Bahá’ís come from virtually every national, ethnic and religious background, making the Bahá’í Faith the second most widespread religion in the world. The Bahá’í Faith is the youngest of the world’s independent religions. Since its inception in Persia (now Iran) in 1844, it has grown to more than five million followers in 236 countries and territories. Bahá’ís believe in one loving Creator, one unfolding religion and one human family.
The worldwide Bahá’í community is working to give practical expression to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of world unity by putting his writings into practice and living out core Bahá’í teachings. Bahá’ís advocate for spiritual solutions based on the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on issues such as the elimination of all forms of prejudice with an emphasis on race unity, the equality of women and men, the spiritual education of children, the importance of family cohesion, and the establishment of world peace.
The Bahá’í Faith has been an active part of religious and social life in Middle Tennessee since the 1930’s. Below is a photograph of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Nashville, Tennessee.
At the local level, the affairs of the Bahá’í community are administered by the Local Spiritual Assembly. Each Local Assembly consists of nine members who are chosen in annual elections. As with all other elected Bahá’í institutions, the Assembly functions as a body and makes decisions through consultation.
History of the Bahá’í Faith in Nashville
The Nashville Bahá’í community can trace its spiritual roots to Louis Gregory’s teaching work in 1915.
Louis George Gregory was the descendant of black slaves and white slave owners, yet he devoted his life to championing unity among the races in the United States during the early 1900s. Louis Gregory grew up in the last turbulent decades of the 19th century and experienced the full measure of its pain and its promise.
Louis Gregory’s education at the Avery Institute, Fisk University, and then Howard University’s School of Law established him as one of the “Talented Tenth,” the term coined by W.E.B. Dubois for capable and educated African Americans at the time.
In 1907, during his employment as a lawyer for the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., Mr. Gregory was invited to a Bahá’í meeting that focused on racial unity and the oneness of humanity. In early June, 1909, after much study and thought, Louis Gregory became, in his words, “a confirmed believer” in the Bahá’í Faith.
He became so devoted to the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith that he gave up the financial security he enjoyed as a lawyer, a life of relative ease, for one of poverty in order to spend the rest of his life traveling and teaching the principals of racial harmony centered within the Baha’i Faith’s belief in the oneness of humanity.
For over twenty years, Mr. Gregory traveled to Nashville to share the Faith. In 1915, on one of these visits, he met George Henderson, who became the first Bahá’í in Nashville. Mr Gregory’s teaching efforts finally culminated in the formation of the first Local Spiritual Assembly in April 1935.
Mr. Gregory lived a life of service until his death on July 30, 1951, at the age of seventy-seven.
George W. Henderson was born on August 5, 1882, in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated from Austin High School in Knoxville and attended several colleges, earning degrees or certificates from each.
Around 1914, Mr. Henderson and his wife Fannie moved to Nashville, where he taught at Roger Williams Union University until moving to Memphis in 1917.
While living in Nashville, he met Louis Gregory, the first person to share the tenents of the Bahá’í Faith in Nashville. After hearing the Bahá’í teachings, Mr. Henderson declared himself a Bahá’í in 1915.
Mr. Henderson moved to Memphis in 1917 shortly after becoming a Bahá’í and established the successful black business college that bears his name. The Faith was well recieved there, and many students and teachers embraced its principles. In 1917, Louis Gregory reported that the Memphis Bahá’í community consisted of sixty people.
Mr. Henderson’s efforts over a period of more than twenty years, with the encouragement and assistance of Louis Gregory, finally culminated in the formation of the first Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Memphis in April 1941.
Mr. Henderson died on December 24, 1944, in Memphis, Tennessee.
After Mr. Henderson’s death, Louis Gregory published a tribute in The Bahá’í World, describing him as a “loved and respected public figure whose professional concerns and Bahá’í beliefs dominated his life.”