A Gruff Savior

When Howard Thurman was growing up in Daytona, Florida, the city did not provide public education for black children beyond the seventh grade (there were only three public high schools for black children in the entire state). When Thurman had gone as far as he could in Daytona, a cousin in Jacksonville offered him room and board in exchange for chores so that Thurman could attend the Florida Baptist Academy there.

When the time came to leave for Jacksonville, I packed a borrowed old trunk with no lock and no handles, roped it securely, said my good-byes, and left for the railway station. When I bought my ticket, the agent refused to check my trunk on my ticket because the regulations stipulated that the check must be attached to the trunk handle, not to a rope. The trunk would have to be sent express but I had no money except for a dollar and a few cents left after I bought my ticket.

I sat down on the steps of the railway station and cried my heart out. Presently I opened my eyes and saw before me a large pair of work shoes. My eyes crawled upward until I saw the man's face. He was a black man, dressed in overalls and a denim cap. As he looked down at me he rolled a cigarette and lit it. Then he said, "Boy, what in hell are you crying about?"

And I told him.

"If you're trying to get out of this damn town to get an education, the least I can do is to help you. Come with me," he said.

He took me around to the agent and asked, "How much does it take to send this boy's trunk to Jacksonville?"

Then he took out his rawhide money bag and counted the money out. When the agent handed him the receipt, he handed it to me. Then, without a word, he turned and disappeared down the railroad track. I never saw him again.

From With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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Sojourners Magazine December 1993
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