The Bahá'í Faith was founded in the 19th century in what was then called Persia. The simplest description might be what Bahá'ís call the "three onenesses":

  • The oneness of God -  God is the one imperishable, uncreated Being with whom the heart of people is connected.​

  • The oneness of humanity - "Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch."​

  • The oneness of religion - Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed to be the most recent, but not the last, in a series of divine educators which include Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and others, all as Messengers.


The beginning narrative history of the Bahá'í Faith begins in 1844, a time fraught with fervor and difficulty. Newspaper coverage starts the very next year -  1845 and progressively more widely in the 1850s  working it's way from Europe to America and beyond. Echoes of the 1850 mentions occur in Raleigh and Wilmington.(A) Indeed various early references exist.(B) The first fuller expression of the beliefs of the religion arrived during the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and the first United States citizen joined the religion just a couple years later  Thornton Chase. He was a Civil War Veteran and served in two black regiments as a white officer.. The first black American Bahá'í was Robert Turner in 1898. Another very early convert to the religion was Sarah Jane Farmer. She set up Green Acre for religions to meet and people to organize for peace.  In 1907 the Chicago Bahá'í Assembly incorporated, becoming the first local Bahá'í community in the world to acquire legal status. The American Bahá'í community, then numbering about a thousand members, began to build the first Bahá'í House of Worship in the West on the shores of Lake Michigan.(1)

The first Bahá'ís related to North Carolina were women from multiple ethnic backgrounds - European and African descents  - and each had direct contact with  `Abdu'l-Bahá who was then head of the religion: Sarah Jane Farmer, Pauline Knobloch Hannen and Pocahontas Kay Grizzard Pope. The very first was Sarah Jane Farmer who wintered in NC in 1902-3 with her aunt two years after she visited the Holy Land and became a Bahá'í.(1a) Another early contact was Pauline (Knobloch) Hannen, born in Washington DC and raised in Wilmington. She became a Bahá’í in DC in 1902, and was quickly followed by her husband, Joseph Hannen and several of her sisters from the family Knobloch. Through them the DC community quickly became an interracial one starting with Pocahontas Pope who learned of the religion thanks to Pauline.(2) Pope was from Halifax County and her husband's family was from Raleigh​. She and her husband left NC after some 15 years of service to rural black schools in the east of the State in 1898, became leading figures of black society in DC, and she joined the religion in 1906.(2c)  Through her husband she was related to Dr. Manassas T. Pope, Shaw University medical graduate and North Carolina's first licensed physician of African descent.​ Through Pocahontas and Pauline 14 more African-Americans joined the religion in DC by 1908. And the Hannens made trips to NC too -  in Raleigh in March 1908 and was in the city a month.(2d) The talk was held at the Olivia Raney Library. Though the newspaper notice of the talk doesn't mention the religion it is entirely possible Hannen did so sometime that month. Meanwhile the son of a North Carolina man was the first Bahá'í in South Carolina - his name was Alfonzo Twine.(2) He learned of the religion from Louis Gregory, who himself also learned of the religion from Pauline, during his brief sojourn as a teacher in Charleston SC in 1910. Twine passed in 1914.(2e)

Another very early Bahá'í would have been Mary Brown Martin who was born in Raleigh in 1877 into freedom her parents had received only late in life. In 1883 her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She visited `Abdu'l-Bahá when He was traveling in the United States in 1912. She joined the religion in 1913 and served long in public schools. In 1965 an elementary school was named for her in Cleveland.(3) Her grandparents were from the Boylan Plantation in Raleigh​.(4)​ ​Her husband self taught until he could enroll in college, became a lawyer and was one of five blacks in the nation to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 1895. Martin's daughter, Sarah Martin Pereira, lived in Raleigh 1933 to 1940 or so teaching at Shaw University would go on to be a member of the Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly of the United States from 1961 to 1973, and one of five counsellors worldwide of the religion from 1973 to 1985 for North and South America before retiring to Charlotte where she continued to serve on the local assembly from 1985 to 1994.​ Pereira passed away in 1995.(5) Indeed of all the Bahá'ís that have ever lived in NC, like Sarah, and served in the highest levels of the religion, all were black.

Pocahontas Pope is the one who received the following tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá(5a):

Render thanks to the Lord that among that race thou art the first believer, that thou hast engaged in spreading sweet-scented breezes, and hast arisen to guide others. … Although the pupil of the eye is black, it is the source of light. Thou shalt likewise be. The disposition should be bright, not the appearance. Therefore, with supreme confidence and certitude, say:

“O God!

Make me a radiant light, a shining lamp, and a brilliant star,

so that I may illumine the hearts with an effulgent ray from

Thy Kingdom of ‘Abhá.

After contact of North Carolinians with the Faith outside of the state there is an increasing pattern of contact inside the state. After Joseph Hannen's visit, the two of the earliest Bahá'ís to visit North Carolina are educator and writer Stanwood Cobb and lawyer Louis Gregory, again both having had direct contact with `Abdu'l-Bahá. Stanwood Cobb joined the religion in 1906, first visited `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1909, and was one of a number of people who gave talks on the occasion of Gregory's invitation to go on pilgrimage.(6) Louis Gregory joined the religion in 1909 and in 1910 undertook trips to promote the religion across the South. North Carolina - Durham and other cities - were among his stops. In 1911 he was invited to go on pilgrimage and made the return trip in 1912.(7) Cobb took several teaching positions and taught at Asheville School in Asheville in 1915-16. During his time there he published Ayesha of the Bosphorus: a romance of Constantinople and wrote The Essential Mysticism on Sundays after a day resting from the rigors to teaching. The director of the school - Cobb recalled - noted his absence from church services and "took me to task"… "it is also important that you set an example to the students by attending church" he was told.(6)

The April 1925 Baha'i News refers to an unnamed woman, "who, for seven years" has been promoting the religion "under dire circumstances" in Wilmington.(6f) This was probably Felice Sadgwar. She was the daughter of Frederick Cutlar Sadgwar,  built the "Sadgwar House" of Wilmington in 1889 and who was present in the Wilmington Insurrection violence, and, surviving that, still was moved by interracial unity enough that he followed his daughter and joined the religion in 1923 through other sources​.

Where previously we had isolated and small groups of Baha'is we now approach a time of the first communities of Baha'is in North Carolina. From the 1930s to 40s various Bahá'ís are known to visit or move to North Carolina. Adrienne Ellis (later Reeves), grandchild of former slaves and first Bahá'í of her family, and Eva Lee Flack (later Bishop) moved to Greensboro to help grow the religion in 1942. They helped elect the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Bahá'ís in Greensboro in 1943 with the first white North Carolinian - Mary Louise Hogshead Sawyer. The first in North Carolina - and the same day another Bahá'í was known in the religion - Hubert Parris.   Assemblies are the defined administrative structure of the religion since there are no clergy, and are elected by secret ballot from the members of the community. The first assembly of North Carolina was majority women, and 30% black.

Louis Gregory passed away in 1951. Then head of the religion, Shoghi Effendi, named him as a "Hand of the Cause", which, unlike the members of the elected institutions and other appointed institutions in the religion, signifies someone considered to have achieved an especially highly distinguished rank in service to the religion.

Assemblies in the Triangle and developments

From the 1950s newspapers in North Carolina mentioned Bahá'ís in various circumstances. According to The Robesonian of Lumberton some traveling Bahá'ís met locals in 1950.(8)  As early as 1954 Dr. William Tucker was holding public meetings on the religion in Rocky Mount and some were heard on the radio too.(9) Also in the 1950s several Cherokee peoples joined the religion following Ethel Murray pioneering in the mountains.(9d) Paula Bidwell's research finds Minnie Feather was born on December 3, 1917, joined the religion around 1956, and passed away on November 6, 2002 in Cherokee.  Mary Louise Hogshead Sawyer who was born in Forsyth County and served on the first Assembly of Greensboro before moving to Durham in 1953 as a homefront pioneer.(10a) A. K. Kalantar from Dumont, New Jersey, was the lead speaker at a meeting sponsored by the Baha'i national Inter-racial Committee and the Durham community in April 1955.(10b) Ludmilla Ott, now Van Sombeek, and her husband George, moved to Durham and became visible white supporters of concerns of African-Americans. She held parties in Durham with a combination of university people from DukeUNC-CH and NCCU and or international groups whom she saw as an environment for folks interested in the religion.(10) The coverage of the religion in the Carolina Times expanded. In 1956 Terah Cowart Smith moved to Greensboro already a Bahá'í twenty years, having overcome her own sense of racism, and would serve the religion in NC another 30 years. In 1957 the first Assembly of the Triangle was elected in Raleigh following the Brodie family joining it - that Assembly was majority women, and 30% black.

In 1961 Marjorie McCormick addressed Duke students through the Interfaith and Fellowship Committee of the University Religious Council in the Green Room.(10c) A UN Day observance notes the assistance of Carlotta Holmes and Jean Norris.(10d)

The first Local Spiritual Assembly of Durham was elected in 1962 with members Carlotta Holmes, Jean Norris, Kathryn Potter, Pari Rowshan, Norma Sarji, Joe Sawyer, Earl Smith, Thelma Stevens, and Ludmila Van Sombeek.(10e) This second assembly of the Triangle was majority women, and 30% black. After having regional Baha'i schools in the mountains some years that summer's regional Bahá'í school was held at Frogmore SC with some Durhamite attendees - Carlotta Holmes, Pari Rowhan, Ludmila Van Sombeek, Kathryn Potter, Joseph Sawyer… it also marked the 50th anniversary of `Abdu'l-Baha's visit to America. Eulalia Bobo, sister of boxer Joe Lewis, gave the opening address and other speakers included Alan Ward, Mrs. Robert Lee Moffett, and Paul Pettit.(10f) In 1965 the state legislature authorized Bahá'í institutions to perform weddings.(10g) In 1968 a Bahá'í attending Meredith College wrote a letter to the editor of ''The Twig'' about the religion too.(11) The first local assembly of Chapel Hill was elected in 1971.(11a)  A film was produced in 1973 about the activities in South Carolina and going to Jamaica: Have You Heard the NewsIn 1974 Charles Tutterro of Statesville is noted as chair of the Bahá'í Club at Appalachian State University.(12) 

In 1976 Bahá'ís held an open conference in St Pauls. Among the speakers were  associate professor of psychiatry, ​Dr. Jane Failey of UNC at Chapel Hill and Mrs. Jean Scales(née Norris per above), associate professor at NCCU. (13)

In the Durham Parkwood neighborhood, Baha'i Mike Brooks, chairman of the neighborhood Parkwood Association, and two members of the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center, participated in a study class on Islam by Rev. Kretzu of the Parkwood United Methodist ​Church - note the Durham Bahá'í Center is next door to the church ​(14) on Revere Rd​.  In 1992 the Bahá'ís held their second World Congress - videos of which are posted in youtube. In 2001 the Bahá'í Gardens had finished being developed and a grand opening was held.

In 2011 Lumberton resident and blogger Andrew Bowen, 28-year-old religious studies major, covered the religion in his "Project Conversion" website as reported in the News and ObserverHe had "a mentor"  for each religion he covered and for the Bahá'í Faith worked with Dr. Carolyn McCormick who has been practicing the Bahá'í Faith since 1971.(15) (seeProject Conversion: Category Archives: Baha’i.)  Another event was held in 2004 attracting hundreds. In 2016 the Bahá'ís held the official dedication of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Santiago, Chile.

2017-2019 is a special period for Bahá'ís - the twin pivots figures of the religion were born in 1817 and 1819 and there have been an will be events around the Triangle during the period about this. A video was released: Light to the World.

Demographics of Bahá'í communities in NC

Third party data from 2010 indicates there are 3 organized communities (Assemblies) in Wake County covering some 554 people.Durham had about 280 and Orange County was at about 300 (with  Durham County having 2 assemblies for the city and county and Orange County and its cities and towns having 4.) All together there total approaches 1100 Bahá'ís in the Triangle. According to the same source all the surrounding counties combined: Alamance [39​], Caswell [0], Chatham [44], Edgecombe [18], Franklin [7], Granville [11], Harnett [25], Johnston [45], and Person [6] - have just over 190. 

The entire state had 24 assemblies according to the same source and just over 5,800 adherents of the religion in 2010.(17) The Triangle area is the largest density of Bahá'ís in the state with Charlotte (Mecklenberg) noted at 819 Bahá'ís and for the Triad with about 530 Bahá'ís (when doing the math per the above links relative to those counties.) 


You can reach the Bahá'ís a number of ways. There is a national phone number at 1-800-22-UNITE (1-800-228-6483) which will take your contact information and get you in touch with Bahá'ís or you can go to Request Information. Locally there are various places one can go or call or find online:​

Ruhi Institute Study Circles are a means for public engagement in learning about the religion and serving humanity. These are being held in most places Bahá'ís reside and specifically on a weekly basis in the following Triangle area cities:

Please contact Pierre Pickens: 919-491-3302,  or  [email protected]

There is also a junior youth group with their own webpage...

For a review of the Triad Bahá'ís see The Bahá'í Faith in the Triad.

​Coverage of the treatment of Bahá'ís in Iran​

As early as 1955 the issues of the  persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran were published in NC.(20)  Coverage continued as recently as 2006 on the pattern.(21) Most recently there has been coverage of Iran forbidding Bahá'ís from even organizing their own educational system after being cut out from higher education in public universities in Iran - (see BIHE and Education under Fire.) The coverage included noting Amnesty International's and other institutions and notable individuals support for the documentary "Education Under Fire" and against Iran's pattern of persecution: UNC-G(22)​ at UNC-CH,(23) and in Cary at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center.(24)


(some citations are links in the text, some are noted below, some newspapers were accessed through commercial websites which may alter the original page numbering, some free and linked)

A. A new religious sect… The Tri-Weekly Commercial (Wilmington, North Carolina)20 Aug 1850, Tue • Page 2
A new religious sect… The Biblical Recorder (Raleigh, North Carolina)15 Sep 1850, Sun • Page 3

B. Various early related mentions occur. See for example:
An army of women Tarboro' Press (Tarboro, North Carolina)11 Jan 1851, Sat • Page 1
The colored normal school The Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, North Carolina)1 Apr 1877, Sun • Page 1
• Go and enjoy yourself The Wilmington Messenger (Wilmington, North Carolina)12 Feb 1888, Sun • Page 8
• Persian heretics Mecklenburg Times (Charlotte, North Carolina)8 Apr 1892, Fri • Page 7
• (?)… Babism The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina)6 Nov 1900, Tue • Page 2
Gregory Normal Institute The Wilmington Messenger (Wilmington, North Carolina)23 May 1902, Fri • Page 4
• School building burned The Wilmington Messenger (Wilmington, North Carolina)10 Feb 1904, Wed • Page 4
Miss Barney gives up her art to devote her life to new religion Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina)17 Oct 1910, Mon • Page 1

1.Baha'i History Duke Baha'i Club, US Baha’i Office of Communications

1a. South Eliot, The Portsmouth Herald, (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 1 December 1902 • Page 1

2. "Most great reconstruction: The Baha'i faith in Jim Crow South Carolina, 1898-1965", PhD dissertation by Venters III, Louis E.,  Colleges of Arts and Sciences University of South Carolina, 2010, isbn through BiblioBazaar as 9781243741752, UMI Number: 3402846, pages = 1931, 35-50, 118

2c. Do We Have Spiritual Ancestors? Meet Pocahontas Pope, by Christopher Buck  •  September 15, 2016

2d. Ladies to meet News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina)11 Mar 1908, Wed • Page 6

2e. Find-a-grave for Alfonzo Twine.

3.Lights of the spirit: historical portraits of Black Bahá'ís in North America, 1898-2004, editors: Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, Richard Thomas, Richard Walter Thomas, Baha'i Publishing Trust, 2006, ISBN=9781931847261.

4. "4 Languages and One Message", by Rhonda Y. Williams, The Charlotte Observer, Aug. 23, 1989

5. "Mecklenburg County Deaths", The Charlotte Observer, April 6, 1995

5a. The Black Pupil of the Eye: The Source of Light, by Christopher Buck and Nahzy Abadi Buck  •  September 16, 2016

6. "A Saga of Two Centuries" which is Stanwood Cobb's self-published autobiography

6a.* " … Babism; … universal faith", The Charlotte Observer, (Charlotte, North Carolina,) Tuesday, November 6, 1900, p. 2, (fr. NY Sun)
Clippings from Boston Transcript… MassacresThe Wilmington Messenger(Wilmington, North Carolina), 7 August 1903 • Page 6
 * Persian Prophet will have Chicago Temple, Daily Industrial News, (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 November 1908 • Page 5
Temple for the Bahais, The Concord Times, (Concord, North Carolina), 26 April 1909 • Page 4
*  Religious life of the country, North Carolina Christian Advocate, (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 September 1910 • Page 8
*  In Exile for 50 years Bahai Leader comes to New York to urge world peace, The Raleigh Times(Raleigh, North Carolina), 13 April 1912 • Page 5
*Non-Christian Faiths in America, by Elizabeth B. Vermilye, North Carolina Christian Advocate, (Greensboro, North Carolina), 2 January 1913 • Page 4
*  Abdul Baha, The Charlotte News, (Charlotte, North Carolina), 28 September 1913 • Page 17

List of donors to Trinity College Library - Oct 1, 1916 to Oct 1, 1917, The Trinity Chronicle, vol. 13, no. 4 (Wednesday, October 3, 1917), p. 1

6c.  chapter "Race Amity in America; An historical perspective", by Louis Gregory, in Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá'ís in North America 1898-2004, edited by Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, Richard Thomas, Richard Walter Thomas, Baha'i Publishing Trust, 2006, p. 198

6d. Annual committee reports 1936-1937 (continued), Baha'i News, June 1937, p. 5

6f. News of the Cause, Baha'i News, April 1925, p 4

7a.  Administration of Hubbard F. Srygley 1923-1930, Historical sketches of the Raleigh Public Schools, 1876-1941-1942, by Barbee, Jennie M, Published 1943

8. Travelers enroute to Cuba visit here The Robesonian (Lumberton, North Carolina)14 Feb 1950, Tue • Page 7

9. "Dr. William Tucker on Final Program", The Evening Telegram, Rocky Mount, NC, July 12, 1954, p. 9

9d In the hollow of His hand: the story of Ethel Murray",  Western North Carolina Bahá'í Center, Mar 8, 2007

10a.  Find-a-grave entry for Mary Louise Hogshead Sawyer, based on Greensboro News & Record (NC) - August 31, 1996.

10b. Baha'i group to hold meet at "Rec" Center, The Carolina Times, vol 30, no 34, April 23, 1955, p. 1

10.   "Mary, Wayfarer: An Autobiography", by Mary E. Mebane, UNC Press Books, 1999, ISBN=9780807848227, p. 97, 99-100.

10c.Bahai Faith seeks to establish peace by Universal Religion, The Duke Chronicle, vol. 57, no. 26 (Friday, December 15, 1961), p. 1

10d. Baha'is hear Hammarskjold's voice on UN DayThe Carolina Times. November 4, 1961, p. 9

10e.First Durham Baha'i Assembly established, The Carolina Times, Durham, NC,  June 16, 1962, p. 10

10f. Durhamites at Baha'i confab, The Carolina Times, Durham, NC, August 4, 1962, p. 9

10gNC Municipalities enter power fight, The Daily Independent, (Kannapolis, North Carolina), 31 March 1965 • Page 6

11. "An Invitation", by Betty Golding, The Twig, Nov 21, 1968, p. 2.

11a. Chapel Hill Baha'is elect their first Local Spiritual Assembly, The Carolina Times, Durham NC, May 15, 1971, page 3A

12. "ASU's Yosef Specialized in Boosting School Spirit", Statesville Record and Landmark, Dec. 5, 1974, p. 29.

13. "Bahai Conference set for St. Pauls"The Robesonian, Feb 11, 1976, p. 9

14. Parkwood welcomes Muslims, by Flo Johnston, The Durham News, May 19, 2010.

15. "Student to test 11 religions in one year", by Yonat Shimron, Raleigh News and Observer, Jan 20, 2011

17. ARDA State Membership Report - North Carolina, 2010.

18. "Baha'i community buys building to house Triangle center", by Flo Johnston, The Herald-Sun, June 5, 1996

19. The Bahá'í Faith at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

20. 2011–12 Student Handbook of NCCU

21. "New Faith Appeals to Iran to Cease Suppression Acts", The Evening Telegram, June 21, 1955, p.9.

22. "Back home in Iran", by Mark Derewicz, The Chapel Hill News, July 5, 2006

23. Amnesty International’s documentary “Education Under Fire” and Baha’i campaign spread to Guilford campus, by Kate Gibson,  The Guilfordian, February 10, 2012

24. "Education Under Fire campaign advocates for rights of Baha'i in Iran", by Jenna Jordan, The Daily Tar Heel, 03/26/12

25."Education Under Fire: The Documentary and Conversation", Sponsored by the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Cary


This article emphasizes third party and or academically published references to convey a sense of reliability and fairness. It does not officially represent a Bahá'í view. For example Bahá'ís are not used to consulting external sources for noting how large the community is. ​A more connected sense of the history can be achieved by asking Bahá'ís for their stories but as they have not been published that is for individuals to pursue. Bahá'ís will know of many more events but finding references sometimes limits what can be mentioned and this article focuses on the Triangle area while briefly mentioning developments elsewhere.

Also a note on accent marks. The official spelling of many Bahá'í words uses accents and that has been followed in the article except in quotes if absent or as used in references. Dropping the accents it typical in informal or semi-formal writing. Additionally, as the internet urls don't like it often many websites will drop the accents while others will keep them. So don't be too concerned about accent marks.