Who is Howard Thurman?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A tremendously influential theologian, philosopher, educator, and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman wrote books, sermons, and speeches advocating "an activism rooted in faith, guided by spirit, and maintained in peace."

Thurman was raised by his grandmother, a former slave, and grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. There were no high schools for Thurman to attend, so he was taken to the train station to travel to Jacksonville where he could go to high school; however, when he was told that he had to pay for his suitcase to be shipped, Thurman became distraught because he did not have the money. He sat upon his suitcase and cried, but a black man in overalls paid the charge, and Thurman boarded the train that would be his first ride to success. He dedicated his autobiography to this unknown man'

to the stranger in the railroad station in Daytona Beach who restored my broken dream sixty-five years ago.

After graduating from Morehouse College, Howard Thurman went on to divinity school and became a Baptist minister. Then, he studied under the Quaker pacifist Rufus Jones who held 

a philosophy that stressed an activism rooted in faith, guided by spirit, and maintained in peace.

Later, in 1936, Thurman traveled to South Asia on a "Negro Delegation of Friendship." to South Asia where he first met the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, who advised him to spread the message of non-violence to African-Americans. Interestingly, it is Howard Thurman who introduced Dr. Martin Luther King to this concept, a concept on which King based his Civil Rights marches.

In 1949 Thurman published his influential work, Jesus and the Disinherited, a marvelous work in which he interpreted the gospels of Jesus to form a basis for the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement with the life of Jesus as an example of peaceful accomplishment of improving the lives of the oppressed. Truly, then, Howard Thurman was the quiet cornerstone of African-American suffrage and civil rights with this work and his philosophy of peaceful resistance learned from Rufus Jones and Ghandi which he passed on to Dr. King.

Thurman's works are widely read, and many of his aphorisms and philosophical ideas are often quoted. Here are examples,

There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves. The 1st is " Where am I going?" and the 2nd is "Who will go with me?"
If you ever get these questions in the wrong order , you are in trouble.

“If a man is convinced that he is safe only as long as he uses his power to give others a sense of insecurity, then the measure of their security is in his hands. If security or insecurity is at the mercy of a single individual or group, then control of behavior becomes routine. All imperialism functions in this way.” 
― Howard ThurmanJesus and the Disinherited

When he died in 1981, Howard Thurman had written twenty-one books on theology, philosophy, prayer, and the religious experience of black Americans in the United States.

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