Photo from The Veterans of Hope Project
African American, Autoethnography, Spirituality, Activism
Rosemarie Freeney Harding
Rosemarie Freeney Harding offers a detailed autoethnographic memoir of African American women’s beliefs and traditions during the Great Migration from Georgia to Chicago and about her spiritual journey as she engaged study through interfaith traditions. As a Mennonite, she worked side by side with her husband for more than 40 years in radical movements for social change.
A child of the great migration from Georgia, Rosemarie Florence Freeney was the youngest of nine children born to Dock Freeney, Jr. and Ella Lee Harris Freeney and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She was influenced by the storytelling, spiritual, and healing traditions of her mother, maternal grandmother, and great grandmother. She earned a BA in Sociology (1955) at Goshen College and worked as a social worker and teacher in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Denver.
In 1961 she moved to Atlanta, with her husband, historian Vincent Harding, whom she married in 1960. In Atlanta, she worked as a substitute elementary teacher, helped found the city’s first interracial preschool, and was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. She cofounded the first interracial voluntary service center, Mennonite House, and helped establish the Martin Luther King Center with her husband. After a decade in Atlanta, she completed an MA in history and women’s studies (1978) at Goddard College in Vermont, and a MSW from University of Denver (1980s). From 1974 to 1981, she taught at the Pendle Hill Quaker Study Center and worked on curriculum connecting spirituality and social justice. When she and her family moved to Denver in 1981, she cotaught similar courses with her husband at the Illiff School of Theology and worked as a social worker with the Family Criss Center of the Denver Department of Social Services.
Freeney Harding cofounded the Veterans of Hope Project (1997), which gathered the oral histories of veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and other international human rights activists, as well as those of historians, artists, and social justice activists tied to or associated with a variety of causes. Drawing on the lessons of their experiences, perspectives, and insights, the project promotes healing-based community building through nonviolence and peaceful reconciliation social justice work that connects spirituality, creativity, and citizenship. She also organized workshops, symposia, and leadership events for youth in these social justice methodologies.
Freeney Harding was a Mennonite by choice, but she also practiced faith ecumenically, teaching at a Quaker study center, pursuing study with the Dalai Lama in India (1990), and in Afro-Brazilian Candomblé (1997) with her daughter, Rachel. These teachings were framed by her understanding of traditional African American spirituality that she had learned from her elders. Among Freeney Harding’s works of interest to folklore studies are:
with Rachel Elizabeth Harding, Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering (2015)