Eastern Mennonite University joins millions of people worldwide in grieving the passing of Vincent Harding, sorrowing that we will no longer hear his prophetic voice in person – reminding us that the dream for “true democracy and justice” of Harding’s friend, Martin Luther King Jr., has yet to be realized.
Harding died yesterday [May 19, 2014] at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital from complications due to an aneurysm near his heart. He was 82. His death comes three months after spending two days addressing rapt audiences of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members at EMU.
At EMU, Harding and his wife Aljosie spoke of looking forward to having a writing sabbatical (he hoped to make progress on an autobiography) at Pendle Hill, a tranquil Quaker retreat center beside Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia. While at Pendle Hill, Harding developed the heart problems that caused him to spend his last 10 days in the hospital.
Harding was a direct influence on Howard Zehr, Distinguished Professor of Restorative Justice at EMU and co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice. In an article published by EMU soon after Harding’s February visit, Zehr recalled in the 1960s “sitting at the dining room table with him as he patiently helped a naïve white boy understand racial injustice in this country.” Zehr subsequently enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta (MLK’s alma mater) and became its first white graduate in 1966. From then on, Zehr focused on addressing social injustices, eventually becoming known as the “grandfather of restorative justice.”
This is just one example of the tens of thousands of people directly influenced by Harding – millions of people, if one considers the impact of the speeches that Harding wrote for MLK. Harding drafted the famous and highly controversial speech called “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” delivered by King in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year to the day before his assassination.
Harding was an ordained Mennonite pastor during the era when he and his late wife, Rosemarie, were active in the civil rights movement alongside King and his wife, Coretta.
Harding never stopped struggling on behalf of oppressed peoples. Two years ago, for example, he and Aljosie met with nonviolent Palestinian freedom-struggle activists in the occupied West Bank.
Hear Harding speak at EMU and learn more about his writings by clicking here.