We’ve Lost an Unsung Hero—Remembering Vincent Harding

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment


Vincent Harding died on Monday and our world is emptier for it. Vincent is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights era, whose work as a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was essential if not widely known. His best-known speech was Dr. King’s speech Beyond Vietnam, where Dr. King boldly extended his critique to U.S. foreign policy, connecting the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. with struggles for justice in other parts of the world. You can hear Vincent explain the significance of the speech in an interview with Democracy Now! You can hear or read some of his thoughts on spirituality and justice in an On Being podcast called Dangerous Spirituality.

Vincent’s commitment to social justice was expressed throughout his life—writing, teaching, and mentoring the next generation of activists. At his death, he was preparing what promised to be an important book about the transformative power of love. IISC’s President, Ceasar McDowell commented on the book outline, not knowing that he had passed away just hours before. Ceasar writes, “We don’t often have the opportunity to see the power of love in action in one’s life… [Y]ou are the main narrator in a story about how love is manifest in the efforts by so many who are working in tandem and sometimes alone to create “the beloved” community and world… And since the grounding in love is so central to who you are and how you are, it makes sense that this story could be told through you.”

Grounded in love, indeed! Be encouraged by Vincent’s words from a 2012 blog post, Do Not Grow Weary or Lose Heart.

“Are there any remaining glimmers of hope in politics today? … [W]e do not have the luxury of falling into despair. There are too many folks who have fought too long and given too much and found their way through too many disappointments and seeming failures for us to say, oh, it just didn’t work, and, I’m finished with that stuff…

“We are in a fascinating, powerful, and perplexing time. My assumption is that’s why we were created with such tremendous capacities: to deal with perplexing situations. That’s why some of us believe that there is within us the creative power of the universe, that God dwells in us. Now, what’s the point of God dwelling with us if we don’t have any tough jobs to do? God’s wasting God’s time, if there is no tough stuff to work on. For me, right now, the building of a democracy called America is the toughest job that we have to work on. The stuff that we are going through now is part of the context, part of the material that’s here for us…

“We simply have to recognize that we are wrestling with something that is powerful. The gift of that is that we now have the opportunity to see how much power there is in our lives to deal with it, if we will … do that work of letting others know that we want to be servants of a new humanity. And then see what the end will be. You’ve got to just keep at it.”

We will keep at it, grounded in the love that Vincent lived, the love that does justice.

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