Howard Thurman, Theologian and Civil Rights Leader
Howard Thurman (1899-1981) was a theologian, philosopher, author, minister, educator, and activist who greatly influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Thurman grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. He lived there until eighth grade, when he traveled to Jacksonville to attend one of the three high schools in Florida open to Black students at the time. After graduating, he attended Morehouse College. He went on to become an ordained Baptist minister, teach religion and philosophy at Morehouse College and Spelman College, and, in 1932, become the first dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University, where he also taught.
From 1935 to 1936, Thurman led delegations of Black Americans to India. While there, he met with Mahatma Gandhi and was inspired by him to pursue nonviolent activism. These nonviolent values informed his most well-known book, Jesus and the Disinherited, which Dr. King read and carried with him during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Thurman also founded an interracial and interfaith congregation in San Francisco in 1944 called the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, which he co-pastored with a white minister. In addition to his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, Thurman was a mystic who felt a strong spiritual connection to nature, a connection that began while he was growing up in Daytona Beach. He wrote many more books in his lifetime, and his work continues to influence social justice activists today. For more information about his life and work, visit this page.
His Florida Home
One year after his birth, Thurman’s family moved from West Palm Beach, Florida to a house in Daytona Beach. He lived in this house for most of his upbringing. In his book, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman, he recalled that the oak tree in the backyard provided a special comfort to him during his childhood:
“Eventually, I discovered that the oak tree and I had a unique relationship. I could sit, my back against its trunk, and feel the same peace that would come to me in my bed at night. I could reach down in the quiet places of my spirit, take out my bruises and my joys, unfold them, and talk about them. I could talk aloud to the oak tree and know that I was understood. It, too, was a part of my reality, like the woods, the night, and the pounding surf, my earliest companions, giving me space.”
In the 1980s, the house was refurbished and opened to visitors as The Howard Thurman Historical Home. It is open for tours, and more information is available on this page. The house is also available for meetings, small events, and workshops.
This is the third stop on Florida Author Adventures Trail #1.