Shining Lamp: Dr. Magdalene Carney (1929-1991)
As snow swirled around her while she sat atop her horse, Magdalene “Mag” Carney watched her father wrap her legs and feet in burlap. He said this would keep her from getting frostbite as she went to school from their farm in Tennessee, U.S. Mag, age nine, wasn’t about to let a blizzard keep her from school. She shook the horse’s reins, and off she went.
Mag’s grandfather was born a slave, unable to get an education. Her mother and father had little schooling, but they worked hard and raised their eight children in the Baptist faith. Mag, the oldest, born in 1929, believed wholeheartedly in God, but had questions. Why should there be two churches for blacks and two for whites in their little community if there was only one God? No one seemed able to answer.
Knowing that with an education, she could help her family out of poverty, Mag graduated from college and taught in elementary and high schools in Nashville. One day in church, she seemed to hear a voice telling her that there was more to religion than what she’d learned so far.
Mag searched for three years. In 1962, a Bahá’í professor named Dr. Sarah Pereira gave Mag a pamphlet about the Faith. Mag was working in the civil rights movement and had longed for a religion that supported racial equality. “By the time I finished reading,” Mag wrote, “I believed in the new system: the Bahá’í Faith. Unimaginable joy flooded my heart!”
She carried the Bahá’í teachings of unity and justice with her when she moved to Mississippi in 1968. She helped share the Faith with thousands throughout the south. In those days, most black and white students went to separate schools. Some people were so angry that they reacted violently to efforts to end this unfair policy. The next year, Mag, now head of a Canton, Mississippi, high school English department, guided the school system peacefully through bringing black and white students together.
Prejudice—judging people without knowing them—arose from false beliefs, Mag thought. Hearts and minds needed education. Mag taught for years in elementary and high schools. She wrote articles and inspired students to aim high, just as she did. With her doctorate degree in education, earned in 1977, she became Dr. Carney and trained future teachers.
Mag served on the National Spiritual Assembly, the body guiding the Bahá’ís of the United States, from 1970 to 1983. In 1983, she was appointed a Counselor in the International Teaching Centre and moved to Haifa, Israel, the Bahá’í World Centre. From there, she helped educate Bahá’ís worldwide to build stronger communities. She visited Bahá’ís in Africa, Europe, and other areas.
Mag left this world in 1991 at the young age of 61, while still serving in Haifa. The Universal House of Justice, the international Bahá’í governing body, praised her for nearly three decades of “UNBROKEN SERVICE,” her commitment to education, and her “SELFLESS SPIRIT.”