January 22, 2001
Harding calls MLK
'different kind of hero'
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
Vincent Harding made sure his King Week keynote address was interactive, as the professor of religion and social transformation at the Iliff School of Theology turned the event into an intimate conversation.
As I have gotten older, Ive gotten less and less excited
about lectures, Harding said to a small gathering in Cox Hall, Jan.
16. But I have gotten more and more excited about dialogue.
So, following his 40-minute monologue about King, Harding took a seat
and fielded several questions about his views, the meaning of King and
even the academys place in such dialogues.
Harding spoke slowly throughout, allowing his words to hang in the air.
And he used verbal irony to maximum effect, constantly referring to King
as our heroafter bringing up qualities of his character
and actions a mainstream audience may not see as heroic.
Harding called King an inconvenient hero. Not coincidentally,
that term makes up the backbone of the title of one of Hardings
booksMartin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero.
Throughout his speech, Harding gave examples of how the wholly middle-class
King constantly identified with (and eventually gave his life for) poor
people, while it is the primarily the black middle class now who holds
him as its hero.
Its this lifestyle thats not especially popular in
our culture today, Harding said: Looking out for the poor,
staying with people pushed to the margins, identifying with people called
Harding gave other examples of Kings ironic personality, such as
his relationships with whites. He spoke openly and clearly about
[white racism], Harding said. He saw it as a great sickness
for all society that had to be taken care of.
Heres the tricky part. He was willing to work against white
racism and at the same moment nurture white friendships in his own life
and work without contradiction. The challenge is to figure out how in
a society it is possible to struggle against racism and put our arms around
everyone who wants to go with us.
The point of Hardings words throughout his speech was quite clear:
Kings actions may not jibe with current mainstream society because
that society has yet to reach his level. The challenge is for that society,
both black and white, to struggle to get there.
We mush approach [King] a little more slowly, a little more regularly
and a lot more deeply, Harding said.
While he has been at the Iliff at the University of Denver since 1981,
Harding is not unfamiliar with Atlanta. He once taught at Spelman College
and was the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center.
He and his wife, Rosemarie, were confidants of the King family in the
1960s, and Harding often referred to the civil rights leader as Martin
during his speech.
He thanked them for their efforts in attending. As I understand
it, youre not supposed to be here, he said, referring to the
fact that class did not start until the next day.
My first time on the Emory campus, in 1961, he deadpanned, I wasnt supposed to be here either.