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TITLEMost Great Reconstruction": The Bahá'í Faith in Jim Crow South Carolina, 1898-1965
AUTHOR 1Louis E. Venters
ABSTRACTThe Faith enjoyed a period of growth from the 1960s-1980s that was largely inspired by interracial teaching campaigns in the South. The Bahá'í movement in South Carolina was a significant, sustained response to racist ideologies. Link to thesis (offsite).
NOTES Dissertation for PhD in the Department of History, University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC); later published by University Microfilms International (ISBN 9781243741752, 2011).
TAGS- Interfaith dialogue; Bahá'í history by country; Race; South Carolina, USA; United States (documents); Unity
Abstract: By the end of the twentieth century, the Bahá'í Faith was the largest non-Christian religion in South Carolina, and it was well known for its longstanding commitment to promoting racial harmony, interfaith dialogue, and the moral education of children and youth. Its message was simple and powerful: in the Orient in the middle of the nineteenth century, Christ had returned. His new name was Bahá'u'lláh, the "Glory of the Father," and the transforming power of his Word would excise the cancers of prejudice and injustice from the broken body of humanity.

The religion owed much of its strength in the state to a series of campaigns from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, in which more than ten thousand people from all walks of life — from young white college students to elderly black former sharecroppers — had become Bahá'ís. However, the origins of South Carolina's robust Bahá'í movement lay not in the social upheavals of the 1960s, but in painstaking efforts to build an interracial faith community during the long decades of segregation and disfranchisement. In contrast to nearly every other religious organization in early-twentieth century South Carolina, the Bahá'ís developed an explicit policy of promoting racial integration at the local level. Facing ostracism, slander, and violence, they succeeded in attracting an astonishingly diverse membership. Focusing on the period from South Carolinians' first contacts with the faith in the late 1890s to the formal dissolution of the Jim Crow regime in the mid-1960s, this study posits the Bahá'í movement in South Carolina as a significant, sustained, and deceptively subtle attack on the oppressive racial ideologies of the twentieth-century South and on the Protestant orthodoxy with which they were inextricably linked.

Download this thesis at
(backup copy is here: venters_bahai_south_carolina.pdf).
Addendum: One of the original ads that ran in The American Bahá'í (this ad from issue 25:3, March 2, 1994):
DO YOU REMEMBER South Carolina? I am broadening my search for information for my International Baccalaureate essay, tentatively titled "Crisis and Victory: The Bahá'í Faith in South Carolina," and am inviting pioneers, teachers, current and former residents (anyone who knows or remembers) to share information about teaching efforts (especially in the 1960s, around 1970, and in the middle '80s), the establishment and development of Groups and Assemblies, persecution, activities of children/youth, visits by Hands of the Cause of God (including Mr. Gregory, Mr. Sears, Mr. Olinga, Mr. Khadem, Mr. Ioas and Dr. Muhajir), early believers in upstate South Carolina, the Frogmore summer schools, activities of the Deep South Committee, relationships with government and the media, Bahá'ís in the public schools, how you became a Bahá'í in South Carolina or why you came to the state, what the future holds for South Carolina, long-range plans and immediate concerns. Please write to Lee Venters, [address deleted], Greenville, SC 29615. Please include a return address.
[ - credit Don Calkins, 2013-09]
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