While researching in the Tennessee State University’s Special Collections, I was browsing through the newsletters: ‘The Bulletin, Tennesse Agricultural and Industrial State College’. The June 1938 edition revealed that Howard Thurman delivered the Commencement Address to the Class of 1938, the manuscript of which is printed in it’s entirety.
“The second practical thing is on the sense of community, of oneness, this faith in life that is the people. The sort of thing that was true in the past and is not so true now. We are beginning to pick up the threads of it, but that ghost is holding us now and then— in our colleges and universities we see evidences of it. The way in which those people in the past saw— saw very clearly, that the fate of the least advantage, the fate of the least privileged was tied up fundamentally with the most priviledged and the most advantaged.
I was having a discussion group and some young college students were talking about what we can do for the masses. It was a very interesting discussion and one boy said, “I don’t know who the masses are because,” he said “my mother is a cook, my father drives for the city.” There were about six other fellows who were sitting in the room and their mothers and fathers were doing the same things and the masses of the people do the work and he said, “we must be talking about ourselves.” An idea that had never occurred to these boys who in the midst of their learning had forgotten that there is a primary relationship between the front and the back which could not be separated. The turtle may advance his front feet from beneath his shell, but he cannot move his body until he pulls up his back feet. The great battle cry of all of us who are privileged to get learning and all of the other advantages to the people who are part of the great mass of the underprivileged in America— your slogan— my slogan must be always, “Bring up the rear.” And the day that we forget to bring up the rear there isn’t any front. Now that is what we learn from the past.
…If you are staying in our democracy you are being fed only the education upon which democracy says it can perpetuate itself. Now, when we learn that it means we come out into the world with the ideas, with social attitudes, with the particular philosophy of education that may be in vogue at the time; but with all the equipment that belongs to the people who stand in control of our system, but when we function we function as a minority, not as people who are in control of society and individuals. I have never in my life seen an educated Negro who was not discouraged unless I am looking at someone this morning. Because of the complications that arise between the skills, and particularly the social attitudes that we have and place that we must fill when we go out in our communities and in our work. If you don’t believe that this is true, examine the attitues that many of our students take toward the masses of the people. We try to get as far away from them as we can. Try to have as little to do with them as possible and think of them as a great weight holding us down.
…There must be transformation of the Negro church. The Negro people have lost step with the masses. We have divided ourselves into a number of various classes, failing to realize that we are a working class race.
…There is no class system in the Philosophy of Christ. …The masses of this world need security, need peace, need justice, need brotherhood. the church can give it if we transform it.”
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