Backs Against The Wall: The Howard Thurman Story explores the extraordinary
life and legacy of one of the most important religious figures of the 20th century.

Born the grandson of slaves, Thurman became a “spiritual foundation” for the Civil
Rights Movement, inspiring many of its leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr,
Jesse Jackson and Congressman John Lewis.

In the mid-1930s, Thurman was the first Black American invited to meet Mohandas
Gandhi who shared his strategy of non-violent resistance. Gandhi suggested it
would be through the African-American experience that the non-violence resistance
movement could take on global significance. When Thurman returned to America,
his writings and speeches planted the early seeds for the non-violent Civil Rights Movement.

Thurman is also remembered for helping launch The Fellowship Church for All
People in San Francisco, a pioneering venture to create the nation’s first interracial,
intercultural church community. Thurman was a gifted and prolific writer who
authored more than 20 books and celebrated as one of the great preachers of his era.
Backs Against The Walls is produced and directed by Martin Doblmeier.

The film is a production of Journey Films and a presentation
of Maryland Public Television. It will release to PBS stations in February 2019 for Black History month.


Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The recipient of over forty honorary doctorate degrees, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2000. A renowned orator and international peacemaker, Rev. Jackson is also the author or co-author of the books Keep Hope Alive, Straight From the Heart, Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice, and the Death Penalty, and It’s About The Money.

John Lewis

John Lewis is a United States Congressman representing Georgia’s Fifth District and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He was a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963 and co-led the 1965 voting rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis is co-author of the National Book Award-winning graphic novel and memoir trilogy MARCH and Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change, written with Brenda Jones.

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. is senior counsel at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld, LLC, and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Mr. Jordan’s prior positions include president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, Inc.; executive director of the United Negro College Fund, Inc.; field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and many other posts. He holds honorary degrees from more than 70 colleges and universities, and is the author of Vernon Can Read! A Memoir and Make it Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out.

Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, teacher, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, won an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her 2014 book Learning to Walk in the Dark was featured on the cover of TIME magazine, which included her on its annual list of 100 Most Influential People the same year. Her fourteenth book, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others, will be released by HarperOne in 2019.

Alton B. Pollard, III

Alton B. Pollard, III is president and professor of religion and culture at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. A scholar, author, consultant and speaker on the subject of African American and U.S. religion and culture, Pollard was previously dean of the School of Divinity and professor of Religion and Culture at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Pollard is the author of Mysticism and Social Change: The Social Witness of Howard Thurman and co-editor of The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman Volumes I and II.

Walter Earl Fluker

Walter Earl Fluker is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership at the Boston University School of Theology and editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project. His Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Ethical Leadership: Character, Civility and Community” has engaged over 12,000 participants from around the globe. His publications include the multi-volume The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman and The Ground Has Shifted: The Future of the Black Church in Post-Racial America.

Otis Moss, Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. is pastor emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He was a board member and regional director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under the presidency of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a national board member and trustee of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Otis Moss III

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III is senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL and a leader for social justice and equality in the Black Theology tradition. In 2014, he presented the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale University, which became the foundation for his most recent book, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair. Moss was named one of the inaugural “Root 100,” a list recognizing emerging and established African-American leaders.

Luther E. Smith, Jr.

Luther E. Smith, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of Church and Community at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. His current research focuses on the writings and correspondence of Howard Thurman, children’s advocacy, and the spirituality of hope. An ordained elder in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Dr. Smith’s publications include Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet and Howard Thurman: Essential Writings (editor). He is senior consulting editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project.

Peter Eisenstadt

Peter Eisenstadt, Ph.D., is an historian of American religion and history and co-author (with Quinton Dixie) of Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African-American Nonviolence. He is a senior volume editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project and associate editor of The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman, Vols. I-IV. His biography of Howard Thurman, Against the Hounds of Hell: A Life of Howard Thurman, is forthcoming in 2020.

Gregory C. Ellison, II

Gregory C. Ellison, II is Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He is the founder of Fearless Dialogues, a non-profit organization that creates unique spaces for unlikely partners to have hard, heartfelt conversations on taboo subjects like racism, classism, and community violence. He also is the author of the forthcoming book Anchored in the Current: The Eternal Wisdom of Howard Thurman in a Changing World.

Anton Wong

Anton Howard Wong is the grandson of Dr. Howard Thurman and a registered architect in New York City, where he lives with his wife, daughter, son and grandson. He was born in San Francisco, home of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, where his parents met in the 1950s. He hopes this film can be a catalyst for introducing others to the work of Dr. Howard Thurman.

Lerita Coleman Brown

Lerita Coleman Brown is the Ayse I. Carden Distinguished Professor Emerita of Psychology at Agnes Scott College and a spiritual director whose particular focus is the life and work of Howard Thurman. A graduate of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, she leads retreats on Thurman and other topics on contemplative spirituality at venues around the United States. Her new book is When the Heart Speaks, Listen: Discovering Inner Wisdom.

Eileen Guenther

Eileen Guenther is Professor of Church Music and Director of Chapel Music at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. She is the author of In Their Own Words: Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals and Rivals or a Team: Clergy-Musician Relationships in the Twenty-First Century. An international organ recitalist, she also served for many years as president of the 16,000-plus-member American Guild of Organists.

Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr.

Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr., is dean of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel, professor of religion, and college archivist and curator at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Carter’s publications include Walking Integrity: Benjamin Elijah Mays as Mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Global Ethical Options, in the Tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Daisaku Ikeda, among others. He designed the burial memorials for Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman at Morehouse College, Thurman’s alma mater.

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