The faith journeys of a major mentor to the civil rights movement
Teacher. Minister. Theologian. Writer. Mystic. Activist. No single label can capture the multiplicity of Howard Thurman’s life, but his influence is evident in the most significant aspects of the civil rights movement. In 1936, he visited Mahatma Gandhi in India and subsequently brought Gandhi’s concept of nonviolent resistance across the globe to the United States. Later, through his book Jesus and the Disinherited, he foresaw a theology of American liberation based on the life of Jesus as a dispossessed Jew under Roman rule.
Paul Harvey’s biography of Thurman speaks to the manifold ways this mystic theologian and social activist sought to transform the world to better reflect “that which is God in us,” despite growing up in the South during the ugliest years of Jim Crow. After founding one of the first intentionally interracial churches in the country—the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco—he shifted into a mentorship role with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. He advised them to incorporate more inward seeking and rest into their activism, while also recasting their struggle for racial equality in a more cosmopolitan, universalist manner.
As racial justice once again comes to the forefront of American consciousness, Howard Thurman’s faith and life have much to say to a new generation of the disinherited and all those who march alongside them.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. “My People Need Me”: The Education of Howard Thurman 2. “The Unadulterated Message of Nonviolence”: Howard University and the Voyage to India 3. The Affirmation Mystic in Action: Thurman’s Philosophical Explorations, 1936–1944 4. “A Sense of Coming Home”: The Great Adventure in San Francisco 5. “The Scent of Eternal Unity”: Dreams Deferred in Boston 6. “The Way the Grain in My Wood Moves”: Thurman’s Wider Ministry Epilogue: Mentor of the Movement: Thurman’s Influence and Afterlives
Paul Harvey is professor of history and presidential teaching scholar at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is the author or coauthor of several books on religion and race in US history, including The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, which was named a "Top 25 Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice magazine in 2013.
“An illuminating account of the life and legacy of Howard Thurman. . . . This should go far to raise the profile of a lesser-known spiritual leader whose writings, sermons, and mentorship helped lay the foundation for the civil rights movement.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Booklist “Although celebrated during his lifetime, Thurman’s star went into eclipse following his death. Surely this judicious, insightful biography will help restore its lost luster.”
“Howard Thurman was one of the few great intellectual giants and spiritual geniuses of the twentieth century! Paul Harvey is keeping his legacy alive!” — Cornel West author of Race Matters
“In a time beset by myriad tribulations, Howard Thurman is a religious and social thinker that Americans desperately need to get to know better. Paul Harvey’s book is a little gem, the first short scholarly biography of Thurman, and an eloquent distillation of his life and thought.” — Peter Eisenstadt author of Against the Hounds of Hell: A Biography of Howard Thurman
“Paul Harvey’s timely and well-documented work, Howard Thurman and the Disinherited, is the first critical biography on this renowned religious thinker and American prophet. Harvey masterfully weaves together Thurman’s distinctive interpretation of mysticism and social action, his experimentation with ecclesiology as a center for worship, and his prophetic insight and analysis of democracy as an unfinished spiritual and ethical project. Academic, religious, and general readers alike will find the book accessible and helpful in learning more about this still-enigmatic figure in American history and culture.” — Walter Earl Fluker Boston University and Candler School of Theology editor and director, The Howard Thurman Papers Project
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