Day 27 28th March Howard Thurman
When we think about 20th century civil rights activists we immediately think of the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, or Nelson Mandela who all did some amazing things. One name that often goes unnoticed is Howard Thurman, an American Baptist minister who spent time with Gandhi, and had a great influence upon Martin Luther King Jr. Thurman was born in Florida in 1899 and his grandmother, who lived in the family home, was an ex slave. That fact, and her general influence, inspired him and drove him to work for those who are marginalised in society. Although born into poverty he worked hard to attend college and get a good education, and along with becoming a Baptist pastor, he was also a prolific author, philosopher and civil rights leader. He became a mentor to many others, including Martin Luther King.
A story his grandmother told him had a profound effect upon him. She told him that when she was a slave they would often have secret religious gatherings and a pastor would constantly say to them: “You are not slaves, you are not what they think you are – you are children of God.” He established within them a sense of personal dignity and worth. It was this dignity and worth that she instilled into her grandson; and he made it is mission to pass it on to others.
In the 1930’s he and his wife visited and spent time with Mahatma Gandhi in India, and from him he learned to truly value the concept of non-violent protest. He learned that responding to abuse with force of any kind only fed that abuse more, and you also run the risk of becoming no better than the abuser. Gandhi knew that you never created lasting peace and justice through violence, and Howard Thurman came to believe the same.
When we hear the term ‘nonviolent protest’ we immediately think of avoiding physical violence, but it goes much further than that. It is not just about avoiding physical violence, but also aggressive speech and thoughts. How easy it is when any of us find ourselves in confrontation of any kind that we react by fighting back and saying things without thinking. Thus we feed and add to a difficult situation by our own response to it. Thurman believed we should always stand up against what is wrong and unjust, but in a way that follows Jesus’ teaching to “love our enemy”, and treat them with dignity and respect. We can only do that if we first have a sense of our own dignity and worth, which we then extend to others.
Some quotes of Howard Thurman
Don’t ask your self what the world needs;
ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
There is something in every one of you
that waits and listens
for the sound of the genuine in yourself.
In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen,
we can hear the whisper of the heart
giving strength to weakness,
courage to fear,
hope to despair.
There must be always remaining in every life,
some place for the singing of angels,
someplace for that which in itself
is breathless and beautiful.
Listen to the long stillness:
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied.
Humankind is fashioning a new heart;
Humankind is forging a new mind.
God is at work!
This is the season of promise.
A time of pause when nature changes her guard.
All living things would fade and die
from too much light
or too much dark,
if twilight were not.