The Veterans of Hope Project (VOHP) was founded in 1997 by the late Dr. Vincent Harding and Mrs. Rosemarie Freeney Harding (1930-2004), historians and longtime advocates for social justice. The Project is based on the campus of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO where Vincent was a faculty member and where the Hardings together taught courses on religion and social transformation.
In 1961 (a year after their marriage), Vincent and Rosemarie accepted a call from the service committee of the national Mennonite Church to work in the southern freedom movement as representatives of the Mennonites and as an “advance team” for civil rights organizations that were planning major desegregation campaigns. Based in Atlanta (around the corner from Martin and Coretta King) they traveled throughout the south, working with local and national movement organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Their work focused on teaching nonviolence; encouraging and mentoring movement participants; exploring pathways to racial justice and reconciliation; and interpreting the Southern Freedom Movement to people both within and beyond the region.
Following their years in the movement, Rosemarie and Vincent were involved in a variety of national and international peace and justice struggles including the anti-apartheid movement, Witness for Peace in Central America and Third World solidarity organizing. They also continued their work as teachers, counselors and scholars, sharing generously from their understandings of the history and potential of our nation as a multicultural democracy and frequently involving their children, nieces and nephews and close family friends in their many labors.
The Veterans of Hope Project grew out of the Hardings’ decades of teaching and organizing and the family’s extensive network friends and colleagues in social justice movements. The impetus for the VOHP was to document and disseminate models of spiritually and culturally-grounded social justice activism that can serve as inspiration for individuals and communities concerned about the wellbeing of our democracy and the inclusiveness of our nation.
With important collaboration from scholar of Gandhian nonviolence, Sudarshan Kapur; then-graduate student Maaraidzo Mutambara; and the leadership of the Iliff School of Theology, the Veterans of Hope was initially founded as an oral history project. Very quickly, however, our work evolved to include significant intergenerational, international and arts-based community initiatives – all focused around the role of spirituality, compassion and healing in social justice activism.
With the passing of both Vincent and Rosemarie, we are renewing our organizational commitment to sharing the stories, wisdoms and resources for compassionate social justice organizing that emerge from the experiences of marginalized communities, in our nation and internationally. Rachel Elizabeth Harding and Gloria Smith, daughter and niece of Vincent and Rose, are longtime directors of the VOHP and, with help from a wide circle of friends and coworkers, continue the educational and activist traditions of the Freeney-Harding family.
Vincent and Rosemarie were convinced that the history of our country carries in its DNA, remedies for healing the profound wounds of racial, economic and gender injustice that so many of our citizens suffer. In particular, the cultures, spiritual traditions and movements for democratic social change of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and American Indian communities offer useful models for nonviolent, compassionate organizing for justice. Over nearly twenty years of our existence as an organization we have gathered many such stories and examples and we are happy and determined to keep sharing them in as many ways as possible.