CIVIC & COMMUNITY
Community Engagement Series with Dr. Vincent G. Harding
April 4, 2013
On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, let's advance the Kingian legacy by considering: King and the Fierce Ugencey of Now.
Diversity Assets seeks to advance the building of the beloved community by valuing cultural diversity, addressing social and racial injustices, pursuing systemic change, and applying best practice principles.
Dr. Vincent G. Harding's Biography:
Vincent Harding is perhaps best known as the man who created the original draft for Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech opposing America’s role in the Vietnam War and putting forward the spiritual, social and economic foundations for that opposition. For Harding that speech was a central event in a life dedicated to non-violent action, Civil and Human Rights advocacy and transformative education.
Harding’s commitment to non-violence crystallized in 1953 when he was serving as a draftee in the U. S. Army and realized that he was really a conscientious objector to war. Before being drafted he had received his B. A. from the City College of New York and his M. A. in Journalism from Columbia University. After his discharge from the Army he went to study history at the University of Chicago and became associated with the Mennonite Club, one of the American “Peace Churches.” During that time Harding served an interracial pastoral team at the Woodlawn Mennonite Church on Chicago’s South Side and also earned his M. A. in American History at the University.
Soon after, in the fall of 1958, Harding travelled through the south as part of an interracial group of men from Woodlawn. It was on that journey that he first met Dr. King in Montgomery, Alabama, and King urged Harding to move south and join the Civil Rights Movement.
Before completing his doctorate, Harding and his late wife, Rosemarie Freeney, moved to Atlanta in 1961 (where King had recently returned to his hometown). There they worked with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the struggle to advance the cause of civil rights for African Americans. He also worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and with many local Freedom Movement organizations. During this time the Hardings established Mennonite House in Atlanta, a center to study, embody, and discuss the spiritual and social dimensions of non-violence and the Civil Rights Movement (a movement Harding often refers to as “the black-led movement for the expansion of democracy in America.”) Harding maintained his commitment to education and in 1965 he earned his doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. The same year he joined the faculty of the history department at Spelman College in Atlanta.
After Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, Coretta Scott King asked Harding to help her organize the Martin Luther King Memorial Center, and he served as the Center’s first director. At that time Harding resigned his academic position at Spelman. During that same period Harding worked in Atlanta with a group of African-American scholars, artists and community organizers to develop and direct The Institute of the Black World, a path-breaking model for the Black Studies Movement then emerging in America.
In 1974, Harding and his family (including two children, Rachel and Jonathan) left Atlanta and moved to Philadelphia where he taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University and served with Rosemarie on the staff of the Quaker-sponsored Pendle Hill Study Center before going to the Iliff School of Theology in Denver in 1981.
Harding taught there for 23 years before retiring. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Religion and Social Transformation.
A major historian of the African American struggle for freedom, Vincent Harding is the author of several books, among them There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (1981); Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement (1990); and Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (1996).
In 1986 Harding served as senior academic advisor for the PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” an award winning account of the civil rights movement.
Harding and his late wife Rosemarie co-founded the Veterans of Hope Project in 1997 as an educational initiative intended to gather the autobiographical stories of dozens of women and men who have devoted themselves to the work of compassionate social change, and to share those filmed narratives with a younger generation.
In May, 2011 Harding visited the University of Arkansas, where he took part in a panel discussion with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Sister Helen Prejean: “Turning Swords into Plowshares: The Many Paths of Non-violence.” While on campus Harding also led a seminar on non-violence for faculty, students and guests.
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