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More than 60 autumns ago, a young Atlantan named Martin Luther King Jr. arrived to start graduate school at Boston University. There, he fell under the influence of a theologian, Howard Thurman, who taught him about Gandhian nonviolence. That concept became one of Dr. King’s guiding principles in the civil rights movement.

On a brilliant fall morning this Sunday, a torch of black Christianity was passed to another minister, scholar and son of Atlanta, who was born five years after Dr. King’s death, the Rev. Jonathan L. Walton. In a combined worship service and installation ceremony, Mr. Walton took on the position of Pusey minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard, a pulpit of importance inside and outside the university.

Mr. Walton’s appointment, which also includes an endowed professorship of Christian morals, forms part of a generational transition in the African-American church.

Ministers and theologians who came of age during the civil rights era are being supplanted by those, like Mr. Walton, 39, of elite universities, the diversity movement and hip-hop culture. To underscore how much else has changed at Harvard, Mr. Walton was formally given the pulpit Sunday by Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president.

His contemporaries include the religion scholars Eddie Glaude Jr. of Princeton University and Josef Sorett of Columbia University, prominent congregational leaders like the Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and the Obama administration’s head of faith-based partnerships, the Rev. Joshua DuBois.

“Obviously, I’m a post-civil rights kid, and so are all us,” Mr. Walton said in an interview the day before his installation. “We’re all standing on the shoulders and benefiting from the sacrifices of those who came before us.

But it can’t be totally reducible to race. I’m also a Southern evangelical kid who’s been appointed to lead the spiritual community of an almost 400-year-old institution founded to train Puritan ministers. And that says something positive about Harvard University as it relates to an obscuring, if not erasing, of regional and religious differences, of class and cultural biases.”

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