Sue Bailey Thurman Collection


Sue Bailey Thurman (1903 -1996) was an American author, lecturer, social historian and organizer. Thurman was renowned for her advocacy of interracial, intercultural and international understanding, and for traveling around the world promoting her vision of international peace and fellowship.

Sue Bailey was the youngest of ten children born to Reverend Isaac and Susie Bailey in Fort Bluff, Arkansas.  She graduated from Spelman College in 1920 and received bachelor's degrees in liberal arts and music from Oberlin College in 1926.  After graduating from college, Sue Bailey worked as a national traveling secretary for the YMCA's college division from 1926-1932.  She lectured across the United States and Europe and established the first World Fellowship Committee at the YMCA.  In 1932 she married Dr. Howard Thurman, a religious leader and public theologian.  Sue Bailey was the founder and editor of Aframerican Women's Journal from 1940-1944, the first publication of the National Council of Negro Women.  She also served as the founder and chairperson for the National Council of Negro Women's National Library, Archives, and Museum. 

During the fall of 1935 and the winter of 1936 Sue Bailey travelled to India, Burma and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as part of the delegation of African-Americans on the Pilgrimage of Friendship to the East, which was chaired by her husband.  During this trip, she and her husband became the first African Americans to meet Mohandas Gandhi. Sue Bailey played a significant role in advising Gandhi on African American affairs and in promoting the use of nonviolent resistance to effect social change in the United States. 

In 1943 Sue Bailey, her husband and the philosophy professor Dr. Alfred Fisk started the Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples in San Francisco, the first interracial, nondenominational church in the United States. In the 1950's while her husband was the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, she founded the Museum on Afro-American History in the Beacon Hill section of Boston.  Not only was Thurman an educator, archivist and activist, she penned several books including, Pioneers of Negro Origin in California (1949) and The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro (1958), as well as numerous articles.

She went on to receive honorary doctorate of letters degrees from Boston University and Livingstone College in North Carolina for her work in establishing museums dedicated to African American history.  In 1991 she received a letter of citation from the Indian government at the centennial celebration of Gandhi's birth.

For the last 32 years of her life, Thurman lived in San Francisco where she was a major contributor to the African American Historical and Cultural Society and where she established the society's Sanderson Foundation.  Following her husband's death in 1981, she served as the honorary chair of the Howard Thurman Educational Trust.

Scope & Content

The Sue Bailey Thurman collection consists of manuscripts, subject files, correspondence, personal memorabilia, and photographs.

Manuscripts in the collection consist of various pieces written by Thurman over the course of her long life and career. The earliest item is an English exam from the 1920s. Essay subjects include women and Women's History Month, history, civil rights, and tributes, including a tribute to her husband, Dr. Howard Thurman. Other writings include pieces Thurman wrote for UNICO; several forwards to books written by others; an autobiographical fragment; speeches given on various occasions; notes on various books; reviews; a report on the First International Congress of Women; and other items.

Manuscripts by other in the collection consist of obituaries and tributes for Dr. Howard Thurman, who died in 1981; these writings also include letters of condolence to Thurman, among them a letter and a telegram from Coretta Scott King.

Subject files in the collection consist of various items arranged by Thurman around specific topics. Subjects include the American Society of Friends, Maya Angelou, black history, the YWCA, Boston University, the Fellowship Church, the National Council of Negro Women, the San Francisco African-American Historical and Cultural Society, Dr. Howard Thurman, Mount Bethel Baptist Church, and autobiographical fragments. Files on the Bailey family include numerous items regarding their history and genealogy.

Correspondence in the collection is organized by letter and by topic. The first section consists of general letters, organized alphabetically. The second section consists of letters arranged by topic or sender and listed alphabetically within that topic. Subjects include the American City Bureau, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rose Edington, Ruth E. Hill, a trip to India, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Silber, speaking tours, and Thurman herself. The third section of letters are arranged alphabetically. On the whole, the letters date from 1925 to the 1990's.

Personal memorabilia in the collection primarily consists of awards (mainly certificates) presented to Thurman from 1953 to 1996. Present in the collection are awards presented by the Massachusetts State Senate, California State Senate, California Legislative Assembly, Rust College, the Museum of Afro-American History, Spelman College, Youth on the Move, and others.  Also included is a framed piece of cloth, woven by Mohandas Gandhi and presented to Mrs. Thurman by Gandhi himself on the occasion of their meeting in 1936.

Photographs in the collection consist of a photo album from the January 1992 Boston University commencement at which Thurman received an honorary degree.

search the inventory of the thurman papers

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