February 14: Morehouse College and the True Architect of Dr. King’s Nonviolence Movement

Today marks the 151st Founder’s Day of Morehouse College, and the institution is celebrating by inaugurating its 12th president, Dr. David A. Thomas.

“Founder’s Day for me is a day of reflection of all the Morehouse men who paved the way for me to be here today,” junior Jakarie Gates said in a recent article in the college’s student paper, The Maroon Tiger. “The traditions and foundation Morehouse was built on was my reason for wanting to attend Morehouse. Founder’s Day is a holiday for us.”

Morehouse remains the only institution dedicated to the education of Black men, and despite national statistics showing the crisis surrounding the education of Black males at all levels, the institution has produced more Rhodes Scholars than any other HBCU in the country. The institution is most often associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., but it was King’s mentor and fellow Morehouse grad Howard Thurman who would set him on the path that would change the course of history.

Thurman, a friend and classmate of King’s father, graduated as valedictorian from Morehouse in 1923 — six years before King Jr. was born. and He taught at both Morehouse College and neighboring Spelman College before becoming the first dean of Howard University’s Rankin Chapel. A practicing minister and faculty member in Howard’s school of divinity, Thurman led numerous mission trips, and in a meeting with Mahatma Ghandi during one of these trips, Ghandi suggested Thurman bring back the message of nonviolent protest to the United States as a form of protest. “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world,” he said.

When King began his doctoral studies Boston University, Thurman was there, serving as the first Black dean of a PWI chapel in the United States. He became a mentor and spiritual advisor to King and his friends, and is said to have “ influenced intellectually and spiritually an entire generation that became the leadership of the civil rights movement.” Joined by a Baptist tradition more than a personal closeness, the relationship between the two men grew, and King quoted his mentor often in his more public speeches.

“Thurman was not an activist, as King was, nor one to take up specific social and political causes to transform a country,” wrote one author. “He was a private man and an intellectual. He saw spiritual cultivation as a necessary accompaniment to social activism.”

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com