Thurman, Howard (1899–1981), Clergyman, Educator, Philosopher, Poet, Theologian

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Thurman, Howard
(1899–1981), clergyman, educator, philosopher, poet, theologian.

Howard Thurman was one of the most significant figures of twentieth-century American religious and cultural life. The author of numerous books of sermons, meditations, and essays, he was born in the segregated town of Daytona, Florida, ordained in the Baptist Church, and educated at Morehouse College (B.A., 1923) and Rochester Theological Seminary (B.D., 1926). Thurman began his career as a youth movement leader in the 1920s as a regular on the YMCA speakers' circuit. He studied with Quaker mystic and philosopher Rufus Jones at Haverford College (spring 1929) and returned to teach philosophy and religion at Morehouse and at its sister school Spelman College (1929–1932).

As professor of Christian theology and dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University (1932–1944), he began systematic experimentation of his belief in interracial and intercultural relations through religious experience. During this period Thurman also led a "Negro Delegation of Friendship" to South Asia; this was the first African-American group to meet Mohandas Gandhi. In 1944 Thurman left his position at Howard University to cofound the first racially integrated, interreligious, and intercultural church in the United States, the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, in San Francisco. From 1953 to 1965 he served as professor of spiritual resources and dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University—the first African American to do so. He continued his ministry as director of the Howard Thurman Educational Trust from its founding in 1965 until his death. Thurman's vision of a "friendly world underneath friendly skies" continues his rich legacy.

See alsoCivil Rights Movement; Ministry; Religious Studies.


Fluker, Walter E. They Looked for a City: A ComparativeAnalysis of the Ideal of Community. 1988.

Stewart, Carlyle Field. God, Being, and Liberation: AComparative Analysis of the Theologies and Ethics ofJames H. Cone and Howard Thurman. 1989.

Thurman, Howard. A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life, edited by Walter Earl Fluker and Catherine Tumber, 1999.

Thurman, Howard. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman. 1979.

Walter Earl Fluker

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Thurman, Howard (1899–1981), Clergyman, Educator, Philosopher, Poet, Theologian

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