Remembering the First African American Bahá'í


Through public art, media, research, and educational programming, the Robert Turner Project aims to advance the cause of race unity and human oneness by celebrating the unique spiritual station of the first Black American Bahá’í.

Robert Turner Grave Plot

The souls interred in this grave plot were all African American, and their names and dates are listed here in probable chronological order of their burial. Some sources say that Melissa Turner, Robert Turner’s wife, passed away before he did – although cemetery records indicate that she lived for another 23 years after his death.

  1. Emily Turner August 10, 1884 – January 5, 1890
    Daughter of Robert and Melissa Turner, and namesake of Robert’s mother Emily Wilson. She may have been buried first in one of the San Francisco cemeteries and later moved to Colma.
  2. Catherine Ogden July 3, 1818 – February 11, 1905
    Mother of Robert Turner’s wife Melissa Turner, mother-in-law of Robert Turner and grandmother of Robert and Melissa’s daughter Emily Turner. Catherine Ogden lived with Robert and Melissa Turner during her last years, and her death occurred less than a month after her granddaughter’s passing. The original Woodlawn Cemetery plot was probably purchased by Melissa Turner in 1905 to bury her mother.
  3. Robert Turner October 15, 1856 – June 15, 1909
    First interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma. His mortal remains were transferred to Cypress Lawn Cemetery, reportedly in the same casket as his daughter Emily, sometime between 1909 and 1918.
  4. John Henry Rodgers July 18, 1867 – March 1, 1918
    Barber and long time lodger with Robert and Melissa Turner, helped to take care of Robert Turner during his fatal illness.
  5. Melissa Turner July 14, 1855 – November 11, 1932
    Wife of Robert Turner.
  6. Ruby Boone September 1888 – November 11, 1936
    Wife of Edwin Boone.
  7. Edwin Boone September 26, 1882 – January 17, 1937
    Melissa Turner was his godmother and lived with him during her last years.
  8. Harriet Hickerson January 1, 1868 – January 5, 1954
    Mother of Ruby Boone.
Information provided by Roger M. Dahl, Archivist Emeritus, National Bahá’í Archives, United States
Remembering the First African American Bahá'í