King adviser: MLK’s message more relevant today than ever

hgoodridge@macon.comApril 4, 2013 

Vincent Harding remembers very well where he was and what he was doing 45 years ago on April 4.

He was living in Atlanta at the time and was having dinner with his wife and daughter. One of the owners of the restaurant knew Harding was a close friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He came over to me ... and brought me the message that Martin had been assassinated,” Harding recalled.

Thursday was the 45th anniversary of that tragic day and Harding, one of King’s speechwriters and advisers, spent the day in Macon. He toured the Tubman African American Museum and concluded the evening with a lecture at the Grand Opera House.

Harding, 81, said he came here to encourage people to work together to solve problems and make Macon a better place. King’s message of nonviolence, opposition to war and fighting poverty have more relevance today than any period in history, he said.

“It’s clear that we have not learned from the experience of the last 30-40 years since Vietnam,” said Harding. “We’ve been in wars almost continuously since then and we are now hyping up the possibility of more war and all of it under the assumption that war solves war, that war takes care of the problems of war.

“If we look with sobriety, the real message is war begets war. ... Every war becomes an excuse for another war,” he said.

Harding was drafted when the Korean peace talks were taking place in 1953, “and here it is (60 years later) and we’re back on the ground in Korea partly because we have not determined that war as a solution to human problems is bankrupt.”

Harding said one of the more vivid memories he has of the day King was killed was the anger he felt. He was talking on a phone that was hanging on the wall. “I slammed the phone down, practically slamming my hand through the wall,” he said.

Even through the feelings of anger, Harding said it was increasingly important to remain nonviolent.

“What nonviolent meant was that we were going to meet violence with nonviolence,” he said. King’s death “was an affirmation of the need for this violent country to be gifted with the possibilities of learning about the ways of nonviolence.

“In 2013, this violent country still needs to learn the ways of nonviolence,” said Harding. “It’s not Martin who’s shot down now, it’s 7-year-old children who are shot down now. Same violent country.”

Harding said it’s important to remember that at the time of King’s death, the cause closest to his heart wasn’t nonviolence, or opposition to war, but his poor people’s campaign.

“He was practically obsessed with the total contradiction with this being called the richest country in the world and having 30-40 million poor people at the time,” said Harding. “For us to be less than satisfied with having people in the wealthiest country still having people sleeping by the riverbanks, still having no place to live, not having enough food for their families ... while we’re going around carrying on wars thousands of miles away is really a kind of insanity.”

Andy Ambrose, executive director of the Tubman museum, said he was pleased with Harding’s visit.

“I’m delighted he has come here,” he said. “The message he has is very important ... and the Tubman’s history connects with that (message) well.”

After King’s death, his widow, Coretta Scott King, asked Harding to help her organize the Martin Luther King Memorial Center, and he served as the center’s first director.

Harding is the author of several books, including, “There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America”; “Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement”; and “Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero.”

To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.

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