The Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly has announced with great pleasure that a befitting monument has been approved for the gravesite of Mr. Robert C. Turner—the first African American to embrace the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.
Mr. Turner was a believer so outstanding as to be designated a Disciple of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Herald of the Covenant by Shoghi Effendi. The grave site monument will be located in Colma, California
Born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, Mr. Turner was later hired by Mrs. Phoebe Hearst as a butler, a post that he occupied for 26 years. He first heard about the teachings of the Faith while serving tea to her guests Edward and Lua Getsinger.
Together with Mrs. Hearst and other early American believers, Robert set sail on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to meet with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. May Maxwell recalls in her memoir, An Early Pilgrimage, that on the morning of their arrival in ‘Akká in 1899, the Master summoned the small group of honored pilgrims to His room. “Seeing that one of the believers was absent, He asked, ‘Where is Robert?’…In a moment, Robert’s radiant face appeared in the doorway and the Master rose to greet him, bidding him to be seated, and said, ‘Robert, your Lord loves you. God gave you a black skin, but a heart white as snow.’” You are encouraged to enjoy other stories and additional materials available on http://www.RobertTurner.org, a website dedicated to the life of this stalwart believer, which will be updated regularly as this project progresses.
Be assured of our prayers that the spirit of Mr. Turner may inspire all those who act in his name and strive to bring to fruition ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s reported promise to him: “Robert, if you remain firm and steadfast to the end, you will be a door through which a whole race will enter the Kingdom.”
The memorial was designed by award-winning Bahá’í artist, Masud Olufani. Installation of the monument at Mr. Turner’s gravesite in Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma—previously marked by a simple plaque—is slated to coincide with the 165th anniversary of his birth, on October 15, and to complement the activities being held this year to honor the life of the beloved Master as we commemorate the centenary of His Ascension.