Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 1

Dr. Paul Smith enjoyed a profound and close friendship with the eminent theologian, Dr. Howard Thurman (1900-1981).Dr. Smith was one of a group of younger ministers (Thurman referred to them as “my boys”) who traveled to San Francisco many times to pose questions to Dr. Thurman in his private study. Thurman kept up with Smith’s ministry and visited the churches and universities where Smith offered Thurman’s teachings. In the last years of Thurman’s active and public life, Dr. Smith spent treasured moments with Dr. Thurman unraveling and grappling with the meaning and significance of life.

Dr. Thurman was probably the first major African American proponent of non-violent change. In 1936, in India, Dr. Thurman and Mahatma Ghandi began an historic and seminal dialog which deepened over time. In this dialog, Dr. Thurman heard the calling; that the power of non-violent opposition, as expressed in the teachings of Jesus, could be a liberating force for African Americans, and indeed, for all people.

“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making.” 2

It is said that Dr. Thurman’s book “Jesus and the Disinherited” was almost always in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s briefcase, as a reminder to him of the importance of Dr. Thurman’s dream for racial diversity and harmony in America.

Of the many positions of influence Dr. Thurman held, none seem a better model for the world than the house of worship where he was co-founder and pastor, The Church for the Fellowship of All People(San Francisco, 1944). In a country marred by segregation and discrimination, Thurman brought together a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith congregation to worship and work for peace. It was truly a peacefully revolutionary place. At the time, Thurman stated; “Do not be silent; there is no limit to the power that may be released through you.” 3

Howard Thurman was a prophetic theologian, a mystic ,a prolific author, an extraordinary minister, a seeker of truth. His influence has been greatly felt by countless people around the world as they search for the “sound of the genuine” within themselves and others. Dr. Paul Smith’s ministry continues to be a catalyst for disseminating the spirit of Howard Thurman’s teachings ever more deeply and broadly throughout the United States and beyond. As Paul Smith said to Dr. Thurman in Thurman’s study in 1979, “Nothing in your bones suggest that anything be drawn to you, but rather to your spirit.”


1. H. Thurman (source unknown)
2. H. Thurman “Footprints of a Dream”
3. H. Thurman “Deep is the Hunger”
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