and gentle spirit opened the doors for those who followed after him; many a Baha’i teacher seeking an opening to teach has been met with the words: "O yes! We know Mr. Gregory and we love him. If you are a friend of his, you are welcome."

For more than thirty-five years Louis Gregory was the mainspring behind the work for Race Amity. Whether as chairman of the Baha'i 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.

Green Acre, in Eliot, Maine, was the scene of many Unity Conferences at which prominent leaders shared 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. When he was elected, Shoghi Effendi wrote him that he welcomed his election but that he 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 meetings 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. In one of his letters Shoghi Effendi wrote:

"Your letter has infused strength and joy in my heart . . . For your own dear self, I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for the heroic constancy, mature wisdom, tireless energy and shining love with which you are conducting your ever expanding work of service to the Cause of Baha'u'llah.You hardly realize what a help you are to me in my arduous task."

The capacities of Louis Gregory were versatile, for he shone equally as a delegate to the Convention, as secretary of the Convention, as the 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 Baha'i Magazine, the World Order Magazine, and in nearly every issue of The Baha'i 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 Negro educator, Booker T. Washington, Louis Gregory visited Tuskegee Institute and was called upon to address the students on the Baha'i Faith. Their response to the Baha'i ideals and principles was most enthusiastic. Here he made the acquaintance of that outstanding Negro genius and man of God, 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.

Louis Gregory's spiritual position was so well centered in the Teachings and in his complete obedience to 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian that he held the banner of oneness high in the heavens yet never became the subject of controversy. He showed infinite patience, for his faith in the goal of his hopes was such that he possessed a long range view, and he met every opposition or intolerance with understanding and radiant acquiescence. His heart was full of fire but he knew the wishes of 'Abdu'l-Baha and transmuted that fire into brilliant light.

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 Gregory 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. In retrospect we realize that he was being prepared for that transition which came suddenly to a great personage, a great lover of all mankind, "golden-hearted" Louis Gregory. (The Baha'i World, Vol. XII)