Liberal Arts Blog — Howard Thurman, Mentor to Martin Luther King

Liberal Arts Blog: Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Culture, and Religion Day

Today’s Topic: Howard Thurman (1899–1981) Mentor to Martin Luther King

My friend Peggy recently introduced me to the work of Howard Thurman, a spiritual mentor to a generation of civil rights activists. His most influential book was “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1948). A few quotes from Thurman have stood out for me. These are the first two thirds of today’s post. The third part consists of excerpts from an interview with the editor of Thurman’s papers — theologian Walter Earl Fluker. Biographical note: Thurman traveled to India to meet with Gandhi and was heavily influenced by him. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, and death to communion with his Father.”

2. “He affirmed life.”

3. “And hatred was the great denial.”

NB: “Young man, all social issues are temporary and brief. Go deep.”


1. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.”

2. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.”

3. “Because what the world need is people who have come alive.”

NB: Quoted by Oprah Winfrey in her Harvard commencement address of 2013. See the third link below for a short biographical film on Thurman.


1.”The major obstacle to overcoming violence in our culture, in our world, is that one must overcome fear. Fear, he felt, was one of the great hounds of hell.The other dimension was self-deception: How might I live a life of integrity that that I might act out of my own center?

2. “Our society is fast-paced. Thurman is very slow. And he thinks life is slow. In fact, he thinks change is slow. This is an incredibly hard lesson to learn, especially for people who have been historically oppressed. Thurman’s solution is not a solution that says we can change things overnight. In fact, he says that social liberation also has to consider social patience. Some stains, he believes, don’t come out without first soaking them. Therefore, he placed most of his emphasis on the individual and what the individual could do to make his or her life a kind of living sacrament to the presence of God in the world.”

3. “It’s one thing to go into the dragon’s cave and slay the dragon; it’s quite another to wake up the next morning and you’ve become the dragon. Thurman wanted to make sure that somehow we maintained purity of heart, will and conscience while we struggled to change a very, very dangerous and violent world.”

Howard Thurman

Interview with Walter Fluker on Howard Thurman:

January 18, 2002 ~ Dr. Walter Fluker Extended Interview | January 18, 2002 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS

Documentary on the life of Howard Thurman

Click here for the last three years of posts arranged by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to words, language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.