October 1855 or 1856 - Birth of Robert Turner, one of 19 Disciples of ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Robert Turner, one of 19 Disciples of ‘Abdu’l-Baha was born on October 15, 1855 or 1856. He was the first member of the negro race in the Western Hemisphere to embrace the Faith.[God Passes By, p. 259]. Since it is estimated that Robert was born in Virginia in about 1855-56, it is possible that he was born enslaved.[The American Baha’i, November 23, 2005] He was for some 35 years a butler in the household of Phoebe Hearst, eventually becoming her personal butler -- a position of considerable responsibility. Shortly before 1898, Phoebe Hearst received Lua Getsinger in her San Francisco home. Lua introduced the Faith to her while Robert was in attendance serving tea. Naturally, he overheard the conversation and, like Mrs. Hearst, was touched by what he heard. He was with Phoebe Hearst when, in 1898, she arranged for the first group of Baha’i pilgrims to visit 'Abdu'l-Baha in 'Akka. On 10 December 1898 Robert was warmly received by 'Abdu'l-Baha Who raised him to his feet and embraced him when, on first seeing the Master, he had dropped to his knees calling out, "My Lord! My Lord! I am not worthy to be here. On a later occasion 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "Robert, your Lord loves you.” [Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’, p. 72] Robert later encountered many difficulties, but remained staunch in his new faith; he died in 1909 not many years after his return from the Holy Land. 
(Adapted from ‘The A to Z of the Baha’i Faith, by Hugh Adamson)