The historian Robert Krieder begins his article on Vincent Harding by stating “For one bright and shining hour there was in Chicago a congregational Camelot, the interracial Woodlawn Mennonite Church, an innovative model for Mennonites … in the city.” Vincent Harding and Delton Franz were co-pastors of this church located on 46th and South Woodlawn. They were the first interracial Mennonite pastoral team on record. During this time, Reverend Harding traveled extensively as a guest preacher and lecturer in many Mennonite churches and colleges.
Together, the Reverends Harding and Franz began a series of workshops and seminars for pastors that focused on race and reconciliation. In 1960, Harding married Rosemarie Freeney whose parents were active members at Bethel Mennonite Church in Chicago. A year later, Mennonite Central Committee encouraged the Hardings to move to Atlanta to organize voluntary service efforts and manage a guest house. Vincent and Rosemarie lived on the same block as Martin and Coretta Scott King which resulted in personal friendships and professional collaborations. Vincent would eventually write some of Dr. King’s most stirring speeches including the famous anti-war sermon “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” delivered at Riverside Memorial Church in New York City.
In 1965 Harding completed his dissertation at the University of Chicago and was hired by Spellman College as the chair of their history department. This academic appointment, coupled with his skills as a writer brought new opportunities to Dr. Harding. He would author ten scholarly works including the award winning text on African American history There is a River. He collaborated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the soul searching work Where do we Go from Here? He also challenged American readers to consider the contribution African Americans have made to our national identity in We Changed the World: African Americans 1945-1970. The underlying thesis in all of his works might be summed up as: American history cannot be understood without comprehending the Black struggle for social justice, economic equality and religious vitality.
Dr. Harding’s journey with Mennonites was not a smooth one. He gave a stirring sermon entitled “The Beggers are Rising: where are the saints?” at the 1967 Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam. Shortly after that lecture, he appealed to Mennonites to become more committed to urban ministries with his provocative poem “Light in the Asphalt Jungle.” When these prophetic and provocative works were openly criticized by a few key Mennonite leaders, Harding began to distance himself from the Mennonite fold. He summed up his views in this manner, “We (Mennonites) have loudly preached nonconformity to the ways of the world, and yet we have so often been slavishly and silently conformed to the American attitudes on race and segregation.” Mennonites, in his eyes, were too slow and late in discovering that without justice, there is no peace. In 1981 he was hired by Iliff School of Theology in Denver which became his academic home from that year onward. After his retirement in 2004 Dr. Harding renewed his involvement with Mennonites and provided workshops and lectures in churches, colleges and seminaries.
Leader: Surely the Lord would say of Dr. Vincent Gordon Harding,
All: Well done thou good and faithful servant.
The Living Mirror: Archaeology of Our Faith