HOWARD THURMAN Continued

"Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers."

–HOWARD THURMAN

In 1935,  while a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Thurman and his wife, Sue Bailey Thurman, led a pilgrimage of African Americans to Ceylon, Burma and India and met with Mahatma Gandhi. As a result of this trip, he formulated, a generation before Martin Luther King Jr., a non-violent approach to social change in America. This "love-ethic" informed one of Thurman's best known works, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book which later influenced King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

At the close of the 1935 pilgrimage, looking down into Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass, Thurman experienced a vision of a church that would be open to "seekers of all colors and creeds." He was compelled to see if "experiences of spiritual unity among peoples could be more compelling than the experiences which divide them."

 

In 1944, Thurman fulfilled his vision when he left Howard University as Dean of Rankin Chapel and co-founded the nation's first intentionally interracial, intercultural and interfaith church, Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples (Fellowship Church) in San Francisco.  When segregation was still the law of the land and religious intolerance prevailed around the world, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians saw the church as an opportunity to give form and content to Thurman's message on the possibility and value of an inclusive community.

 

By 1953, Thurman had become a nationally and internationally respected figure and accepted the racially groundbreaking appointment as Dean of Marsh Chapel, Boston University. Because of the diverse campus population, Thurman found another "laboratory" for proving the urge of the spirit toward unity.

 

During the Civil Rights Movement, Thurman acted as an advisor, counselor and mentor to Movement leaders. Mrs. Sue Bailey Thurman recalls that during many midnights, her husband would receive calls requesting prayer and counsel for the next "battle." Despite criticism that he should become more visibly active in Movement protests, Thurman was committed to addressing the inner march of congregates.  He believed that personal spiritual renewal was important to the liberation process and that inward liberation was a prerequisite for social transformation.

 

During his final years at Boston University, Thurman embarked on a "Wider Ministry," lecturing world-wide, and assumed a position as Visiting Lecturer at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. After his retirement in 1965, and until his death in 1981, he directed the Howard Thurman Educational Trust in San Francisco, which provided scholarships to needy students and served as a base for his continued ministries and counsel.  Thurman has left a tremendous library of readings, meditations and tapes that are actively used and continue to inspire new generations world-wide, who seek inner and social wholeness.