A collaborative memoir in two voices that celebrates the life, creativity, and accomplishments of a little-discussed but no less important female civil rights activist.
Rosemarie Harding (1930-2004) never achieved the iconic status of Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. Yet she made many significant contributions to the civil rights movement, especially in the work she did to connect spirituality to the larger project of social justice. In this memoir, Harding tells the story of her life through a series of personal essays, fictional stories, and poems, which her daughter, Rachel, interweaves with her own memories and observations. The child of Georgia-born African-Americans who had migrated north to escape racism and violence, Harding grew up in the relative safety of Chicago. But when she was in her early 20s, she returned to the South with her husband as part of a church-based mission to use reconciliation and peacemaking as tools in the struggle for civil rights. Christianity was only one of the spiritual traditions upon which Harding drew for her work. Over time, she incorporated insights from others—including Tibetan Buddhism and Afro-Brazilian Candomblé—to help the African-American community transcend generations of “collective trauma.” In the words of her daughter, Harding’s ultimate goal was to teach people how to transform their pain and anger into “something useful...a song, a dance [or] some poetry for those following behind.” Her own life eventually became a study in finding spiritual balance when she was diagnosed with an especially pernicious form of diabetes. Fighting for her dignity, Harding would come to a deeply visceral understanding that the journey to wholeness began from the “ ‘remnant’ quality of spirit” within the self that allowed for hope to shine through, even in the most desperate of circumstances.
A wise and humane memoir.