‘Abdu’l-Bahá stirred up a revolution on race relations when visiting America in 1912 at a time of many restrictions for African-Americans. He rarely criticized others or over-emphasized any tenants of the Bahá’í Faith except His insistence on race amity and equality of all races.
Along those lines, He personally encouraged the marriage of Hand of the Cause Louis Gregory, an African-American man and Louisa Mathews, a white British woman which resulted in the first inter-racial Bahá’í marriage of its kind while He was still in America.
In God Passes By, the Guardian cites this marriage as one of the acts ‘Abdu’l-Bahá undertook while on this hemisphere that defined the significance of His trip:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá frequently urged inter-racial marriage. Bringing the Gregorys together in marriage is considered in Baha’i history as an “exemplary act” of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and one of the most significant of the acts He carried out during His time in the United States.
This most important union of Louis Gregory and Louisa (Louise) Mathew took place on September 27, 1912 in New York as conditions in Washington D.C. were rather unfavorable to inter-racial marriages and it allowed them to be a little more discreet. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in Colorado at the time of the wedding on His way to California but He praised this marriage greatly and addressed them when He stated: “I saw a seed in your heart.”
Gregory was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 6, 1874. His father died when he was five years of age. Later, through help from his stepfather and working hard as a tailor and waiter in the summers, Gregory was able to gain admittance into Fisk University and later studied law at Howard University, receiving his degree in 1902.
He met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Ramleh, Egypt in 1911 on his way to the Holy Land for pilgrimage and met Louisa Mathews for the first time there.
Gregory worked tirelessly on race unity in the face of opposition with some of the Bahá’ís as well as the general public. He was elected to the National Spiritual of the United States and served on that body for many years. At the urging of the Guardian, he traveled extensively to teach the Faith and worked on issues of race unity around the country particularly in the south.
Louisa Mathews was born in 1866 and accepted the Faith in Paris. She traveled with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the S.S. Cedric to the U.S. From the 1920s onward Louisa spent most of the year teaching the Faith in Eastern Europe, returning to the U.S. in the summers to be with her husband.
Their interracial marriage survived the many obstacles of the time and thrived for nearly 40 years until Louis Gregory’s passing on July 30, 1951. He is buried in the cemetery at Eliot, Maine. Louisa passed away in 1956 and is buried next to her beloved husband in Eliot.
The Bahá’í school and site of the first Bahá’í radio station in South Carolina, WLGI, is named in his honor.
God Passes By
Promulgation of Universal Peace
To Move the World
Photo from http://centenary.bahai.us//