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5 Men Who Inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a Leader

Martin Luther King Jr., once said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

King, the most prominent figure in the modern civil rights movement, worked in the public spotlight for 13 years--from 1955 to 1968--to fight for desegregation of public facilities, voting rights and an end to poverty. 

It was men such as Howard Thurman, Mordecai Johnson, Bayard Rustin that introduced and encouraged King to read the teachings of Gandhi. 

Benjamin Mays, who was one of King"s greatest mentors, provided King with an understanding of history. Many of King"s speeches are sprinkled with words and phrases originated by Mays. 

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

While King read many books about Gandhi, it was Howard Thurman who first introduced the concept of nonviolence and civil disobedience to the young pastor.

Thurman, who was King’s professor at Boston University, had travelled internationally during the 1930s. In 1935, he met Gandhi while leading a “Negro Delegation of Friendship” to India. The teachings of Gandhi stayed with Thurman throughout his life and career, inspiring a new generation of religious leaders such as King.

In 1949, Thurman published Jesus and the Disinherited. The text utilized New Testament gospels to support his argument that nonviolence could work in the civil rights movement. In addition to King, men such as James Farmer Jr. were motivated to use nonviolent tactics in their activism.

Thurman, considered one of the most influential African-American theologians of the 20th Century, was born on November 18, 1900, in Daytona Beach, Fl.

Thurman graduated from Morehouse College in 1923. Within two years, he was an ordained Baptist minister after earning his seminary degree from Colgate-Rochester Theological Seminary. He taught at the Mt.

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