The Bahá’í Faith has a long and exciting history in the city of Miami since the 1920’s. Several prominent Baha’is traveled to Miami to teach the Bahá’í Faith to both the black and white communities. The Bahá’í Faith was officially established in the city of Miami in 1931 and has been an integral part of this vibrant community ever since.

The Bahá’ís of Miami have been working towards addressing such essential themes as the oneness of God and religion, the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice, the inherent nobility of the human being, the progressive revelation of religious truth, the development of spiritual qualities, the integration of worship and service, the fundamental equality of the sexes, the harmony between religion and science, the centrality of justice to all human endeavors, the importance of education, and the dynamics of the relationships that are to bind together individuals, communities, and institutions as humanity advances towards its collective maturity.
Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.
-Tablets of Baháʼu'lláh (Bisharat)
The First Bahá’ís in Miami

Howard MacNutt

Howard MacNutt was a prominent member of the Baha'i Faith and was posthumously appointed as a Disciple of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. He was notable for aiding in the publication of many talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the editing of many early Baha’i publications, and teaching the Faith in the cities of Washington, DC, New York City, and Miami, Florida.

Raised in Philadelphia and taken up the game of cricket and the profession of bookkeeping, he represented the US in international cricket competitions and won the George W. Childs Batting Cup twice. Became Baha’i in 1898, he was business partners with early Baha’is Thornton Chase, William Hoar and Arthur P. Dodge. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came to America, Howard MacNutt and Mountfort Mills conveyed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá off the RMS Cedric on His arrival.

He also led the undertaking of not only attend various speaking engagements but to take notes to assist the publication of the speeches that occurred first in Star of the West and then later in the collected work Promulgation of Universal Peace. The MacNutts hosted the filming of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and recording his voice as a racially integrated event in the socially white part of Brooklyn.

The MacNutts began to spent time in Miami in 1924. Howard worked with the Race Amity Convention of 1925 at Green Acre and then returned to Florida and began to reach the black community of Miami. Howard began to be visible in the local newspapers from early January 1922. Miami was struck by a Category 4 hurricane in mid-September, 1926, today referred to as The 1926 Miami hurricane, or sometimes the Great Miami Hurricane. It was a devastating hit killing hundreds and making 2/3rds of Miamians homeless. It was of course even worse in the black community - some nearby villages were entirely swept away and surviving men were conscripted sometimes without warning to work on the cleanup and reconstruction.

Howard died December 26, 1926, following a motorcycle impact on the way to a Baha'i meeting on the black side of town. Everett Allen, 19 yrs old, was charged with manslaughter and released on $1000 bond by Judge HW Penney. A memorial was held at Combs chapel December 28, and was “first time in history… opened to the colored man.”

Orcella Rexford

Louise Cutts Powell, also known as Orcella Rexford, was an early Baha'i travel teacher who was among the first to teach the Faith in the U.S. state of Alaska.

She exhibited artistic skills in writing and performance in childhood and took up a career in writing, education and entertainment in public speaking and offering private classes on a variety of topics such as numerology, psychology, and nutrition. During 1918 to 1919 in Boston, Massachusetts, she encountered and joined the Baha'i Faith, and changed her name to Orcella Rexford about the same time.

She undertook a trip to Alaska during which she began to offer mention of the Faith amidst her talks and classes. During her time there she met her future husband Ezekiel F. German who joined the Faith and changed his name to Gayne V. Gregory. Gayne sold his interest in a dentistry and became her business manager.

Rexford observed that while it was perhaps easy to generate interest in the Faith it was hard to keep a sustained interest if there was not a sustained presentation. She developed a pattern of hinting about a great truth during her talks and classes, offer a free talk during which she would introduce the religion, and, usually led by others, develop a study class on the religion following which she would move on to another location. This was sometimes called an intensive teaching campaign.

In 1927 they went on Baha'i pilgrimage and she recalled the Greatest Holy Leaf admiring their cooperative marriage. With this methodology Rexford traveled widely for the Faith - from Mexico to Alaska, from Hawaii to Florida and Maine and to all the Baha'i Schools of Geyserville, predecessor of Bosch, Louhelen, and Green Acre, as well as conventions, conferences and meetings. She and Gayne developed a close supportive friendship with Louis Gregory after his employment as a paid traveling speaker for the Faith was ended in 1932 while her own success had made of life of independent means.

Ultimately she was known as one of three Baha'is, with Ruth Moffett and Mabel Ives, who were successful in raising Baha'i communities in several locales and assisting many more, in the era following that of Louis Gregory and Albert Vail being paid touring speakers for the Faith.
She died unexpectedly and was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery, not far from that of Thornton Chase. Gregory died many years later in 1946.

Louis George Gregory

Louis Gregory was born on June 6, 1874, less than a decade after his parents were freed from slavery. His mother, Mary Elizabeth, and African grandmother were slaves on George Washington Dargan's plantation in Darlington, SC.

He attended the first integrated public school in Charleston, SC, the Avery Institute in Charleston, and Fisk University in Nashville. He subsequently studied law at Howard University, one of the few universities to accept Black graduate students, and received his LL.B. degree in March 1902. He was admitted to the bar and practiced in Washington, DC, where he encountered the Bahá'í Faith.

Gregory was one of the first African-Americans in the United States to embrace the Bahá'í Faith. In 1911, he made a pilgrimage to Haifa to meet 'Abdu'l-Bahá and visit the Holy Shrines (the second African-American do to so). In 1912 Gregory married Louisa Matthew, becoming the first Baha'i interracial couple.

Louis Gregory was elected to the Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly many times beginning in 1922. In 1927, he was appointed to serve on the National Committee on Interracial Amity and became its Executive Secretary.

Louis Gregory made many teaching trips to the South, visiting Miami on several occasions. In his later years, he travelled to Africa and Haiti teaching the Baha'i Faith.

James E. Scott

Believed to be the first black believer who accepted the Faith in Miami, James E. Scott was born in 1890 in Savannah, Georgia. He attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and enlisted in the Army during World War I.

After retirement from the Army, James came to Miami to began his lifelong devotion to helping people, especially those in the black community as the first Administrator of a model housing project for the black people, known as Liberty City, in Miami. He was much admired for his efficiency and humanitarian work including starting a co-op in the neighborhood where members paid a few dollars to contribute to running a local shop and a credit union under his leadership. He recognized that in addition to good living conditions, the tenants needed to save and invest in their own welfare. It was noted that while he ran the model housing project, there was no juvenile delinquency and almost no crime of any kind.

James also helped launch the Colored Association for Family Welfare which later became known as the Negro Welfare Federation (NWF) and now known as James E. Scott Community Association in his honor. This organization directed a drive to establish a community center and day nursery. In addition to the James E. Scott Community Association, James E. Scott Homes and the James E. Scott Health Center were also named in his honor.

The Finger of God, Memories of the Bahá’í Faith in Miami, Florida from 1932 to 1983 (Revised) by Lucile Hendershot Buffin, scanned by Bahá’í National Archives Office