Black Church Figures You Should Know - Howard Thurman

Why the series?

Historical Theology and Church History in the African American context is rarely celebrated. That is a very sad occasion. There is much we can learn from the rich tradition of the African American church. When we do, it affirms the great doctrine that all men are created in the Image of God and it kills the great sin of intellectual racism.

What about the series?

A few things must be noted about our list. First and foremost, please be aware that appearances on the list do not automatically confirm theological content and biblical orthodoxy. Please consider each figure in light on proper biblical interpretation and refer to our statement of beliefs when in doubt. Secondly, this list is nowhere near being exhaustive in scope or content. We are barely scratching the surface and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We considered appearances on the list by surveying several avid supporters for their considerations based upon the figures of significant impact, rich content, and historical significance.

Howard Thurman (1899-1981)


Howard Thurman is a native of Daytona Beach, Florida, born on November 18, 1899. Among being known as a Baptist preacher, theologian, and educator, Thurman is noted for being the first African American dean of a predominantly white university and the founder of the first interracial interfaith congregation in the United States. Born the grandson of former slaves, it was instilled to Thurman the importance of gaining the best education possible. It was his grandmother who also nurtured his ability to critically read and understand the Bible. Once he reached the eighth grade, Thurman worked in a dry-cleaning business while attending school. He was the first black child to receive an eighth grade certificate from Daytona’s public school system. After the eighth grade, he was sent off to Jacksonville to attend what was the nearest high school that blacks were allowed to attend, Florida Baptist Academy. Subsequently, he graduated and proceeded to receive his bachelor’s degree in economics from Morehouse College in 1923.

After receiving a Bachelor’s of Divinity degree from Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926, he served as pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin, Ohio, while pursuing a graduate degree in theology at Oberlin College. In January of 1929, Thurman resigned as pastor and began graduate studies at Haverford College under the leadership of Quaker theologian Rufus M. Jones. It was there that he developed a burden to not only preach but to also develop disciples.

In the fall of 1929, Howard Thurman became a professor at Morehouse College. In 1932 he became the dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University. After meeting with Mohandas Gandhi in 1934, Thurman set himself on a path towards nonviolent protests against segregation. In addition to founding the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, Thurman also became a voice of inspiration for students committed to social justice and participation in the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dying in 1981, Howard Thurman’s teachings and influence can still be heard today through the many books he wrote and monumental leaders he taught.

For more information visit: – Who Was Howard Thurman?

American National Biography – Howard Thurman

PBS.Org: This Far by Faith