Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Peacemaker Profiles #6: Vincent Harding

Vincent Gordon Harding (1931-) is a former Mennonite minister, a historian, and a nonviolent activist for social change.  Born in New York City, Hardin attended public schools and graduated from Morris High School in 1948.  While doing social justice-related mission work for Mennonites, Harding earned a B.A. in history from City University of New York (CUNY) in 1953.  In 1957, Harding moved to Chicago to continue his studies in history at the University of Chicago, receiving his M.A. in 1959 and Ph.D. in 1960.  While in Chicago, he met Rosmarie Freeney, his future wife, at a Mennonite conference. (Rosemarie Freeney-Harding (1930-2004) will be the subject of a future profile in this series.) 

In 1958, Harding became part of an interracial pastoral team at Woodlawn Mennonite Church in Chicago, where he and Rose were married 1960.  In 1961 the Hardings moved to Atlanta as representatives of the Mennonite Central Committee and founded “Mennonite  House,” the South’s first interracial voluntary service agency (which also served as the Harding residence). It was located around the corner from Martin and Corretta King’s house and served as a base for the Hardings’ travels around the nation in various civil rights campaigns.  The Hardings worked closely with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC–Martin Luther King’s organization) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, known to both friend and foe as “SNICK”), but also worked other Freedom Movement groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which the Hardings had known from their Chicago days.

While in Atlanta, Vincent taught history and sociology at Spelman College (a historic African American liberal arts college for women).  When Howard Zinn left Spelman in 1964 for Boston University in 1964, Harding took over as chair of the Department of History and Sociology at Spelman from 1964 to 1968.  The Hardings’ deep involvement with the Freedom Movement led to conflicts with the Mennonite Church, due to the Mennonite tradition of isolation from “the world.”  Therefore, after Martin Luther King’s death in 1968, the Hardings turned over Mennonite House’s operations to others. [Addition from a Mennonite friend: This conflict led Harding to leave the Mennonite ministry and the Mennonite Church.]  Harding became the first director of The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center for Nonviolent Social Change. 

In 1969 Harding founded theInstitute of  the Black World in order to help shape the emerging educational discipline of Black Cultural Studies.  From 1974 to 1981, the Hardings lived in Philadelphia where Vincent taught simultaneously at Pendle Hill Quaker Study Center, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.  From 1981 to 2004, Harding was Professor of Religion and Social Change at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO, where he continues as Professor Emeritus.  Harding was the senior historical advisor to the PBS-TV series Eyes on the Prize and Eyes on the Prize II which chronicled the Freedom Movement in depth. In 2000, Harding founded the Veterans of Hope project at Iliff to preserve oral histories of veterans of social change movements.

Harding has been a contributing editor to Sojourners, (a magazine for Christian social activism) and his many writings include:

Must Walls Divide? Questions for Christians (1965); The Religion of Black Power (1968); The Other American Revolution (1980); There is a River:  The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (1981; rev. ed., 1993); We Must Keep Going: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Future of America (1989); The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader  (C0-editor, 1991); Hope and History:  Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement (1990; rev. ed., 2000, 2010);  Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Inconvenient Hero (1996; rev. ed., 2008);  We Changed the World:  African-Americans, 1945-1970 (Co-author, 1997).

January 27, 2011 Posted by | biographies, blog series, civil rights leaders, heroes, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemakers | Leave a comment