Dr. Howard Thurman

The following text is from the Commemorative Service Program for Dr. Howard Thurman that occurred on November 18, 1981 at Howard University.

November 18, 1899–April 10, 1981

Howard Thurman, born in Daytona Beach, Florida, was the son of Alice (Ambrose) and Saul Solomon Thurman. From the moment in time when the self-supporting boy of 14 met the “anonymous stranger” who gave him money to check his trunk on the train to Jacksonville, he established his course firmly in footprints of a magnificent Dream. He graduated with honors from Morehouse College and the Colgate Rochester Divinity School. He served as Director of Religious Life at Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, extending his ministry to the broad “town and gown” Atlanta community. Howard University called him to become its first Dean of Andrew Rankin Chapel, and to radiate from that high citadel of learning a “conscience” for the nation’s capital.

Gladsome, toilsome, and creative years were spent in the founding of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco—a service dedicated to breaking through the walls that separate mankind on any basis of race, color, creed, or national origin. His conversations with Gandhi in India had deepened his faith in the power of non-violent resistance. His book Jesus and the Disinherited offered ancient but eternal tools for warring with principalities and powers that oppress the poor, the dispossessed, and all people of the earth who hunger in flesh and spirit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

At the mid-point in his life, he took his dream to Boston University where, as Dean of Marsh Chapel, it would be tried and tested in the crucible of a large urban university community. As Dean of Marsh Chapel for 12 years, he ministered to 30,000 communicants of all faiths and nationalities.

In these several capacities in which he served as a special Man of God, he was a preacher, teacher, poet, theologian, personal counselor, and loving friend. His living spirit surrounded all of mankind and every facet of human experience. At the same time, he had no peer in the care with which he ministered to the individual person, taking each by the hand and helping men, women, and children to find their own path that would eventually lead them Home. In this, he was God’s miracle who brought forth light and beauty out of tragic suffering and darkness for a multitude of seekers. His eloquent voice of faith and commitment was expressed in the 21 books he wrote, including the autobiography With Head and Heart. His dream was honored by a score of American colleges and universities who awarded him honorary degrees.

He gave all of his strength and energy—even during the period of his long illness—to the work of the Trust that he founded in 1965. He envisioned the Trust (a nonprofit public foundation) as providing scholarships for college undergraduates, supporting intercultural community and school activities, and disseminating his recorded and published works.

He died at his home in the early morning hours of April 10, 1981. A friend wrote of him immediately afterward:

“God reached down and confounded the languages of the computers thus preventing the astronauts’ space trip. This was done because at that time, all of the air lanes were busy and in use.”