At various times and in various ways, Dr. Vincent Harding has made extraordinary contributions to the reconstruction of Black history and culture.  The African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA) is honored to pay tribute to this radical democrat, pioneering historian and theologian, innovative teacher and civil rights activist who made human rights, justice and peace his lifelong quest.

In 1958, Dr. Harding and other Mennonites took a pastoral freedom ride through the segregated South.  He contacted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while in Atlanta and began a collaboration that led to his relocation to Atlanta in 1960 as a representative of the Mennonite Church.  He taught history at Spelman College, advised Dr. King, and participated in the anti-segregation activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).  Dr. Harding's commitment to peace, justice and human rights and his centrality in the Civil Rights Movement made him the perfect person to write Dr. King's famous anti-war speech, "A Time to Break the Silence," which was delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967.  After Dr. King's assignation in 1968, Dr. Harding became the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center.  From this position he co-founded the Institute of the Black World (IBW) in collaboration with Atlanta University Center institutions.

From 1969-1983, IBW was a community of Black scholars committed to research and teaching designed to improve the lives of African peoples worldwide. IBW was sometimes referred to as a Black Think Take, but at its core it was a forum for interrogating and promoting Black Studies and supporting the reconstruction and preservation of Black history and culture.  While at IBW, Dr. Harding worked closely with organizations like the African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA), including collaborating with AHSA's founding President, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, on a PBS Documentary.

AHSA invited Dr. Harding to make a presentation on “The Legacy of John Henrik Clarke at the Opening Plenary Session of the Annual AHSA Conference, October 23-25, 2014.  He graciously accepted our invitation.  Unfortunately, conference participants will not experience his quiet, insightful, and courageous message, but we will remember his generous support, his teachings and his publications, especially There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, a classic statement on the human condition that transcends race, religion, nationality, place and time. 

AHSA celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Vincent Harding, a gentle giant who inspired us all.  


Shelby F. Lewis

June, 2014