Howard Thurman’s prophetic book offered wisdom that informed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, and it continues to shine a bright light in uncomfortable spaces. While the book speaks to the conditions of the 1930s and 1940s, it is easy to read the text as addressing any situation where there is a failure to respect the dignity of every human being. Its continued importance is then, in part, because there is a regrettably abundant supply of contemporary situations where some of us lose sight of the inherent neighborliness of others.
Thurman presents an unsentimental analysis of the forces that oppress and offers insights into how and why those who are oppressed should build a spiritual reservoir to fuel resistance. “Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.”
While Jesus and the Disinherited is thoroughly of and from the Christian tradition, which is my own background, I expect many Christian readers will find it challenging. I also expect that regardless of the reader’s religious background, they will have an irresistible urge to underline sentence after sentence and turn this slim book into a long slow read. —John Meier, provost