Dr. Vincent Gordon Harding, a civil rights activist and historian who also served as a speechwriter to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has died. Dr. Harding was also a notable professor at Denver’s Iliff School Of Theology, garnering praise for his teaching and leadership from his colleagues. He was 82.
Born in Harlem, New York on July 25, 1931, Dr. Harding’s collegiate life got off to a promising start. In 1952, he obtained a B.A. in History from the City College Of New York. The next year, he earned his M.A. from Columbia University before heading off to the U.S. Army.
After his military service, Dr. Harding earned his second M.A. in 1956 and a Ph.D in History in 1965, both from the University of Chicago.
Harding’s activist career began in the early 1960s when he and his wife, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, headed to Atlanta to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
The couple co-founded the Mennonite House, a service center that became a central meeting place for Black and white civil rights activists in the South.
Mr. and Mrs. Harding worked alongside other activist groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
While crossing paths with other civil rights leaders, Dr. Harding forged a bond with Rev. King and became his aide and frequent speechwriter. Harding was responsible for Rev. King’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break The Silence” speech.
The speech was delivered on April 4, 1967, exactly a year before Rev. King was assassinated. Dr. Harding taught at several institutions before Ifill, including Spelman College, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
A former pastor, Dr. Harding began teaching religion and social transformation at Ifill in 1981 before retiring in 2004. He remained an active fixture at the school and was scheduled to deliver this year’s commencement speech.
Dr. Harding also served as the chairperson for Ifill’s Veterans of Hope Project: A Center for the Study of Religion and Democratic Renewal.
Dr. Harding, widowed in 2004, is survived by his second wife, Aljosie, and two children.