By Emma Whitaker
Vincent Harding, African-American historian and activist known for
drafting several of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, recounted his
memories of the Civil Rights Movement and led a discussion on social
change last Friday.
Harding, professor emeritus of religion and social transformation at
the Iliff School of Theology, drafted King's anti-Vietnam speech "A
Time To Break Silence," and is the author of numerous publications on
the civil rights leader, such as Martin Luther King: An Inconvenient Hero.
Harding's speech was one of several King Week events meant to honor
the life of King.
Harding's visit Friday began with a viewing of the documentary
"Soundtrack for a Revolution," an exploration of how songs such as
"Everybody Says Freedom" and "Don't Hinder Me" inspired hope and
created a sense of solidarity amongthose oppressed during the Civil
Recalling the persistence of the Freedom Riders in the face of
violence, Harding engaged the audience in a discussion on how to
inspire the youth of today to feel the same zeal for social change.
Freedom Riders refer to civil activists who rode into the South on
interstate buses to challenge local laws that enforced segregation
despite the ruling decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960). The
Supreme Court decided in that case that racial segregation related to
interstate public transportation was unlawful because it would
violate the Interstate Commerce Act.
"We must consider how that message of discipline can be transferred
to another generation," Harding said. "We have to imagine that which
does not exist and then go about creating it."
Harding invited the audience to explore the role of song in this
process of social change. He recalled hearing on the public radio
that the Germans were singing "Go Tell It on the Mountain," an
original song from the Freedom Movement, while tearing down the Berlin Wall.
Harding noted that this moment demonstrated the effect songs can have
throughout several generations.According to Harding, the discussion
served as a useful venue for discussing these topics.
"I think it was a good model of the kinds of gatherings we ought to
do," Harding said. "Take ourselves away from the accoutrements of
mass culture and listen to each other."
Catherine Meeks, a journalist from the greater Atlanta area, said she
found the event to be inspirational.
"I loved having the opportunity to see the film because it inspired
me to work harder," Meeks said.
Alix de Voux, a graduate student at the Candler School of Theology,
also said she enjoyed Harding's talk.
"I am overwhelmed and extremely grateful for all that [Harding] has
done," de Voux said. "I didn't know what to expect, but it was an
almost spiritual experience to be here."
Thee Smith, Emory associate professor of religion who organized the
lecture, explained that Harding has visited Emory numerous times in
the past and recently donated The Vincent Harding Papers, 1952-1998,
to Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) collection.
"[Harding] has had a major impact on our history and therefore on all
of us," said Luther Smith, professor of church and community at the
Candler School of Theology.
Emory students and faculty attended the lecture, along with members
of the Atlanta community.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Religion, the Office of
Community and Diversity, African American Studies, MARBL, Employee
Council, President's Commissions on Race and Ethnicity, Sexual,
Gender Diversity and Queer Equality and the Status of Women, James
Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, Race
and Difference Initiative, Office of the Dean of the Chapel and
Religious Life and the Martin Luther King Holiday Observance Committee.