Reverend Howard Thurman’s theology of non-violence influenced a generation of civil rights activists. He led many social justice movements and organizations in the twentieth century. Reverend Thurman was a key mentor and spiritual advisor to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most influential and successful civil rights leaders in American history.
Reverend Thurman has been called one of the 50 most important persons in African American history. He has also been rated among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States.
At Boston University in 1953, Reverend Thurman served as the first African American Dean of Chapel for a majority-white college or university in the United States. He also served on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology, teaching students about God and the Bible. In 1944, Reverend Thurman co-founded the nation’s first intentionally interracial, interfaith church, pastoring with a white minister who also founded the church.
Throughout his career, Reverend Thurman wrote many letters, sermons, and speeches about racial reconciliation through non-violence. He also authored 20 books on theology, religion, and philosophy. One of his books, “Jesus and the Disinherited” (published in 1949) deeply influenced Reverend King and other leaders of the modern civil rights movement.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
From an early age, Reverend Thurman had a deep love for the Christian Bible and the teachings of Jesus. As a child, he read the Bible out loud to his grandmother, a former slave who raised him. He learned about the slaves’ deep religious faith, which shaped his belief that Christianity can transform hearts. His writings reflect that Reverend Thurman promoted spiritual discipline instead of resentment in the civil rights struggle. He followed and promoted Jesus’s teachings about fighting oppression through non-violence.