Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 26 October 2018.Phone: 706-863-9498
In the 1910s, an African American Baha’i convert named Louis Gregory traveled all over the South giving speeches on the faith. Gregory, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, was well educated and eloquent; he had graduated from law school at Howard University and was a practicing attorney when he became interested in Baha’i teachings.
While it is unclear whether Gregory spoke in Augusta, he certainly spoke in communities in nearby South Carolina. The first reference to a Baha’i community in Augusta was in a letter that someone traveling with Gregory wrote back to Baha’i headquarters, in 1914. The letter described a new group there and expressed high hopes for the future of Augusta and Georgia.
In the 1930s, Dr. Zia Bagdadi, an influential Baha’i figure, arrived in Augusta with his wife and child. Bagdadi had been sent to the United States by 'Abdu'l-Baha (the son of Baha'u'llah, and the appointed leader of the Baha’i Faith after Baha'u'llah’s passing.) Bagdadi, who received a medical degree in the U.S., first lived in Chicago, serving at the Baha'i National Center, and assisting the U.S. Baha'i community in translating correspondence from 'Abdu'l-Baha from Persian to English.
According to research done by Augusta Baha’i James Schear, Bagdadi – who was a friend of Louis Gregory’s – was very active in promoting race unity, and thus seems to have been particularly interested in serving in the South. He moved to Florida, but was denied a medical license there, and eventually made his way to Augusta. In Augusta he practiced medicine, made numerous presentations on the Baha'i faith, traveled around the state to promote race unity, and was an invited speaker on several occasions on a local Sunday religious program. He died in Augusta in 1937.
In 1957, current member Yvonne Harrop moved to Augusta from Chicago, in large part to encourage the survival of the Baha’i faith in the South. At that time, there were 20 members, and they were both black and white -- a controversial circumstance in Augusta at the time. For services in the 1950s, Harrop recalled, they rented a back room in the Augusta Garden Club building (the Old Medical College) for ten dollars a month. When the president of the Garden Club discovered they were an integrated group, however, they were “politely” uninvited.
Harrop relates another racially motivated incident in the early 1960s. While conducting a fireside meeting at a member’s house, the host calmly asked if everyone would please sit on the floor. There were people in her backyard, she said, and it was unclear whether or not they were armed. The neighbors were intending to intimidate the Baha’is, members believed, because they were holding interracial meetings.
In recent years, Harrop says, the Augusta Baha’i community has “matured.” Although individual members come and go, the community’s numbers have stayed steady over the past decade, she says.
For a related history of the Baha’i faith in South Carolina, see Tracy Wells' profile of the Columbia Metro Baha'i Communities.
In Augusta, the Baha’i community is relatively small. Members meet most often in individuals’ houses. There is not yet a Baha’i center (building) in Augusta.
LeadershipThe Baha'i Faith has no clergy. The local leadership committee, the nine-person Spiritual Assembly, is elected by Baha'is 21 years of age and older in a particular local area. Delegates elect the National Spiritual Assembly once a year, usually in April. Members of the National Spiritual Assemblies from around the world elect the Baha’i international governing body -The Universal House of Justice - every five years.
DemographicsThere are approximately 50 Baha’is in Augusta. They come from diverse occupational and professional backgrounds; some local Baha’is have been seamstresses, homemakers, hair stylists, telemarketing salespersons, teachers, office managers, physicians, psychologists, medical students, dental students, nurses, nonprofit employees. Most are first generation converts. According to the estimates of one member, the local community is approximately 40-50 percent white, 25-30 percent Persian (Iranian), and 25-30 percent African American. They would always like, members say, to become more diverse racially and ethnically.
Activities and ScheduleLocal Baha'is come together for a Baha'i Feast once every 19 days, which conforms to the nineteen day month of the Baha’i calendar. These Feasts, held at members’ homes, are spiritual gatherings consisting of three parts. The first is the reading the Holy Scripture, or selections from Baha’i writings or the scriptures of other religions. There is then an administrative portion that involves sharing correspondence from the National Spiritual Assembly and sometimes the Universal House of Justice, reports from the Local Spiritual Assembly, and consultation among the friends (members) regarding goals and activities of the community. The third portion of Feast is fellowship among the friends.
Baha'i communities have established devotional meetings where the public is invited to join in prayer. These are held at least once a week.
"Firesides" are meetings open to the public designed to share information about the Baha'i faith. Topics often include the history of the faith, the teachings of Baha'u'llah -- including the oneness of mankind, independent investigation of truth, the common foundation of all religions, the essential harmony of science and religion, equality of woman and men, elimination of prejudice of all kinds, universal compulsory education, a spiritual solution of economic problems, a universal auxiliary language, and universal peace upheld by a world government. Local firesides are organized either by the nine-member Spiritual Assembly, or by individual Baha’is. To announce firesides, the Baha'is of the CSRA (Central Savannah River Area) sponsor an ad that appears in the religion section of the Augusta Chronicle .
Area Baha’is have encouraged active volunteer service for young people. One young woman went to a Navajo reservation for a year. Another young woman made two months-long trips to Korea to perform service, and also volunteered at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Members of the Baha'i community also sit on the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Human Relations, and the Augusta Character Coalition, Inc. One Baha'i is the coordinator of the local volunteer health clinic for Hispanic people. Another is a volunteer for the American Red Cross.
Local Baha’is are also present and past members of boards of directors of various interracial and intercultural groups aimed at promoting cooperation, and have been especially active in interfaith efforts, too. A member of the Baha'i community has been an annual presenter on the subject to the Leadership Augusta (a Chamber of Commerce affiliate program aimed at fostering leadership in the community). In addition, many Baha’is have made presentations to local churches, Augusta’s Jewish community, and the Islamic Society. After September 11th, the community also supported interfaith efforts organized by the Islamic community to promote tolerance and education locally.