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Symposium on Local Bahá’í History

Jun 19, 2022
flyer featuring images of the city centers of Nashville, Lansing, and Oklahoma City

This symposium about local Bahá’í history will highlight the study of the Nashville and Lansing Bahá’í communities and will explore ways to collect oral history. Dr. Robert Stockman, Wilmette Institute Director, will serve as host and moderator. Each 20-minute presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

The Nashville Bahá’í Community: A Legacy of Unity

Panelist: Joyce Jackson

Slide Show: The Nashville Bahá’í Community: A Legacy of Unity (PDF)

We’ll take a brief look at the Bahá’í community of Nashville Tennessee, focusing on its formative years and its legacy of race unity.

Moments in Bahá’í History of Lansing, MI

Panelist: Burton Smith

Slide Show: Moments in History of Bahá’í Faith in Lansing, Michigan (PDF)

This presentation will cover the moments of Bahá’í History found through Archival documents, letters, and photos in Archives and Newspapers. Some personal accounts are included.

The Oklahoma Bahá’í Oral History Project

Panelist: Mark Vaccaro

Slide Show: The Oklahoma Bahá’í Oral History Project (PDF)

The Oklahoma Bahá’í Oral History Project began in 2004 as a collaborative initiative of Mark Vaccaro and Alex Resnick. Its purpose is to record on video the stories of service of Bahá’ís who currently live in Oklahoma or who previously lived in Oklahoma. This presentation explores the origins of the project and the techniques that were developed to interview the Bahá’ís, record the videos, edit them and present them in an acceptable format to the National Bahá’í Archives for the benefit of future Bahá’í historians. The focus of the presentation is not on the actual history of the Bahá’í Faith in Oklahoma. Rather it is on how we do what we do so that others will see how relatively easy it is to do the same thing to document the growth and development of the Faith in their own communities.



Joyce Jackson

Joyce is from Nashville, Tennessee, and became a Bahá’í there in 1973. She has a degree in English and Journalism and for 10 years was the associate editor for a small specialty publisher in Nashville. She later spent five years as the publications manager for the Fraternal Order of Police. In 2004 she self-published her memoir, “A Child of Tender Years: Hayden’s Journey." In 2011 she left the United States for Uganda, where she served the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Uganda for 18 months. That experience inspired a children’s book titled ‘Agnes and Angella: A Tale of Two Cows in Uganda.’ For the last seven years Joyce has served at the Bahá’í National Center, working from her home in Smyrna, Tennessee. She has been working on her history of the Nashville community far too long and hopes to publish it in the coming year.


Burton Smith

Burton R. Smith  was born in Lansing, MI of Bahá’í  parents William and Eva Smith, One of 4 Smith Children Burton  Declared his belief in Baha’u’llah and the Bahá’í Cause in 1971 at the LouHelen Center for Higher Learning. At Princeton, Burton  co-founded the Princeton Bahá’í Club with Jay Tyson ’76 author of the “Wise Men of the West” book series. Bill Foster was the Club Advisor. Burton was also a founding member of the Princeton University Jazz Ensemble and was the first person of African descent to medal for the Princeton Golf Team at the Harvard Yale Princeton match at Yale in 1976 .  Burton  has sung with Tom Price and Van Gilmer at Carnegie Hall, and  Ryman  Auditorium, and participated in the Bahá’í Choral Festivals at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, IL  since their inception. He also attended the “Pupil of the Eye” POTE  Conference in Nashville in 2019. Burton was one of the 32 members of the Bahá’í Black Mens Gathering (BMG) who traveled to Ghana and Haifa in December, 2006. He retired from the State of Michigan as a Staff Specialist in 2010, and lives in Lansing, MI with Denyse, his wife of 34 years. Their son Brandon lives and works in Chicago. Burton has researched the “Lost Histories of Lansing MI," and has done the following Presentations in person and on Zoom: 1. “The History of the Bahá’í Faith in Lansing, MI 2. Interstate 496- Impact on Neighborhoods, Businesses and Worship- Yesterday and Today 3. The Lost History of David and Joy Earl – from Lansing, MI to the World” 4. “Louis G. Gregory” An Independent Investigation.


Mark Vaccaro

Dr. Mark Vaccaro is a medical doctor who has been a Bahá’í since 1979. While a pioneer to Dominica with his wife Allison, he began documenting through photography and videography important milestones in the development of the Bahá’í Faith in the Caribbean region. He was a producer for the Dominica Bahá’í Faith Radio Program from 1983 to 2013 and a producer for the Dominica Bahá’í Faith Television Program from 1987 to 1993. When back in the United States he paired up with Alex Resnick to start the Oklahoma Bahá’í Oral History Project in 2004. So far eighty Oklahoma Bahá’ís have been interviewed on video for this project.


Robert Stockman, ThD

WI Dean, Bahá’í History, Texts and Tenets

I have had a passion for researching and teaching about the Bahá’í Faith for more than half of my life. My fascination with American Bahá’í history and with the first American Bahá’í, Thornton Chase, caused me, in 1980, to switch my academic field from planetary science to history of religion in the United States. As I was finishing my doctorate in that field at Harvard University in 1990, I drew up plans to create a Bahá’í Studies institute that would offer courses, encourage research, and publish. Instead, I was hired by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States to start a research office at our national Bahá’í headquarters in Wilmette, Illinois. Some of the responsibilities of the research office led to the creation of the Wilmette Institute, which ​focuses on most of the tasks of the institute I originally conceived. Meanwhile, I have also remained involved in academia, teaching religious studies part time at DePaul University in Chicago and currently at Indiana University South Bend, just a mile from home. I have also published four books on aspects of Bahá’í history (including a biography of Thornton Chase) and one introductory textbook on the Faith. Listen to Robert’s interview on ‘A Bahá’í Perspective’ podcastSee Faculty Bio


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