How do you celebrate a life passed? On May 19, Dr. Vincent Harding, noted historian, civil rights leader, educator, peace activist, passed away at age 83. July 25-26 was declared the Vincent Gordon Harding Memorial a Weekend in Colorado, marking what would have been Dr. Harding’s 84th birthday.
I met Dr. Harding in 2003 I think when I traveled to Denver to meet my dear friend Rachel. Her mother, the late Rosemary Freeney Harding, and I had been Bunting Fellows together in 1997-8, although that commonality between us seems hardly believable, given the wealth of Rosemary’s talents and wisdom. Rachel had accompanied her mother that year, and the three of us spend good company that year in Cambridge, working in colorful Victorian cottages, and attending afternoon seminars given on art, science, and peace work.
“Hello, my sister,” was Dr. Vincent Harding’s usual greeting, and I immediately became family.
The first part of the memorial began with prayers in , and I could have been listen to a priest chanting in Sanskrit, the same reciting of words in a cadence that was steady, sonorous, and ancient. English does not have this power, because it lacks invocations, and even its prayers have a passion that is more be searching than declarative. Kodo drummers led us out in fierce, loud drumbeats into the night. Yesterday, Aztec dancers began a four-hour long interfaith service, with a choral counterpart, and testimonies of the enormous influence Dr. Harding had not only Martin Luther King’s life, but in the lives of his numerous students, “nieces and nephews” who learned non-violent communication, community-building, and the use of tools to build a more just and peaceful society.
My memories of Dr. Harding are vivid from a trip his family and I took to Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. In the mornings, we sought American-sized cups of coffee, to the consternation of hotel staff, and Dr. Harding sang a song about “an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. Singing was instrumental to his work, and song and dance was an integral part of his workshops on black power and freedom. Singing also eased his way to the next life, aided by his daughter and son. My deep respect to a great man whose loss will be felt heavily in this world.