Black History Month: Howard Thurman
He was a shy man who didn’t lead marches or give dramatic speeches. But Howard Thurman was a spiritual genius who transformed history.
Thurman was a pastor and professor and mystic whose groundbreaking book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” was a condemnation of a form of Christianity which Thurman said was far too often “on the side of the strong and the powerful against the weak and oppressed.”
The book revolutionized the traditional portrait of Jesus and had a profound influence on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s faith and activism.
Born in Florida during the “nadir” of race relations in post-Civil War America, Thurman (1899-1981) graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was a classmate of “Daddy King,” the father of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
His impact on the younger King would be profound.
Thurman was the first African American pastor to travel to India and meet Mohandas Gandhi. And he was one of the first pastors to inspire King to merge Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance with the civil rights movement. Thurman’s concepts about nonviolence and Jesus are peppered through King’s writings.
Thurman, though, didn’t fit the image of a fiery, silver-tongued Black preacher. He punctuated his sermons with long silences and enigmatic phrases such as “the sound of the genuine.” Before “interfaith dialogue” became common, Thurman also worshiped with people of other faiths and warned about the dangers of religious fundamentalism.
Thurman’s life was proof that all sorts of people could become influential leaders in the civil rights movement.