Theologian, minister, author, and activist Howard Thurman was best known as an influence and early mentor of some of the civil right movement’s most notable figures. The Daytona Beach, Fla. Native was born November 18, 1899.

The Morehouse man graduated as class valedictorian in 1923, and two years later became an ordained Baptist minister in 1925 while still studying at the Rochester Theological Seminary, graduating there in 1926. His first prominent role as part of an academic faculty came when he was named the dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University.

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Thurman left the tenured position at Howard in 1944 to joined Dr. Alfred Fisk in establishing the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, the first major interracial, non-denominational church in the United States. The church was among the many early churches that allowed members of all spiritual and racial backgrounds to worship as one.

In 1953, Thurman returned to the college ranks, joining Boston University and serving as the dean of Marsh Chapel, making him the first Black dean to lead a chapel at a predominately white university. He retired from the post in 1965, focusing more on lecturing and writing up until his passing.

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Thurman’s 1945 book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” influenced Rev. King’s philosophy, and was a book partly inspired by Gandhi’s approach and response to oppression via acts of radical nonviolence. Thurman met with Gandhi at various early points of his career, and the book introduced to concept of nonviolence to many in the burgeoning civil rights movement. Thurman also established an educational trust in 1965 after retiring from Boston.

Thurman passed in 1981.

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