Grave of First African American Bahá’í in Washington, D.C., Found; Contribute to Her Grave Marker
A number of Bahá’ís in the Washington, D.C., area have found the burial place of Pocahontas Pope, the first African American in the Washington, D.C. Bahá’í community. Now the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Washington, D.C., has announced the beginning of a fund-raising campaign to purchase a grave marker for Ms. Pope’s unmarked grave in the National Harmony Memorial Park in Hyattsville, Maryland. Below is the letter from the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Washington, D.C., together with some information about Pocahontas Pope.
BAHÁ’ÍS OF WASHINGTON, DC
TO: The Bahá’í Community of Washington, D.C.
The Assembly is excited to share the following opportunity to honor an important historical figure in Washington, D.C. ‘Pocahontas Pope, the first African American Bahá’í of Washington, DC, is buried in an unmarked grave at National Harmony Memorial Park in Hyattsville, MD. She died in 1938, leaving no children.’
‘Pocahontas Pope was forgotten for decades, as were the stories of many early believers of color. Now that we know where she is buried, and are discovering more of her story, it is time that we honor her pioneering recognition of Bahá’u’lláh with a marker for her honored grave.’
The cost of the grave-marker is about $2,800 and we are reaching out to the Bahá’ís of Washington, D.C. to offer them the opportunity to participate in this moving initiative. if you would like to make a donation towards the grave-marker, there are a few ways to do so:
1) Make one time contribution at https://ocs.bahai.us/ocs/ > Enter Contribution > One Time Contribution (Choose Locality-Washington). Let the Treasurer know via email below that this is earmarked for the Pope marker.
2) Make a contribution through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org and include an earmark note.
3) Send a check to the Baha’i Center (address in footer) and include an earmark note.
We will also be planning a ceremony to unveil the marker and honor Pocahontas Pope, so any excess funds that are collected will be used toward those ends.
Please see the complete biography for Pocahontas Pope and the initial design for the grave-marker below. This initiative is being organized by William Collins, a Bahá’í from Mount Vernon who learned about this early believer from a number of other believers and conducted additional research regarding her background and resting place. We are grateful to him for bringing this opportunity to our community.
With Loving Bahá’í Greetings,
The Local Spiritual Assembly of Washington, D.C.
5713 16TH ST NW, Washington, D.C., 20011
Pocahontas Pope (c. 1864–1938)
Pocahontas Pope (c. 1864–1938), the first African American Bahá’í of Washington, DC, is buried in an unmarked grave at National Harmony Memorial Park (plot Slade 24-7) in Hyattsville. She died in 1938, leaving no children.
She was born in Halifax County, NC about 1864; married John W. Pope (1857–1919), a manager in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Rich Square, NC, in 1883; and moved to Washington, DC in 1898. The Popes were frequently mentioned in the African American newspapers of the time. Rev. Pope died on March 30, 1918. Pocahontas Pope died on November 11, 1938, in Washington, DC.
Pauline Hannen, a white Southerner who grew up in Wilmington, NC, and her husband Joseph, became Bahá’ís early in the century. They took completely to heart the Bahá’í teaching of the oneness of humanity. Pauline’s sister, Alma Knobloch, employed Pocahontas Pope as a seamstress. In 1906, Pocahontas Pope became the first African-American Bahá’í in Washington, DC. By July 1908, fifteen African Americans had embraced the faith in Washington, DC, due to the efforts of the Hannens and Pocahontas Pope. Pauline Hannen wrote how Lua Getsinger, Hooper Harris, and Joseph Hannen spoke at Mrs. Pope’s home at 12 N St. NW to large gatherings of African Americans.
Pocahontas Pope wrote to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when she became a Bahá’í and He wrote her a beautiful Tablet:
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. It is my hope that through the bounties and favours of the Abhá Beauty thy countenance may be illumined, thy disposition pleasing, and thy fragrance diffused, that thine eyes may be seeing, thine ears attentive, thy tongue eloquent, thy heart filled with supreme glad-tidings, and thy soul refreshed by divine fragrances, so that thou mayest arise among that race and occupy thyself with the edification of the people, and become filled with light. 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. . . .”
Pocahontas Pope was forgotten for decades, as were the stories of many early believers of color. Now that we know where she is buried, and are discovering more of her story, it is time that we honor her pioneering recognition of Baha’u’llah with a marker for her honored grave. (by William Collins)