MEEKS: A gentle giant left us

May 21, 2014 

Dr. Vincent Gordon Harding died Monday night. He was a gentle giant indeed. Voices across this land and many other countries can affirm the powerful ways in which he bore witness to the ethic of love. So many of us often joked about how many people across the country had his cellphone number. This was true because of his generous spirit. A generosity that was so unexpected because he was not one to hold himself up as an unaccessible person as often is the case with people who have his type of prominence.

Though his basic discipline was history, a field in which he held both a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, his way of being in the world was deeply spiritual. If a person did not know about his training in history it would have been easy to conclude that he was only a theologian. His historical writings were informed by his deep faith and spiritual focus. This quality made reading his books “There Is A River,” “Wade in the Water,” “Martin Luther King, The Inconvenient Hero” and others, a deeply spiritual experience though they presented a carefully crafted historical analysis.

Vincent was a scholar, teacher, mentor, activist, father, husband and friend to so many of us and we will miss him. But his life speaks volumes to us about what we need to do and how we need to be in this world.

In the last few years he has been working diligently on his vision of elders actually taking up that mantle and living in the ways that can benefit those who are coming behind them. He was 82 years old and courageously bore witness to his age by doing all that he could to share his wisdom and insights. He had a clear understanding about how much the young activists of today need to be mentored by the elders.

A couple of years ago he organized the Council of Elders, which is comprised of many nationally known activists from past years who willingly made the commitment to be available to any and all young folks seeking mentors. Though he always spoke softly and often quietly about this important issue and his sense of mission around it, there was never any doubt about his passion regarding it.

Though I spoke with him often on the phone I did not have many opportunities to be with him in person since he lived in Denver and I am in Atlanta. But in 2013 he came to Macon as a speaker for Diversity Assets as a part of their work to create the beloved community. Much to my delight I was able to help in hosting Vincent. So I chauffeured him to Macon and back to Atlanta with much joy and thanksgiving. Upon our return to Atlanta following the program, I spent a delightful evening with him and Aljosie, his fiancee. They were married in December of 2013.

He met a young boy when he was in Macon who impressed him deeply and he never rested until he was able to make more contact with that child. He asked me on several occasions to continue to help in facilitating a way for him to be in contact because he was unable to reach him by the phone number that he had been given. I so loved and appreciated his concern about this one young person when he had so much on his plate. But he was never too busy to pay special attention to those who are so often overlooked.

This is why so many people across America and beyond love Dr. Vincent Gordon Harding. Hopefully, in the weeks and months to come our love for him will propel us as his love for Martin King and others propelled him to continue working tirelessly to create the beloved community.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at

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