Dr. Vincent Harding
In Foundations of Nonviolence, we are studying the Civil Rights Movement and taking a more in depth look into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We listened to his speech Independence of the Vietnam War. I get chills listening to this speech, as his poetic voice undulates throughout the church. Like most, I am captivated by his calm Southern draw and powerful words. Although he spoke these words over fifty years ago, I feel as if I am sitting in a pew in Riverside Church in New York in 1967 rather than a classroom in Colorado Springs in 2013.
In this speech, Dr. King declares the war in Vietnam to be morally wrong. This outraged many as it undermined President Johnson who had been in support of the Civil Rights movement. The New York Times condemned Dr. King for the speech and black leaders of the Civil Rights movement viewed Dr. King as a traitor. Many credit this speech to the assassination of Dr. King.
When our professor announces the author of this speech will attend class we are all star-struck. First, I had no idea that Dr. King did not write this speech. I am entranced that someone so powerful whose words impacted so many will attend our class. His words transcended through Dr. King to touch thousands and alter history.
The next morning when Dr. Vincent Harding enters the classroom, the mood changes immediately. A veil of silent respect transcends a usually chatty classroom. All of us can sense the powerful energy of the man who has just entered. History sits before us.
He takes his time to settle in. He straightens his tie, removes his watch, and sips water in no rush to begin. I realize I have been holding my breath in nervous excitement, watching in eager anticipation what he will do next.
Unexpectedly, he begins by asking us questions. Through the juxtaposition of student questions and his answers, I notice the difference of cadence. We hurriedly blurt out questions inserting like and um at will. In response, he takes a slow and methodical moment before replying with words that seemed to be rehearsed, even though unscripted.
In my opinion, Dr. Harding coming to our class is one of the coolest things to ever happen. Rather than go on drooling about every detail, here are his words that stuck with me the most:
- “Whenever we are in dialogue we are most human.”
- “Do not give up on goodness.”
- “The benefit of living to age 82 is seeing the number of impossible things become possible things.”
- “Do not do what I did but find out what you must do.”
- If you do not know something talk to Colorado College about that but more importantly talk to yourself about that.”