In 1935, Howard Thurman, one of the most influential African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century, took a pivotal “Pilgrimage of Friendship” to India that would forever change him—and that would ultimately shape the course of the civil rights movement in the United States. When Thurman became the first African American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he found himself called upon to create a new version of American Christianity, one that eschewed self-imposed racial and religious boundaries, and equipped itself to confront the enormous social injustices that plagued the United States during this period. Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of satyagraha, or “soul force,” would have a momentous impact on Thurman, showing him the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance. After the journey to India, Thurman’s distinctly American translation of satyagraha into a Black Christian context became one of the key inspirations for the civil rights movement, fulfilling Gandhi’s prescient words that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.”
Today, on the 145th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, we look back to that meeting in 1935, when the idea of nonviolent civil disobedience passed from India’s spiritual leader to the man who would deeply influence an entire generation of black ministers and civil rights leaders—among them Martin Luther King Jr.
The conversation then turned, in the words of Desai, to “the main thing that had drawn the distinguished members to Gandhiji,” his philosophy of ahimsa (nonviolence) and satyagraha (civil disobedience campaigns). “Is non-violence from your point of view a form of direct action?” Thurman asked. “It is not one form,” Gandhi replied, “it is the only form.” Nonviolence, Gandhi said, does not exist without an active expression of it, and indeed, “one cannot be passively nonviolent.” Gandhi went on to lament that the term had been widely misunderstood. Ahimsa was a Sanskrit word with deep resonance in all of South Asia’s ancient karmic religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and (especially) Jainism, in which ahimsa stood for a commitment to refrain from harming living things. He felt there was no good English language equivalent for ahimsa, so he created the term nonviolence (the earliest usage in the Oxford English Dictionary, citing Gandhi, is from 1920), but told Thurman that he regretted the fact that his coinage started with the “negative particle ‘non.’ ” On the contrary, Gandhi insisted nonviolence was “a force which is more positive than electricity” and subtler and more pervasive than the ether.
In 1991, Anita Hill's courageous testimony during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings sparked a national conversation on sexual harassment and women's equality in politics and the workplace. Today, she turns her attention to another potent and enduring symbol of economic success and equality-the home. Hill details how the current housing crisis, resulting in the devastation of so many families, so many communities, and even whole cities, imperils every American's ability to achieve the American Dream.
Hill takes us on a journey that begins with her own family story and ends with the subprime mortgage meltdown. Along the way, she invites us into homes across America, rural and urban, and introduces us to some extraordinary African American women. As slavery ended, Mollie Elliott, Hill's ancestor, found herself with an infant son and no husband. Yet, she bravely set course to define for generations to come what it meant to be a free person of color. On the eve of the civil rights and women's rights movements, Lorraine Hansberry's childhood experience of her family's fight against racial restrictions in a Chicago neighborhood ended tragically for the Hansberry family. Yet, that episode shaped Lorraine's hopeful account of early suburban integration in her iconic American drama A Raisin in the Sun. Two decades later, Marla, a divorced mother, endeavors to keep her children safe from a growing gang presence in 1980s Los Angeles. Her story sheds light on the fears and anxiety countless parents faced during an era of growing neighborhood isolation, and that continue today. In the midst of the 2008 recession, hairdresser Anjanette Booker's dogged determination to keep her Baltimore home and her salon reflects a commitment to her own independence and to her community's economic and social viability. Finally, Hill shares her own journey to a place and a state of being at home that brought her from her roots in rural Oklahoma to suburban Boston, Massachusetts, and connects her own search for home with that of women and men set adrift during the foreclosure crisis.
The ability to secure a place that provides access to every opportunity our country has to offer is central to the American Dream. To achieve that ideal, Hill argues, we and our leaders must engage in a new conversation about what it takes to be at home in America. Pointing out that the inclusive democracy our Constitution promises is bigger than the current debate about legal rights, she presents concrete proposals that encourage us to reimagine equality. Hill offers a twenty-first-century vision of America-not a vision of migration, but one of roots; not one simply of tolerance, but one of belonging; not just of rights, but also of community-a community of equals.
Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence by Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt
In 1935, at the height of his powers, Howard Thurman, one of the most influential African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century, took a pivotal trip to India that would forever change him-and that would ultimately shape the course of the civil rights movement in the United States.
When Thurman (1899-1981) became the first African American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he found himself called upon to create a new version of American Christianity, one that eschewed self-imposed racial and religious boundaries, and equipped itself to confront the enormous social injustices that plagued the United States during this period. Gandhi's philosophy and practice of satyagraha, or "soul force," would have a momentous impact on Thurman, showing him the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.
After the journey to India, Thurman's distinctly American translation of satyagraha into a Black Christian context became one of the key inspirations for the civil rights movement, fulfilling Gandhi's prescient words that "it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world." Thurman went on to found one of the first explicitly interracial congregations in the United States and to deeply influence an entire generation of black ministers-among them Martin Luther King Jr.
Visions of a Better World depicts a visionary leader at a transformative moment in his life. Drawing from previously untapped archival material and obscurely published works, Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt explore, for the first time, Thurman's development into a towering theologian who would profoundly affect American Christianity-and American history.
The fundamental litmus test for American democracy-its economy, government, criminal justice system, education, mass media, and culture-remains: how broad and intense are the arbitrary powers used and deployed against black people. In this sense, the problem of the twenty-first century remains the problem of the color line.
First published in 1993 on the one-year anniversary of the L.A. riots, Race Matters was a national best-seller, and it has since become a groundbreaking classic on race in America.
Race Matters contains West's most powerful essays on the issues relevant to black Americans today: despair, black conservatism, black-Jewish relations, myths about black sexuality, the crisis in leadership in the black community, and the legacy of Malcolm X. And the insights that he brings to these complicated problems remain fresh, exciting, creative, and compassionate. Now more than ever, Race Matters is a book for all Americans, as it helps us to build a genuine multiracial democracy in the new millennium.
Kelley unearths freedom dreams in this exciting history of renegade intellectuals and artists of the African diaspora in the twentieth century. Focusing on the visions of activists from C. L. R. James to Aime Cesaire and Malcolm X, Kelley writes of the hope that Communism offered, the mindscapes of Surrealism, the transformative potential of radical feminism, and of the four-hundred-year-old dream of reparations for slavery and Jim Crow. From "the preeminent historian of black popular culture" (Cornel West), an inspiring work on the power of imagination to transform society.
The first biographical exploration of one of the most important African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century--Howard Thurman--and of the pivotal trip he took to India that ultimately shaped the course of the civil rights movement.
In 1935, Howard Thurman took a trip to India that would forever change him. He became the first African American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and found himself called to create a version of American Christianity that was intolerant of self-imposed racial and religious boundaries. Deeply influenced by Gandhi's philosophy and practice of satyagraha, his translation of the idea into a Black Christian context became one of the key tenets of the civil rights movement, influencing an entire generation of black ministers--most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. Visions of a Better World explores this pivotal trip and its effect on the very shape of the civil rights tradition. Drawing from previously untapped archival material and obscurely published works, Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt outline, for the first time, Thurman's development into the towering theologian who would so profoundly influence the epochal shift in U.S. race relations in the mid-twentieth century.