Monday, December 29, 2014

Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India

Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt's Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011) works nicely in tandem with Thurman's wondrous autobiography. Some of the same ground is covered, often from a different angle, with the core of this book built around Thurman and the four-person delegation from the United States that extensively and intensely criss-crossed India in the mid-1930s. The parallels between Jim Crow in the USA, British imperial administration in greater India, the caste system and various other forms of socio-economic power interactions were clear, as were emerging methods utilized to change things up. Howard Thurman and his companions did their part in seeding the ground for change, embracing "interculture" and ahimsa, or "nonviolence" (a word Mahatma Gandhi is credited with having "coined" in 1920), a pragmatic and also transcendent long-term approach that begins with consciousness raising.   
"The delegation visited more than fifty cities during their tour . . . There were at least 265 speaking engagements in the 140 days the tour was in Asia, with Thurman speaking at 135 of the engagements" plus "interviews with [Rabindranath] Tagore and Gandhi." (Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India, pages 86-87).  The latter was the first meeting of Gandhi with an African American delegation, and it was a resounding success. 

During the Second World War (in 1944), Howard Thurman and his family moved to San Francisco and worked to build up the Church for the Fellowship of All People, an integrated, intercultural organization. Until then, there had been very few integrated religious bodies in the USA -- besides small groups in San Francisco, Oberlin, Philadelphia and Detroit, little success had yet been realized in breaking down race-perception barriers. "The need for whites and blacks [and others] to work together was precisely to overcome the abstractness of race relations lived in separate segregated worlds" (page 157). This was a new beginning at changing the status quo.

Reaching beyond the status quo is one of the many aspects of Howard Thurman's action-worldview that resonates with me. I am in accord with his thinking and his hopes, seeking to live, inspire and seed the opposite of what he called "The Tragedy of Dull-Mindedness."

Today's Rune: Flow. 


the walking man said...

Detroit may have at one time belonged on that list of harmonious race relations Erik, but it has never been thus in my lifetime.

I could spend until my dying day trying to fill the great divide and it would be like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. Oddly though Detroit in general just does not care anymore, oh there were protests with the Brown and garner movement a hundred or so people.

If anyone wants to see the future of the oligarchy just look to Detroit, which I understand we are changing the city's name to Apathy.

Charles Gramlich said...

A fascinating history.