Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography (Library of Religious Biography (LRB))

by Paul Harvey

Hardcover, 2020



Call number




Eerdmans (2020), 256 pages


"A religiously focused biography of Howard Thurman, one of the most significant progenitors of the Civil Rights movement"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Howard Thurman is a name that scholars of twentieth-century Christianity and African-American culture know well, but few in the mainstream United States are familiar with it. However, more people should be, and Harvey writes this religious biography to bring his name to the fore. Thurman was known
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as “the mentor to the movement” and mentored dozens of civil rights’ leaders, including Martin Luther King. He laid the groundwork for the dismantling of Jim Crow and the foundations of a better American society.

What, specifically, did Thurman do then? In the 1940s, well before civil rights protests became common, Thurman led an interracial fellowship in San Francisco and proved that racial harmony and life together could be done. He worked as dean of the cathedral at both Howard and Boston Universities. He wrote over twenty books, including Jesus and the Disinherited, his most famous. He sought to understand how the white Christian church could support so much inhumane oppression and to recover what was going on in Jesus’ head, instead of how it had become perverted centuries later.

Most importantly, in the 1930s, Thurman travelled to India and met with Gandhi among others. From Gandhi, he learned about the principle of what was translated as “nonviolence” but untranslated from Sanskrit is ahimsa. He brought this philosophical and life principle to be used by many in the United States in subsequent decades. This concept speaks to more than simply not acting violently; rather, it’s a spiritual orientation of love towards one’s neighbor, an orientation popularized by Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement.

At his core, Thurman was a spiritualist and a mystic. Having seen organized religion as an agent of oppression in the Jim Crow American South, he naturally distrusted it. He chafed against the denominationalism and religious formalities of his day. Instead, he consistently focused on serving the needs of all spiritual seekers. This approach seems common today but was novel in his era. Instead of leading protests, Thurman preferred to give spiritual counsel through speaking engagements, personal mentoring, and penning books.

Harvey’s biography tries to portray Thurman to a twenty-first-century audience. In just under 250 pages, he provides quick and easy access to Thurman’s outlook without the expense of additional hours of reading. Those interested in twentieth-century American religious history will benefit from perusing this work, as will scholars of African-American history. Religion and race are still a difficult tandem to interact with, and Thurman points a healthy way of dealing with their problems. Not everyone will buy into Thurman’s more universal approach, but it deserves to be wrestled with, at the very least. Fortunately, we have Harvey’s well-researched summary of his life available in an accessible format.
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Physical description

256 p.; 8.7 inches


0802876773 / 9780802876775
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