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Letter: Death of Rev. King ally raises memories

Dr. Vincent Harding, an activist who was an

Dr. Vincent Harding, an activist who was an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., died Monday, May 19, 2014. He was 82. Newsday's obituary for Dr. Vincent Harding
Credit: Getty Images / Mark Ralston

Newsday's obituary for anti-war activist Vincent Harding unleashed a flood of memories for me, especially his visit to Hofstra University in the 1980s ["Activist Vincent Harding, aided MLK," News, May 22].

The obituary properly highlights Harding's role in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s criticism of the Vietnam War, a key aspect of his leadership that is too often neglected.

However, there was one notable omission. Harding wrote a book about King in 1996 with the striking subtitle, "The Inconvenient Hero." Harding spoke of our "national amnesia," in neglecting King's emphasis on the "triple evils" of poverty, racism and militarism -- and their symbiotic ties. Harding said we failed to provide "a humanizing gift" to rising generations by neglecting King's "lessons about courage, compassion, and the merit of sacrifice for the community, as well as the darker sides of hatred and betrayal in human affairs."

King's speech about the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, which Harding is credited with writing, effectively reflected his commitments to reform and social justice more than any of his other talks. Like Harding, Harry Wachtel -- a Long Islander on King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference board -- contributed to that key address. In 1969, Wachtel returned to Riverside Church to give his own talk explaining King's journey for "beloved communities." A copy is in Hofstra's Axinn Library.

My students and I continue to benefit from the work of Harding, Wachtel and Hofstra alumnus Bernie Fixler, who brought King to Hofstra in 1965 as the graduation speaker. We also benefit from reading one of the best books ever written about King, by James Colaiaco, a resident of Baldwin, who appropriately subtitled the book, "Apostle of Militant Nonviolence."

Michael D'Innocenzo, Hempstead

Editor's note: The writer is a history professor at Hofstra University.