[Marxism] Vincent Harding, 82, Civil Rights Author and Associate of Dr. King, Dies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 22 09:40:50 MDT 2014


NY Times, May 22 2014
Vincent Harding, 82, Civil Rights Author and Associate of Dr. King, Dies
By MARGALIT FOX

Vincent Harding, a historian, author and activist who wrote one of the 
most polarizing speeches ever given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King 
Jr., in which Dr. King expressed ardent opposition to the Vietnam War, 
died on Monday in Philadelphia. He was 82.

His death, from an aneurysm, was confirmed by the Iliff School of 
Theology in Denver, where he was emeritus professor of religion and 
social transformation. A Denver resident, Dr. Harding had been lecturing 
on the East Coast when he died.

For more than half a century, Dr. Harding worked at the nexus of race, 
religion and social responsibility. Though he was not as high-profile a 
figure as some of his contemporaries — he preferred to work largely 
behind the scenes — he was widely considered a central figure in the 
civil rights movement.

A friend, adviser and sometime speechwriter to Dr. King, Dr. Harding was 
a member of the cohort that helped carry on his mission after his 
assassination in 1968.

Dr. Harding, the first director of what is now the Martin Luther King 
Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, was in the vanguard 
of promoting black studies as an academic discipline at colleges and 
universities throughout the country. He served as a consultant to 
television programs about the African-American experience, notably “Eyes 
on the Prize,” the critically acclaimed documentary series first 
broadcast on PBS in 1987.

As a historian, Dr. Harding argued that black Americans — and, by 
extension, all Americans — could not understand the social struggles 
that lay ahead without a deep understanding of those who had gone 
before. He was known in particular for two books, “There Is a River: The 
Black Struggle for Freedom in America” (1981) and “Martin Luther King: 
The Inconvenient Hero” (1996).

In “There Is a River,” Dr. Harding examined the tradition of black 
protest — a movement he likened to a river flowing through centuries of 
American history — up to the end of the Civil War. Throughout the book, 
he adopted the dual stance, unusual for an academic historian, of 
impartial observer of past events and active participant in present ones.

“I have tried,” he wrote, “to provide a rigorous analysis of the long 
black movement toward justice, equity and truth.” But simultaneously, he 
continued, “I have freely allowed myself to celebrate.”

Reviewing the volume in The New York Times Book Review, the historian 
Eric Foner described it as embodying “both passion and impeccable 
scholarship.”

In “Martin Luther King,” Dr. Harding argued that in focusing toward the 
end of his life on social imperatives like eradicating war and poverty, 
Dr. King was more radical than many Americans feel secure in acknowledging.

“Men do not get assassinated for wanting children of different colors to 
hold hands on a mountainside,” Dr. Harding said in a 2005 lecture. “He 
was telling us to march on segregated housing, segregated schools, 
poverty, a military with more support than social programs. That’s where 
he was in 1965. If we let him go where he was going, then he becomes a 
challenge, not a comfort.”

Vincent Gordon Harding was born in Harlem on July 25, 1931, and reared 
by his mother, Mabel Lydia Broome, who worked as a domestic. They moved 
to the Bronx when Vincent was a youth, and after graduating from Morris 
High School there, he received a bachelor’s degree in history from the 
City College of New York and a master’s in journalism from Columbia.

After Army service — an experience, he said, that made him a committed 
pacifist — he earned a master’s in history from the University of 
Chicago, followed by a Ph.D. in history there, writing his dissertation 
on Lyman Beecher, the Protestant minister, antislavery advocate and 
father of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In Chicago, Dr. Harding also served as a lay pastor in the Mennonite 
Church. In the late 1950s, as a church representative, he traveled to 
the South to observe race relations there. On that trip, he met Dr. King 
and became deeply influenced by him.

In the early ’60s, Dr. Harding and his wife, the former Rosemarie 
Freeney, moved to Atlanta, where they established Mennonite House, an 
integrated community center. The site they secured for it happened to be 
the childhood home of the soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs, among the first 
black singers to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.

In Atlanta, Dr. Harding joined the department of history and sociology 
at Spelman College, becoming the department chairman. At the same time, 
he contributed speeches for Dr. King.

His most memorable, described in 2007 by Sojourners, the progressive 
Christian magazine, as “one of the most important speeches in American 
history,” was commissioned amid the United States’ escalating 
involvement in Vietnam.

“He wanted to make a full, clear statement on the issue, but he didn’t 
have the time to craft something of that depth and intensity because of 
his travel schedule,” Dr. Harding said in an interview last year. “So he 
asked me, because I knew who he was and where he was coming from.”

Dr. King delivered the address, known variously as “Beyond Vietnam” and 
“A Time to Break Silence,” at Riverside Church in Manhattan on April 4, 
1967.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal,” he said. “And that time has 
come for us in relation to Vietnam.” He added: “If we continue, there 
will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no 
honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the 
people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other 
alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we 
have decided to play.”

The speech, which articulated what was then a relatively unpopular 
position, touched off a firestorm.

In an editorial titled “Dr. King’s Disservice to His Cause,” Life 
magazine called it “a demagogic slander that sounded like a script for 
Radio Hanoi.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored 
People described the address as “a serious tactical error.”

After Dr. King’s death, Dr. Harding became the director of the Martin 
Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, a post he held until 1970. He later 
directed the Institute of the Black World, an organization, based in 
Atlanta, that promotes black studies and black intellectual life.

Dr. Harding taught at Temple University and the University of 
Pennsylvania before joining the Iliff faculty in 1981. There, he and his 
wife established Veterans of Hope Project, which documents on video the 
stories of social-justice leaders from around the world.

Rosemarie Freeney Harding died in 2004. Dr. Harding’s survivors include 
his second wife, Aljosie Aldrich Harding, whom he married in December; a 
daughter, Rachel Harding; and a son, Jonathan.

His other books include “The Other American Revolution” (1980) and “Hope 
and History” (1990).

For all the furor that surrounded “A Time to Break Silence,” neither Dr. 
Harding nor Dr. King disavowed the address. But Dr. Harding would come 
to have profound regrets about having composed it for Dr. King at all.

“It was precisely one year to the day after this speech that that bullet 
which had been chasing him for a long time finally caught up with him,” 
Dr. Harding said in a 2010 interview “And I am convinced that that 
bullet had something to do with that speech. And over the years, that’s 
been quite a struggle for me.”



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