Celebrating the life of civil rights elder Vincent Harding

OnBeingThe May 21st New York Times in its obituary of Vincent Harding, said this, "Vincent Harding, a historian, author and activist who wrote one of the most polarizing speeches ever given by Martin Luther King in which Dr. King expressed ardent opposition to the Vietnam War, died (of an aneurysm) on May 19th in Philadelphia. He was 82.”

Vincent Harding was the Professor of Religion and Social Transformation at Iliff School of Theology in Denver from 1981 until he retired in 2004. It was in Denver that I got to know Vincent and his wife Rosemarie Freeney Harding, now deceased. They both established The Veterans of Hope that has these words in its Mission Statement:

“The Veterans of Hope is a multi-faceted educational initiative on religion, culture and participatory democracy. We encourage a healing-centered approach to community-building that recognizes the interconnectedness of spirit, creativity and citizenship.”

Vincent HardingThe picture to the right was taken at our home in Denver where Grace and I hosted a fundraiser for The Veterans of Hope Project. Vincent is on my left as I share  pictures of my collection of Civil Rights Movement pictures that include my introducing Dr. King as he spoke on Boston Common and my marching next to him in the March to Boston Common in 1965. My spouse Grace is on my right.

Vincent wrote many books. My favorite is "Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero", a book of essays that reflect upon King's legacy. He fleshes out a leader who continued to evolve and go deeper into the root causes of violence and injustice. This is the King that many shy away from.

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the March on WashingtonVincent shared this in a speech at Goshen College, "There’s a lesson for us: If we lock up Martin Luther King, and make him unavailable for where we are now so we can keep ourselves comfortably distant from the realities he was trying to grapple with, we waste King. All of us are being called beyond those comfortable places where it’s easy to be Christian. That’s the key for the 21st century – to answer the voice within us, as it was within Martin, which says ‘do something for somebody.’ We can learn to play on locked pianos and to dream of worlds that do not yet exist."

Marilyn and I as colleagues in the Truth in Progress view our project as "healing-centered" and "community-building", as we seek to explore and help others to explore the interconnections of racism, heterosexism and religion. We do not think of ourselves as either Hero or Heroine, but we have discovered in our years of working together that some may view our work as "inconvenient"; but then, truth-telling that prompts transformation is never convenient for some persons.

We too "dream of worlds that do not yet exist"; and in doing so, we celebrate the life of Vincent Harding.



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From 'Is America Possible? A Letter to My Young Companions on the Journey of Hope' by Vincent Harding

Somehow, in a time like our own, when the capacity for imagining appears to be endangered, both by the technology of television and the Internet and by the poverty of public dreams, it seems especially crucial to introduce our students to the meaning of such a question as “Is America possible?” And it is absolutely necessary that they discover the significance of the biblical text: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Indeed, it is precisely in a period of great spiritual and societal hunger like our own that we most need to open minds, hearts, and memories to those times when women and men actually dreamed of new possibilities for our nation, for our world, and for their own lives. It is now that we may be able to convey the stunning idea that dreams, imagination, vision, and hope are actually powerful mechanisms in the creation of new realities — especially when the dreams go beyond speeches and songs to become embodied; to take on flesh, in real, hard places.