|Born||Vincent Gordon Harding
July 25, 1931
Harlem, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 19, 2014
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Alma mater||City College of New York (B.A.)
Columbia University (M.S.)
University of Chicago (M.A., Ph.D.)
|Notable work||"Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence"|
Aljosie Aldrich Knight
Vincent Gordon Harding (July 25, 1931 – May 19, 2014) was an African-American historian and a scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. A social activist as well, he was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Harding knew personally. Besides having authored numerous books such as There Is A River and Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals, he served as co-chairperson of the social unity group Veterans of Hope Project and as Professor of Religion and Social Transformation at Illiff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.
Harding was born in Harlem, New York, and attended New York public schools, graduating from Morris High School in the Bronx in 1948. After finishing high school, he enrolled in the City College of New York, where he received a B.A. in History in 1952. The following year he graduated from Columbia University, where he earned an M.S. in Journalism. Harding served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955. In 1956 he received an M.A. in History at the University of Chicago. In 1965 he received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago, where he was advised by Martin E. Marty.
In 1960, Harding and his wife, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, moved to Atlanta, Georgia to participate in the Southern Freedom Movement (also known as the American Civil Rights Movement) as representatives of the Mennonite Church. The Hardings co-founded Mennonite House, an interracial voluntary service center and Movement gathering place in Atlanta. The couple traveled throughout the South in the early 1960s working as reconcilers, counselors and participants in the Movement, assisting the anti-segregation campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Vincent Harding occasionally drafted speeches for Martin Luther King, including King's famous anti-Vietnam speech, "A Time to Break Silence," which King delivered on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, exactly a year before he was assassinated.
Harding taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Spelman College, Temple University, Swarthmore College, and Pendle Hill Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation. He was the first director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center and of the Institute of the Black World, both located at Atlanta. He also became senior academic consultant for the PBS television series Eyes on the Prize.
Harding served as Chairperson of the Veterans of Hope Project: A Center for the Study of Religion and Democratic Renewal, located at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. Harding taught at Iliff as Professor of Religion and Social Transformation from 1981 to 2004.
"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."