Photographs Needed for an Illustrated History about the Bahá’í Faith in South Carolina

In June and July 2014 several articles appeared in blogs and in newspapers in South Carolina about the fact that the Bahá’í Faith is the second largest religion in South Carolina. The articles were prompted by Bahá’í involvement in the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB), which every ten years asks its members to submit their current membership data to a common, published database (the most recent being in 2010) that shows how many members each has in every county and state in the United States. Then ASARB created a map showing the second most common religion in each state and county, Christianity still being the largest one everywhere. (See the article published in the August 2014 eNewsletter: “The Story Behind the Story: Why There Has Been So Much Press Recently about the South Carolina Bahá’í Community.”)

The map showed the strength of the Bahá’í Faith in South Carolina, due to the mass teaching done there in the 1970s, and also in various rural areas (not just in the South) and on Indian reservations. As a result, The History Press (a publishing company headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, that specializes in works about local history) approached some Bahá’í institutions and agencies late in the summer of 2014, asking for the names of individuals who might write the book they had in mind—a short introduction to the Bahá’í Faith in South Carolina from 1890 to the present, written for a general audience and illustrated with some seventy to eighty images.

LouisVenters1Dr. Louis Venters (www.louisventersc.com) says he jumped at the chance to write the book. He is an associate professor in the History Department at Francis Marion University, where he teaches courses on U.S., African, and African American history. His first book, No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina’s Bahá’í Community, will be published later this summer by the University Press of Florida. He is the co-author of “The Camden African American Heritage Project,” an award-winning public-history study, and serves on the South Carolina Board of Review of the National Register of Historic Places and the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Dr. Venters is planning a second volume in his academic treatment of the South Carolina Bahá’í community, as his first volume, No Jim Crow Church, ends in 1968 before the era of mass teaching. The second volume, however, will take years to research and write. He considers an illustrated history of the South Carolina Bahá’í community not a detour, but rather a condensed, illustrated companion to what will eventually be two academic monographs.

Dr. Venters says that the illustrated history will be marketed in a very different way than a book published by a university press is. It will be stocked by a variety of retailers in South Carolina and elsewhere, as well as on various online outlets. Hence the book has the potential to reach a very wide audience. “At a time when ongoing racial injustice seems to be impressing itself more and more on the consciousness of the United States,” he says, “it seems an opportune moment to share the Bahá’ís’ century-long efforts at interracial community-building in South Carolina.”

“If there were ever a case of a picture being worth a thousand words, this is it,” Dr. Venters says. His soon-to-be-published book has only twelve illustrations. Thus being able to use more images in this new copiously illustrated book feels like a golden opportunity. Photographs of the South Carolina Bahá’í community illustrate powerfully what their spiritual forbears accomplished during the twentieth century, the creation of a vibrant and diverse faith community in the midst of trying and often dangerous circumstances.

greenville 1962

Greenville, SC Baha’i Community, 1962

Dr. Venters has put out a call for photographs for the illustrated history of the Bahá’í Faith in South Carolina. By the end of the summer he hopes to complete his research for and writing of the book, which is aimed at a general audience. Publication by The History Press is scheduled for 2016.

What sorts of photographs does Dr. Venters want? He is looking for photographs that help tell the rich history of the South Carolina Bahá’í community. “Any locality,” he says, “any time period, any combination of people is eligible.” You may post your photographs on Dr. Venters’ Facebook page, or e-mail them to him at lventers@fmarion.edu, or mail him hard copies (if you chose this method, please e-mail Dr. Venters for instructions). However you send your photographs, please supply as much information as you can (where they were taken, who is in them, what the occasion was, and so on).

“For the protection and happiness of the author, the contributor, and the publisher,” Dr. Venters says, “no photographs will be used for publication without proper permission forms.”

Dr. Venters hopes that his call for photographs will result, eventually, in many photographs being deposited in the National Bahá’í Archives that might otherwise be lost when Bahá’ís pass away.

“Spread the word,” Dr. Venters says. “I need photographs of the South Carolina Bahá’í community, and the sooner the better.”

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