A historical marker and expansion plans were unveiled during
a recent program at the historic Howard Thurman Home.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Area residents came together on Jan. 18 for the unveiling of a historical marker at the Howard Thurman Home in Daytona Beach.
The home, at 614 Whitehall St., was the residence of Dr. Howard Thurman, renowned theologian, author and educator. On the National Register of Historic Places, the home also is listed on the City of Daytona Beach’s Black Heritage Trail.
The program was presented by the New Birth Corporation, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve Thurman’s home, life and legacy. Rev. Inez Stafford is President of New Birth. It puts on tours, educational events and programs at the house.
The Jan. 18 event included the unveiling of the home as an official Florida Historical Marker site, reading of Thurman’s history, a tour of the home, as well as the announcement of expansion plans at the site.
About the marker
The Florida Division of Historical Resources notes that the Historical
Marker Program “is designed to raise public awareness of Florida’s rich cultural history
and to enhance the enjoyment of our historic sites by citizens and tourists.’’
“These markers allow us to tell the stories of the places and people who created the Florida that we all enjoy today, by identifying the churches, schools, archaeological sites, battlefields and homes that represent our past,’’ the division adds.
“This gives the community access to funding that can help build and develop this community,” stated Dr. Anthony Dixon, archivist and historian at Bethune-Cookman University.
Paula Reed, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Zone 6, also serves on the New Birth board.
“This is only the beginning. We have plans to purchase six properties on this street,’’ she explained. “We plan to add a Thurman museum adjacent to this home, a community garden, peace garden and cultural center nearby. We have design plans with an architect that we hope to bring before the city’s planning board.’’
Percy Williamson, also a board member, served as the program’s master of ceremonies.
“One of the purposes for this is to raise the profile and awareness of Dr. Howard Thurman, who is one of the greatest theologians in the history of this country and this world,” he said. “We hope that people learn enough information about Howard Thurman to take and share with others.’’
City of greats
Thurman influenced the civil rights movement; he learned Mohandas Gandhi’s non-violent protest methods. Thurman also mentored several civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Often during my travels, I tell people that I am from Daytona Beach the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement,” Williamson shared.
“I tell them about people like Thurman who spent the first 17 years of his life here. I also speak on Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Jackie Robinson and others who made history here.’’
Reflecting on history
Reed also reflected on the historic home’s significance.
“We are at a property that the city at one point wanted to tear down. When I was growing up, my grandparents stayed in a two-story home across the street. My parents bought me over often. I had no idea what I was looking at when I saw this house,” added Reed. Former Florida State Senator Tony Hill also attended the ceremony.
Daytona Times Publisher Charles W. Cherry II read the history of Thurman’s life. Activist Dinizulu Gene Tinnie did the pouring of libation, which is the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria’s way of honoring ancestors.
Dr. (Judge) Inez Smith-Reid, treasurer of the New Birth Corporation, read off the history of New Birth and its founders, which included the Rev. Jefferson and Dr. Mary Grace Rodgers.
In the midst of history
Shirley Thompson, a retired educator, was one of the attendees.
“I learned a lot. I grew up in South Street, then we moved to Kathy Street. I never knew that I was in the midst of so much history. I am not sure that many of my friends that I grew up with knew this either,’’Thompson said.
Ashlee McCowan, a current educator, also said she learned more about Thurman during the event.
“I heard about Thurman from my mother. I teach third grade at Westside Elementary. I’ve been looking for some Black History Month topics for my students. Maybe I can teach some of this to my students,’’ she said.
His early life
Howard Thurman was born on Nov. 18, 1899, in West Palm Beach, and moved to Daytona Beach with his family soon thereafter. He was the grandson of enslaved African-Americans and lived in the home with his grandparents, mother, and siblings. Thurman was a reserved kid who loved playing at the big oak tree in his yard, which still stands today.
Howard was the first to graduate from the eighth grade in Daytona. He went on to become the valedictorian of his class at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He studied at the Rochester Theological Seminary and Haverford College. He was an influential teacher at Morehouse, Spelman College and Howard University.
Eulogized Dr. Bethune
In the mid-1930s, he was with a delegation that traveled to India where he was the first African American invited to India to meet Mohandas Gandhi.
Thurman helped launch the Fellowship Church for All People in San Francisco. which is considered to be the nation’s first interracial and multicultural church community back in 1944. The church added theater and dance in its worship. Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune were at-large members.
He also gave the eulogy at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s funeral. Thurman served as the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University (1953-1965). He retired to San Francisco where he died in 1981.