Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Remembering 'Uncle Vincent'

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Remembering 'Uncle Vincent'

Article excerpt

I SAT MY two boys down the night I got the call and heard the news. "Uncle Vincent has died and passed on," I told 15-year-old Luke and 11-year-old Jack.

I could see the sadness in their faces. Vincent Harding had been like an uncle to them, an elder and men- tor to me, a formative retreat leader for the Sojourners community, and one of the most insightful commen- tators and historians of the true meaning of the civil rights move- ment and Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Harding and Dr. King were friends. Vincent and his wife, Rosemarie, were part of the inner circle of the Southern freedom movement, and Harding wrote the historic speech that King delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, where he came out against the war in Vietnam and identified the "giant triplets" of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.

That speech was perhaps King's most provocative and prophetic address. It reflected King's heart and mind, and went further than he had gone before in challenging founda- tional and systemic wrongs in U.S. life and history and not merely calling for racial integration. This King-particularly in his think- ing and writing from 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act until 1968, the year of his assassination- was a King perhaps best understood by his speechwriter that day, Vincent Harding.

That's what Vincent always did for us all: asked us to go deeper into our faith.

My boys have vivid memo- ries, which we talked about on the night of Vincent's death, of a bitterly cold January day in early 2009 when the country inau- gurated its first African-American president. Barack Obama repre- sented the dramatic changes occurring in U.S. life regard- ing who would constitute the next America-a majority of minorities. In his late 70s, Vincent had come from his home in Denver to be pres- ent for the inauguration which drew nearly 2 million people. I remem- ber his health wasn't so good at the time, and the weather was unbe- lievably cold. But I had helped get Vincent tickets to attend President Obama's inauguration, and he was determined to accompany our fam- ily on that cold day. Vincent had a warmth in his heart and face that lifted the temperatures of all those around him.

What an amazing gift, to have your two boys watching the cel- ebration-more than just the inauguration-of the first black president, accompanied by the whispered commentary of Vincent Harding. …

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