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