Vincent Harding —
Is America Possible?

In an unsettled political moment, at the end of a divisive campaign, the late, great civil rights elder Vincent Harding is a voice of calm, wisdom, and perspective. He was wise about how the civil rights vision might speak to 21st-century realities. Just as importantly, he pursued this by way of patient yet passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationship. He reminded us that the Civil Rights Movement was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a "beloved community," not merely a tolerant integrated society. He posed and lived a question that is freshly in our midst: Is America possible?

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was chairperson of the Veterans of Hope Project at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where he was professor of Religion and Transformation. His published works include Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement, There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero, and the essay "Is America Possible?"

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The late historian Vincent Harding explores the potent and challenging spirituality shared by two fathers of the movement for civil rights.

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Sri Vasamsetti, 22, watches televised coverage of the U.S. presidential election at the Comet Tavern in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington on November 8, 2016.

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Listening to Vincent Harding speaking of the beloved community touched me deeply.

I was reminded of when I worked at a very large state-run psychiatric facility. Each day there was a struggle. To daily witness another human being writhing on the floor in inexpressible agony, or waiting endlessly by the door for a phantom lover that would never come, was to daily have my heart broken. Slowly a choice was forming: To close myself to their suffering, or feel their pain.

One day the answer was shown to me.
While at the geriatric unit, I was trying to comfort a patient who had become uncharacteristically terrified.
"Is this real?" She said fearfully.
I spoke consoling words to her, but they had no effect.
"Is this place haunted? Am I ghost? Help me! I am afraid!" She said with such pleading, that I can only picture a child lost in the dark uttering them.

"Here, this is for you. I've been saving it for a time like now." A patient said placing a partially knit piece of green yarn upon the crown of her head. "It will bring you good luck."
"You're doing great! You can make it!" Another elderly woman said resoundingly.
"Mummble-berrys, and the like, who dee-haw. The good ones, you know." Were the disjointed, but ever so tenderly spoken words of an older man.
And on, and on, the patients came one by one, forming a line to greet the confused woman. Yarn, hugs, and flowers were all imparted until the once fearful patient was crying. "I feel better now, it's going to be O.K. now," she said, looking up at all her friends.

As a group, those patients had endured homelessness, rape, emotional and physical abuses, all the while suffering under the crushing weight of mental illness. Yet, they gave what little that had. They gave their hearts away.
The beloved community.

This is beautiful.

This entry is just beautiful.

That's the most beautiful thing I've read in a long time. sad/joy.
thank-you for writing it.

When Mr. Harding mentioned the fact that young people, and I'd say all of us, need to find people who have lived rich lives to interview and to know what questions to ask, I thought of our Caregivers. I've been interviewing Caregivers for over a year. These wonderful souls rarely get to tell their stories. There are so many lessons that come from caring for another when they are at their most vulnerable, we as a society need to listen.

As always, the interview was inspirational and informative. Krista is a terrific interviewer. I could not "click on" the transcript and am interested in the Methodist Church in Philadelphia with a female minister whom Mr. Harding described as particularly interested and attentive to young people. There is a particular young man in Philadelphia for whom this would be a good connection. Help, please? Thanks for all the good thoughts and inspiration!! Peace.

The pastor he is speaking of is now at this church:

Listening to your program on Sunday morning at 7 AM has truly become appointment radio for me, probably my favorite program of the ridiculous number I listen to or stream every week. Still, your interview with Vincent Harding today was exceptional for me. I've had brief conversations with Mr. Harding over the past several years, and wished more people were aware of his Veterans of Hope Project which gets far too little attention. Thank you for helping his little light shine brighter, now needed more than ever. I will always remember the button he usually wears - War is Terrorism. Succinct and to the point.

Wonderful interview as always, I love the show.
I like what Mr. Harding said about the word minority. Everyone that I come across wants the same things from life, to live a good life and provide the same for their family's. The only reason any idea of race,ethnicity, minority/majority comes into play is because our media does nothing to inform people of the facts. I have met racists who say things like "the blacks are mostly criminals". And what they see on the news never contradicts their belief. I have never seen a story on the nightly news about how crime rates are the same in poor mostly white community's as in poor mostly black community's.
Maybe if the news media told folks the REAL reason there are fewer jobs and wages are stagnant, the myth that "it's the immigrants!" would disappear.
Lately I am coming to see more and more that there are no divisive issues, only misinformed people. We don't need civil discourse between people who know the facts and people who are misinformed. We need a news media that will speak the truth when a corporate/rich people friendly politician spouts some lies to try and divide people into groups like, republican/democrat, white/black, american/immigrant, or,minority/majority.
The extremely wealthy are the only minority in America, and the only way they can push their agenda is to keep people divided and misinformed.
Keep the truth coming, and thanks for the show.


Well said, Michael. Of course the saying still will have its day "bad news sells." And so it has gone on and on. But what if? What if the free press were free to show reality in all its mundane beauty and its revolutionary truth? Would it be newsworthy? I think so. Remarkably.

Yes! and YES No doubt. How do we get started? All social media? I am hearing more stories from ordinary people on Public Radio but often not about "mundane beauty and its revolutionary truth.." Like the tree in my back yard which had the courage to withstand the drought and the winter moth infestation and has for three weeks shone the splendor of its leaves of many colors!!! I feel my trees. I feel my dear and totally self sufficient cat who goes in and out at will, Maybe the best way to get started is to flood the free press...all the daily media...with the poetry of FEELING. Maybe start a movement. Maybe engage middle school students in the conversation.
There is a gap in our view of society and that is the "school children" - especially 6,7 and 8 grades- are not thought worthy to consult. I know they are because I worked with all three grades for 5 years. Let me know what you think,

As a Literature and Composition teacher at Sisseton-Wahpeton College in South Dakota, I was asked last Monday by Steven, one of our more outspoken students, a question that allowed me to reflect on Vincent Harding’s essay ‘Is America Possible.’
“Are you obsessed with racism?” Steven asked, as we got ready to listen to a piece of the podcast of Vincent Harding’s radio interview on ‘Being.’
“No,” I said. “I am not obsessed with racism, with ugliness. I am obsessed with beauty, with overcoming ugliness, overcoming racism.” I went on to cite the story Harding had told about singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and how its teen singer was jailed just for singing. I wanted to say something about context and how a powerful understanding of the right words at the right moment is almost pure beauty – a beauty that can outshine any ugliness.
But I was unable to explain satisfactorily just why it really is that I have taught Langston Hughes. Sometimes I still feel awkward talking about the subjects that Hughes touches on, even after teaching them three Fall semesters in a row. And sometimes the awkwardness is palpable, thick almost, within the classroom.
I agree with Mr. Harding that many of us – like me quite often – don’t know how to talk about these things. We need to develop our abilities to discourse and create meaningful dialogue.
At such a juncture, Langston Hughes speaks in a beautiful manner. He does so because his poems seem infused with magic – and dreams – and the power of the fact that every life is unique:
Mexican Market Woman
This ancient hag
Who sits upon the ground
Selling her scanty wares
Day in, day round,
Has known high wind-swept mountains,
And the sun has made
Her skin so brown.

Accompanying a nearly inarticulate insistence on Hughes is a realization. “This ancient hag” of the poem is only ugly, only mundanely “Selling her scanty wares / Day in, day round” at a cursory glance. Both poet and reader soon see she “has known high wind-swept mountains,” and she has known beauty that erases her ugliness: “The sun has made / her skin so brown.”

Beauty like this outshines ugliness. Vision like this is not satisfied with half-truths. And vision like this probes. Vision like this asks questions.

That is why – awkwardness risked – I believe it is important to continue to dialogue with students like Steven, and many, many students like him, who are poised to envision what a one-sided conversation never can. “Are you obsessed with racism” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. Indeed, in every conversation – at least in the America in which we live, the America still possible and forming multiculturally – we may need to start with the awkward question, the question that probes ugliness looking for truth and articulation, and beauty. This is what Vincent Harding and Langston Hughes have gifted the world with. Maybe in our still possible America, a place just coming together, if we can keep questioning and answering in the awkwardness, it’ll all be good.

After several centuries, America now needs to graduate from this experiment with shared space. Otherwise, the rest of the world will find the whole project a mission impossible. Sadly, Europe's own attempt at this navigation is terribly strained at the moment. Much of Asia and the Arab world have not even created room for common space, not to talk of engaging in dialogue. Africa, which has for so long taken the rod on the backside of cross-cultural encounters, simply does not care (It is busy looking for food to eat). May another generation not pass by without a definite sign of hope that this conversation will open up further and ultimately mature.

Just recently you asked Dr. Harding to reflect upon some of community differences between the civil rights movement in the 60's and now. Dr. Harding said he'd like to coax a tempered reflection forward. He was a bit tenuous.

May I suggest that the in 60's, amongst youth and their elders in the movement, singularly these people were attempting a communion. A major influence on life in general then but absent now is that the draft, the universal selection of any man "of age" went to the military. Many went to Asia and either did not return or came home "broken". All Americans knew someone who was in that war. The Civil Right Movement coincided with the Viet Nam era. We haven't had conscription since that was. Few I inquire of (widely) have a personal friend of family member in the military now. When in Europe I dearly love collecting stories of those who lived through the war. Community tales, universal moments of total, selfless compassion reign. In England alone the cast system totally disappeared for most during the bombings of London.

Have you read "Unearthing Seed of Fire"? This book as an informal history of the Highlander Center (now in New Market, TN). I mention this book for the show you've produced, while true to your design of looking for the common threads of spirituality, is about the Black community, the "King" experience, and the "then and now" perspective. Miles Horton, graduate of Union Theological Seminary, one Dr. King's most important "tutors", creator and director of the Highlander Center, introduced music and "play" into the mindset of organizers for civil disobedience. Horton modeled yet altered the folk school movement of Denmark in his work. He most effectively brought the spiritual and the secular communities of the South together years prior to the civil rights moment.

I love your show. I listen frequently and share note with friends frequently.

The white sisters and brothers drawn to action within the 60's, many of whom were not part of any specific religion, were young and old, educated mostly. In the research of another perspective (another show perhaps) on these same issues, the same moment in time, you may wish to examine the work of Guy and Candie Carawan, Miles Horton and others from Highlander who had a major impact on the earliest stages of the voter registration movement, civil rights movement and other Southern conflicts like textile and mining workers' rights.

Then as now you are affecting regular people, hopefully. In favor of reaching for the widest perspective of how the spirit reaches into life via music communicate with Dr. Bernice Regan Johnson, founder of "Sweet Honey In The Rock". She too knows well the roll of Highlander in the Civil Rights Movement. It is her version of Kumbaya (in the background) that closed the show this week.

With highest regards,

Frederick Park

I am hoping to be in touch with Dr. Harding. He was a contemporary of my Mentor Dr. C. Eric Lincoln.

Randy Cirksena
507-254-8752 cell

Isn't this exactly what this world need today. ? This is a great program.. Thanks for your efforts.

American Black Prince, Malcom Shabazz postulated before being felled by the cowards :After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X announced his willingness to work with leaders of the civil rights movement, though he felt that it should change its focus to human rights. So long as the movement remained a fight for civil rights, its struggle would remain a domestic issue, but by framing the struggle as a fight for human rights, it would become an international issue, and the movement could bring its complaint before the United Nations. Malcolm X said the emerging nations of the world would add their support to the cause of African Americans.

It was Malcom informed by Al Islam who articulated an exclusive human struggle. I sincerely hope African American history remembrances are not translated into Martin Luther King history remembrances not withstanding Dr. Kings commendable contributions to American culture. Malcom, the Muslim is still regulated to the intellectual ghetto of American discourse dispite his equally commendable contribution.

The Vincent Harding interview was very thought provoking and inspirational for me. Terrific program But Krista, your introductions are so dense I need a brief moment to take take in each thought in and process it. Please loosen up the editing a little bit, throw in some pauses here and there, let the music run a little longer between segments. I can barely catch my breath, can't keep up with you and that's making programs less enjoyable for me. Sincerely, Michael

Try the unedited versions -- much more room to breathe and a fuller conversation. (I don't think, come to think of it, that unless I happened to catch one in the car, I've ever listened to an edited podcast. OnBeing is all about the unedited conversations for me!)

I just listened to the interview with Vincent Harding for the second time. It brings tears to me each time. Thank you for sharing his wisdom with this generation.

I made a wonderful discovery today of Vincent Harding's workshop with Americus Georgia students in February 1964, as plans for Freedom Summer were taking shape. It is a model of democratic pedagogy, as he challenges his students to think about how they as Christians can persuade their elders to risk jobs, mortgages, and potentially, their lives in a struggle for the vote. This man has inspired me for decades and continues to do so.

Uncle Vincent will be missed. Thank you Krista for allowing us to be a part of the conversation. - Peace and Blessings - Leanne Patterson

The discussion of how people remember the Sixties rang a bell for me, since I do a double take when I hear someone call them a "terrible time." Perhaps this is because, though as a child I wasn't directly involved in the movements and was probably sheltered somewhat fron the scarier aspects, my radical parents and theIr younger friends we had over would talk about them and I picked up on the idealism. I suppose my sense of that time is also shaped by the cultural aspects I was more directly exposed to -- the music, the album covers and other art -- which I sensed to be connected to the movements.

The derogation of that period, even by some of a liberal bent, is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass's remark about those who desire a crop but fear the thunderstorm that brings rain.

Great program informative and moving

When I heard of the passing of Dr. Harding, I hoped you would replay this beautiful show. As always I was struck by new insights on the re- listen.

I was taken by his comments on how necessary stories are. How appropriate that your show with the creator of Story Corps was on just a few weeks ago.
They were very different stories but the thread of story telling and its value struck me. What better way to break down the barriers of Us vs Them than by sharing our stories.

As usual, bravo and thank you.

One of the greatest hours of radio I have ever been exposed to. This is what makes public radio so invaluable.

Uncle V, you finished the race and have now crossed into eternity. I will forever miss you and our Thursday' conversations.

Dr. Harding was not only my professor history while a student at Spelman College he was my life coach. And to this very day he has remained my mentor and guiding star. Under his watchful and deliberate guidance he forced us all to think large, to seek truth and not be afraid of it when we find it- to conduct ourselves as agents of change.In the sixties during his work first at the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change and then at the Instituteof the Black world, he brought young and old people together,students, historians, poets, and political scientists from all over the world so that we would know to appreciate our history, but also to brainstorm, create new directions, and learn to live purposeful lives. It was he who,when invited to speak to a group of education majors, came to the University of Georgia and , in a week of lectures, redirected the focus of the socialogy department, changed the entire thought pattern of a group of young idealists, helping all to view the world more clearly-without blinders. We all left that institution armed with much much more than a Master's in Education. Some time after, before graduation, It was he who pulled me aside and said I should start a school in Atlanta (and I did The Martin Luther King, Jr. Community School)-one that united teachers, parents and community to better serve the children-one that grounded black children in their culture and send them off in the world with vision and love of self and commitment to each other. His passing "mak me eye for dreen" (made me cry) as we say in Gullah, for the selfish lack I feel that he in no longer of this world. I am left with these words from Paul Lawrence Dunbar (paraphrased) "Who shall come after thee out of the clay, o" learned one to show us the way? Who shall pass the test? Think thou no more of this. Rest."

On Hope in America
The United States of America made a decision last night that I whole-heartedly disagree with. I am disappointed that the country decided to elect Donald Trump. I refuse to believe that the majority of the country will stand behind a man of his caliber. In fact Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, so a majority of people don't agree with Mr. Trump, just the people in the wrong places do. Thankfully there are systems in place to limit his craziness, albeit not all of it. The citizens of the United States are about to learn a lesson in the hardest way possible; you have to get out and vote!!! When only 55% of the country votes, this is what happens. I don't think Trump stands for what most Americans believe in. I still have hope in The United States of America. I have hope that the other 45% of the country believes in ideals that our Declaration of Independence so clearly states, “That all men are created equal,” a line that Mr. Trump must have skipped over while reading. His platform is based on a cruel nativism that doesn't speak of equality for all people, but rather speaks to the inequality of people based upon where they come from, or what it is they believe. I refuse to believe a majority of Americans will quietly be led into a society in which hate is practiced. I have hope that we will continue to move in the right direction. I have hope that we will continue to work on treating each other with the respect, and living out what American ideals really are, regardless of who the leader of our nation is.
Where does this hope come from? I have this hope because I am so blessed to work with the future of our country. My students give me hope in their comments every single day. I have to tell myself, and all of you, there is hope. This election is not representative of the America I know, or the America that we will see in twenty years. This election represents a step back in time. This is one group’s last-ditch effort to re create an America that is on the way out. Keep faith in humanity, it is flawed yes, but inherently good. Do not stop treating people with kindness and love just because others have stopped. The way we will continue to see change going forward is by continuing to support one another, not by bringing one another down. There is HOPE! I am so grateful to my kids for picking me up today and reminding me of this. As proof, here are some highlights.
“This is not the way to show what America is.”
“He does not respect women at all which is messed up because he is talking about women in my family”
“Why would you hate someone based upon the color of their skin? That is so dumb.”

I greatly appreciated revisiting this interview after not only the election results, but also a personal experience I had the day after the election.

I was in a Dunkin Donuts and another customer, who happened to be a white man, began to say in a very loud voice for all in the restaurant to hear, a series of very bigoted and derogatory comments about a female tv news anchor to another customer, who also happened to be a white man.

Quite upset by this, I confronted this man and told him to stop repeating this profane language that I found offensive, and his response to me was to not only not stop (he certainly kept going), but he yelled at me: "I can say whatever I want and do whatever I want. You can't stop me!"

Two days later now, I am still very upset by this event, but, listening to the piece in Mr. Harding's interview where he referred to us Americans as "amateurs" in a "developing nation" in terms of practicing democracy and democratic values, I found it strangely comforting.

I suppose it is actually not surprising though that it would take an elder, a deceased elder at that, to help me pull back from the intensity of the current moment in order to see the longer view of history and my place in it (as well as the other customer in Dunkin Donuts on Wednesday).

I wrote to a friend this week that I have been reminded by this election and my personal experience of the famous quote attributed to Rev Dr. Martin Luther King about the "long arc of justice." Mr. Harding helped remind me where we as a nation truly are on that arc.

But, now let's see if we can move that arc forward. As the old saying goes, in every crisis, there is an opportunity to take a big step forward.

Harding had a gift of using words elegantly and with meaning - references to the "Mad Man Jesus," to the value of discipline and a beloved community, and to throwing out the word "minorities." These are things that seem sentimental and passe in our world today, but how do we revive them?

I would like to have heard him speak more to goals vs. hope. In some many cases, hope often only sits stagnant without goals. The Black Lives Matter movement could benefit from listening to Harding's words. Harsher and more violent elements of our society, such as white supremacists and those protesters who destroy property and disrupt other's lives, could definitely benefit from the grand spirit of this deeply insightful man.

Is America possible?
When this inspiring episode of On-Being came to that fundamental question, I could not refrain from thinking that as long as almost 50% of eligible American voters decide that checking a single name on a ballot to select the person who will be empowered to orient the destiny of America for at least 4 years and much more when it comes to the Supreme Court, or at least to prevent the person they surely do not want to represent them, is not a worthwhile exercise, not to say a fundamental civic duty, then NO, America is not and will not be possible.

I certainly do not consider voting as the be-all and end-all of a democracy, but I believe that such appalling contempt for an exercise that so many in the world dream of and would die for is a sure sign that the America Vincent Harding and others like him so eloquently spoke and dreamed of is indeed a dream.

I am more shocked by the 100 million abstentions than by the outcome of that election. Sad state of the Union, indeed!

I have a related deep, deep concern at the level of heartbreak. I think any of us who are inclined to withdraw from real civic participation now to tend our own restful gardens with those we very easily love need to check in with our consciences about whether this is a sufficiently loving act, given the pain of those we may not easily love whose lives do not allow them that same privilege and luxury.
Berkeley Sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her book 2016 book Strangers in Their Own Land coins the term "empathy wall" for the inability of the one to care for the other. She is thinking of the "other" not in the usual terms of people who may be ethnically different or of different faith but rather of the sort of widely maligned "other" that has just elected Donald Trump, the white working class.

"Heartbreak" is the right word.
Yes to climbing over the empathy wall, yes to understanding the "Stockholm syndrome"-type of sympathy those who suffer the most from trickle-down economic policies and unregulated predatory greed develop toward the champions of wild capitalism, but when all is said and done, voting on one's conscience remains a fundamental democratic duty that 97.5 million citizens did not fulfill. That is more than 1.6 times the number of those who voted for the president-elect whose nomination rests on the vote of 27.4% of eligible voters. For each person who voted for him, almost 3 did not !
As you suggest, "to check in with our consciences" is indeed in order for those who stayed home tending their garden or their "love nest". Some would call it a sin of omission and the entire biosphere, minerals, vegetals, animals and humans will pay dearly for it. Days of reckoning are ahead, someone said. I tend to agree and I am sorry if that does not sound very hopeful, but that is what heartbreak and a bit of realism dictate.

You are on to something, Daniel, about voting, but it is one of our most precious rights. Reportedly, a huge percentage of those abstainers were minority populations and young people - those who fail to show up for mid-term elections. Mid-terms are extraordinarily important, but the people who could most benefit from them ignore them.
I am distressed, too, that we see our country along party lines, as red states and blue states. This is silly and misleading if you think about it. I believe someone in media came up with this because they believed voters were too simple to grasp bigger thoughts and visions about election results. Consider the media - left and right, if you will - and even those who wrap themselves in objectivity were blatantly partisan. We can also thank them for Trump's victory. The elite media misunderstood the composition and the temperament of their own country. They touted Trump because he was entertaining - and they failed to misunderstand his power. Consequently, they must take stock and understand they are, in part, responsible for his election.

I have many disagreements with Samuel Huntington, but this observation has always resonated with me and no more so than today: "Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope." It is a hope that must be reawakened over and over again....

Thought I would share this here: Why Black Lives Matter--Robin White, NPS Superintendent Little Rock Central High School NHS.

The link evidently won't show up here, but search for the title above on KCBX FM radio, or dated Nov. 3, 2016 .

Samuel Huntington is seldom my favorite source, but this 1983 statement has always resonated for me and at no time more than now: "Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope." Despite our disappointment, now, more than ever, we must keep that hope alive.

AS a Mexican with four U.S.A. grandchildren who are born citizens of your country, I am counting on people like Vincent Harding to remind all of us how wonderful the United States can be...and thank Krista Tipper, whom I listen to every Sunday Morning on NPR, here in Mexico, and feel that the world can get better if we all try to make it so.

The conversation with Krista Tippett and the late Vincent Harding was truly inspiring! I love the way Krista Tippett not only engaged with the material, which encompasses diversity, race, gender, and the act of "being" in general, but she also engages and reflects off of the comments of Vincent Harding very well. This conversation is the epitome of what a civil and constructive conversation surrounding our current nation should look like. Eagerly engaged, ready to learn and listen, and effortlessly sharing some of their stories was the most effective for me coming from both Krista and Vincent in this interview. Krista is a terrific interviewer! I loved the part where Mr.Harding discussed that in order to progress or seek understanding among one another we have to have people who will stand in the dark with those youth and others who are stuck there and cannot see the light. Mr.Harding hits key points that are not articulated within our society,let alone in our nation as of today. He brings brilliance to another level when he relates the past,especially the civil rights era, to the present. Overall, this was a beautiful interview and is the guiding material in my community reporting project right now in a top Journalism course called race, gender, and the news at The College of New Jersey. I am grateful to have that this site was shared by my professor and am more grateful to have heard such a beautiful conversation between two great minds and souls. Thank you Krista Tippett and Vincent Harding for sharing some of you with us!