John Henderson Cartwright, a minister and university administrator, was born in Houston, Texas, on August 17, 1933. Cartwright graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in the city in 1950.
Upon graduating with honors, Cartwright enrolled in Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude in 1954. He received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Boston University (BU) in Massachusetts in 1957.
Cartwright was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church of the Texas Annual Conference. In 1969, he became the founding director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Afro-American Center, which educates graduate and undergraduate students about African American history, politics, and culture, with particular interest in the legacy of Dr. King. Cartwright returned to BU, earning a Doctor of Philosophy in the Sociology of Religion and Social Ethics in 1972. In 1974, he began serving as the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Social Ethics at (BU).
In 1976, Cartwright was appointed BU’s first Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Social Philosophy. He also held positions as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics in the School of Theology and academic coordinator for the Howard Thurman Center.
In 1991, Cartwright was on the review panel of scholars appointed by Boston University because of his leadership as the university’s Martin Luther King Professor of Social Ethics to evaluate the merits of the plagiarism case against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his Ph.D. thesis, A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.
A recipient of numerous awards and accolades, Cartwright held fellowships to defray the cost of advanced study and further research in ethics from the American Council of Education, Boston University. In addition, he received human relations fellowship from the United Methodist Church and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center Freedom Award for Community Service. Cartwright was a member of the Society for the Study of Black Religion, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the American Academy of Religion. He served as executive secretary for the Society of Christian Ethics.
Dr. John Henderson Cartwright retired from BU as Professor Emeritus in 1998 and left Boston for St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Cartwright died on April 22, 2011, on St. Helena Island. He was 77.