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Baha'i Descriptive Historia
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Verna Inglis Bidwell

Verna Inglis Bidwell

Verna Inglis Bidwell

Verna Bidwell first met Louis Gregory in 1942, then again in 1943, and became a member of the Baha’i Faith as a result of his second visit. The first visit possibly took place at “my” previous residence on Cliff (or Clifton) Road, also in Birmingham. She thinks he also had visited Miles Collage[1].

 

Interview with Verna Inglis Bidwell

 

Interviewer: Terry Randolph (1972)

 

I heard there was a Baha’i named Verna Inglis Bidwell (neé ‘Lence’) who was one of the few people still living who had met Louis Gregory, a well known and respected Baha’i travel teacher. On 5 Aug 1951, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian and spiritual leader of the Baha’i Faith appointed Mr. Gregory, posthumously, to the rank of ‘Hand of the Cause of God’.

I made arrangements to travel to Birmingham, Alabama to visit a Baha’i family. It was from them that I learned about Verna Bidwell. I requested the assistance of Dianne, a local Auxiliary Board Member, to arrange for me to interview Mrs. Bidwell. She made contact with her via telephone and received permission for me to visit her at home. I asked Dianne to accompany me because as a Birmingham native she is very familiar with the area.

Verna Lence was born in Valparaiso, Indiana (near Chesterton) on March 12 1906. Twice married, full name: Verna Lence Inglis Bidwell.  The interview took place at her home, 1812 Wellington, Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35209.

During the interview Verna Bidwell mentioned that she first met Louis Gregory in 1942, and again in 1943, and became Baha’i as a result of his second visit. She recalls that his first visit mostly likely took place at her previous residence on Cliff (Clifton?) Road, also in Birmingham. She also said that at some point he may have visited Miles Collage[1], but she was not certain.

As described by Mrs. Bidwell, she remembers Mr. Gregory was being mild mannered, serene, but very dynamic. She recalls that he was very much aware that in order to communicate with people in the south that he must base his Baha’i talks on the Bible.

It became increasingly evident during the interview that it was difficult for her to recall much detail, due in part to passage of time and her advance age. So, that which is recorded is the extent of our conversation regarding her recollections of Louis Gregory and his Baha’i travel teaching efforts in the southern states.

Other

Mrs. Bidwell has a photograph of Mr. Gregory that was taken at the Baha’i Temple, Wilmette, Illinois, dated June 1, 1944. She agreed to let me make a copy and then return the original to her. [Note: The original was returned as promised].

The first Baha’i Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in Birmingham at Ridvan 1943. Membership at time of formation included: Robert Dunn (deceased), Rose Brown (currently resides in Seattle, Washington), Verna Inglis (later Bidwell) and her husband, also a Dr. Brown, and a Mr. Johnson.

Mrs. Bidwell also said that she was in the company of Mr. Gregory on three separate occasions, but did NOT see him in Birmingham after 1945. One of the three times was “at a convention” (National Baha’i Convention).

Sometime around 1940-42, Grace Ober, Harlan Ober’s wife, gave a talk in Birmingham.

Mrs. Bidwell has in her possession a photo album that includes photographs of David Villasenor doing an Indian style ‘sand painting’ at the ‘Indian Village’ in Valparaiso, Indiana, dated Sep 26-27, 1970. There’s also an earlier photo of him taken in March 1952.

Other photographs in her Album include:

~ Hands of the Cause of God, Mr. Samandarí, and Mr. Furitan (possibly taken in London, and at the same event)

~ Stanley James, 1942

~ Margaret Ruhe, Gertrude Gurney (?), and Verna Inglis. Photo taken in Birmingham, the backyard of Verna Inglis’s home on Cliff Road.

~ Hand of the Cause of God, Paul Haney, Aug 1956

~ Peggy True, 1943 (no relation to Edna True)

~ Hand of the Cause of God, Leroy Ioas (probably in the 1940s)

~ Hand of the Cause of God, Bora Kavelin, May 1952

~ Hand of the Cause of God, Alvin Blum (Also Knight of Baha’u’llah), photo taken in Fiji

A great amount of research is already completed on the life of Louis Gregory. There are written works about his tireless effort, as a teacher of the Baha’i Faith, especially in many southern states, and much is included in “To Move the World”, a book about the life Louis Gregory.

However, the extend of current research on the life of Louis Gregory does little to capture and portray the spiritual nature of his being that was the driving force of his creativity, moral courage, and awesome dedication to teach the Cause of Baha’u’llah. Much more must be done that not only details historical fact but also strive to capture the true essence of this “mild and serene, but dynamic” man whose innate nature is manifested by deep wisdom, an abiding sense of justice, graced, and intense spiritual insight. The extent, magnitude and impact of his leadership have yet to be fully revealed and appreciated.

_______________________

[1] Miles College is a historically black college founded in 1898. It is located in Fairfield, Alabama, six miles (10 km) west of Birmingham. It is a private liberal arts institution of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME Church). Miles College is also a member of the United Negro College Fund. Miles College began organization efforts in 1893 and was founded in 1898 by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. It was chartered as Miles Memorial College, in honor of Bishop William H. Miles. In 1941 the name was changed to Miles College. -Wikipedia

 

Bidwell Residence

Bidwell Residence

NOTE:  This concerns the preservation and possible presentation of old photographs, documents and other material that would be helpful to more fully document Baha’i history.  If you have such material in your possession or know someone who does, I encourage you to contact me.  Arrangements can be made to document and preserve important items.  Proper credit assigned to all submissions. 

Baha’i Tea Event

Baha’i Tea Event

Baha’i Tea Event

A regular featured event at the Washington DC Baha’i Center was the “Baha’i Tea”, usually around 2:00 PM on a specified Sunday afternoon. Its purpose was to provide a suitable venue to receive those invited to meet the guest speaker, usually a person of note from the greater Washington community, and provide means for them to socialize with members of the faith. In this way, both the invited speaker and guests were able to learn about the Baha’i Faith.

On this occasion (ca. 1966), an early afternoon ‘Baha’i Tea’ was prepared and hosted by Baha’i community member, Tehmenia Parsons (front row, 2nd from left).

Attendees

Back Row: (l/r) Lucille Webster, unknown guest (man, glasses), Green Glen, Jr.,  William Twitty, Katherine Larson (eyes closed), unknown man (partly hidden), Grace Chavis (white hat), Rosemary K. Brown (partly hidden, glasses), Theodies Washington (partly hidden, glasses).

Middle Row: (l/r) Gypsy Goines? (white blouse), Constance and Alfred Beckley, Sarah Pereira, Farkhundih Tawfiq, Inez Cooper, Antoinette Washington (white hat), Marjorie Ingram (Inez Cooper’s daughter), Steven Sewell, and unknown person (with cake).

Front Row: (l/r) unknown guest, Tahmineh Parsons, ‘Guest of Honor’, Betty Atkins, Joy Haxon (kneeling), and Riva Morales.

Position

Tahmineh Irani Parsons – WBC, from a long line of noted Baha’i family members (the Irani’s).  Buried beside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.  His is the only graved at ANC marked by a Baha’i symbol, a successful project undertaken by his wife, Tahmineh. 
Lucille Webster – WBC, IBP, former employee at the US Department of State.  Her signed name can be found in the Guestbook of various Baha’i communities in several countries.
Green Glen – WBC, employed by the Maryland Youth Facility (challenged youth).
William Twitty – WBC.
Katherine Larson – WBC, Ballet dancer, Washington National Ballet.
Grace L. Chavis – WBC (recent member, 1968).
Rosemary K. Brown (neé Closson), BY, WBC, Howard University student.  Later married David Closson, former Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.  After marrying, they pioneered on the home-front to the state of New Jersey.
Theodies Washington – WBC, LSA (intermittent).
Constance and Alfred Beckley – WBC
Sarah Martin Pereira – WBC, LSA. [1] 
Farkhundih Tawfiq – WBC, BNC, IBP, Washington Baha’i Center caretaker, and served at the Baha’i National Center. [2] 
Inez Cooper – WBC, one time member of the LSA, wife of a well-respected Washington DC police detective.
Antoinette K. Washington – WBC, BY, involved in various Baha’i projects.
Marjorie Ingram – WBC (Inez Cooper’s daughter).
Steven Sewell – WBC, LSA, and imitator of the Lorton Inmate Baha’i Teaching Project, at the time (ca. 1968) known as “prison teaching”, i.e. teaching the Baha’i Faith to prison inmates. [3] Additional information can be acquired about this project from the Washington Baha’i Archives.
Guest of Honor – Name/position not known. Research required (Washington Baha’i Archives).
Betty Atkins – Member of the Baha’i community in Falls Church, Virginia.
Joy Haxon – WBC. [4] 
Riva Morales – Member of the Baha’i community in Silver Springs, Maryland.

____________________

Code

WBC – Member, Washington DC Baha’i Community
LSA – Member (past or present) of Local Spiritual Assembly, the Baha’i community’s administrative body.
BY – Baha’i Youth
BNC – Baha’i National Center
IBP – International Baha’i Pioneer

Notes

[1] Sarah Martin Pereira held several prominent Baha’i positions:  LSA member, Washington DC Baha’i community; member, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States; member, the Baha’i Auxiliary Board; member, Continental Board of Counselors for North America.  She would carry out various assignments for the Universal House of Justice, one of which was as its representative to the election of the National Spiritual of the Baha’is of Haiti.  Unforeseen, was the death of Haiti’s leader, François Duvalier* (14 April 1907 – 21 April 1971).  The election of the NSA was in process as the funeral procession passed below, and security forces (possibly the infamous Tonton Macoute) arrived to investigate this Baha’i event.  Satisfied that no threat existed, they departed without incident.  Sarah Pereira was also a Professor of Romance Languages at the District of Columbia Teachers College (DCTC).  She married a Portuguese man, and the union produce a son, Carlos.  He would achieve a Phd in physics from (?), and later conducted research to verify certain theories propounded by Albert Einstein.  Sarah is a product of the well-known and regarded Martin family, educators and early Baha’is in Chicago, IL, and where several institutions of learning bare the Martin family name.  Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, placed a framed photograph of the Martin family on the wall of the Mansion at Baji as an example of a true Baha’i family.

[2] During one of my visits to Macau (ca. 1973) I met her two daughters at the engagement party for Hebert Lee (originally from Canada) and his future wife, she having served several years at the Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, Israel.

[3] The Lorton Reformatory, operated by the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, was a prison built in 1910 for the District of Columbia in an area now known as Laurel Hill, Virginia. It closed in 2001.

[4] Joy Haxon was a person blessed with deep spiritual insight.  She was also knowledgeable about forces impacting human nature.  As a child she showed promise in this area, demonstrating similar characteristics as those of her maternal grandmother who wanted to help develop joy’s potential.  However her mother intervened to negate the effort, fearing the effects it might have on her daughter’s life.

*As a medical student in the United States, François Duvalier, for a short time, resided with a Baha’i family (further research required to fix exact reference).

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