Honoring a pioneer of racial harmony
CHARLESTON, SC, United States — Honoring an early American Baha'i who was also a leader in promoting racial harmony, the local Baha'i community of Charleston has created a museum in the former home of Louis G. Gregory.
The museum was dedicated in a celebration, running 7-9 February 2003, which was attended by more than 300 people. Dedication program highlights included a multicultural arts presentation, two workshops on race relations, a tour of the museum and nearby sites important to Mr. Gregory, and a devotional gathering.
Born in 1874, Louis Gregory was a successful lawyer and rising star among early black intellectuals who grappled with issues of race relations in the United States at the turn of the century. In 1909, he embraced the Baha'i Faith and turned his energies toward promoting unity among the races. For his work, he was posthumously given the title "Hand of the Cause of God" by the Head of the Baha'i Faith in 1951.
"He was a leader in the community, who saw an opportunity to use another vehicle, one which theoretically transcended race and looked at the basic humanity of all people," said Curtis Franks, curator of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston.
"The opening of the museum provides an opportunity to further educate people about Louis Gregory and, also, to revisit history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries at a time when people -- especially within the black community -- had to deal with segregation and oppression," said Mr. Franks, who has also agreed to serve as curator of the Louis Gregory Museum.
The museum, a small, two-story wood-frame house, stands in the heart of the Charleston peninsula, in an historic neighborhood of houses built by freedmen. Mr. Gregory's family moved there as a child after his widowed mother married George Gregory, who became the beloved stepfather whose name he took.
The Baha'is of Charleston acquired the house in 1989 through a real estate auction. Henry Wigfall, a member of the Charleston Baha'i community, recognized the address on a list of property to be auctioned and immediately bid on it, later obtaining contributions from Baha'is to make good on the bid.
Over the last decade, the house has been renovated and refurbished. With the help of Avery Research Center staff, exhibits of Mr. Gregory's personal effects, photographs, and correspondence have been prepared.
Jacquelyn Jones, chair of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Charleston, which oversaw the museum project, said the Baha'i community was pleased to be able to establish a museum in a city which was already rich in history.
She noted that it was the first museum in the city to honor a specific person. "This city was the main port of entry for North America's enslaved Africans and it witnessed the opening shots of the Civil War," said Ms. Jones. "It is poignant that the first person so honored would be a descendant of enslaved Africans who dedicated his life to harmony among the races."
For more information, visit the Museum's website at http://www.louisgregorymuseum.org