MILLEDGEVILLE — John Harden Jr. always stood up for what he believed was right in regards to education and social issues. Receiving an education at the only all-black private school in Georgia during the era of racial tension was challenging, but Harden’s moral character and perseverance through those difficult times as a teenager got him recognized as the recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Human and Social Service.
“To answer what I did to receive such a prestigious award is really captivated in a simple act of social service — attempting to keep the unity and peace among my friends and peers at that time,” the now 62 year old said. “For those of us who had a chance to live during Dr. King’s times of sacrifice and peaceful protest against racism, poverty and war, he gave us a sense of courage in a time of fear, a sense of unity and purpose as a nation and a race of people. I thank God for Dr. King.”
During Harden’s high school senior year at Boggs Academy in Keysville, a few of his peers felt the inadequate food portions at each meal was not enough to keep them full throughout the school day. The 145 students in grades eight through 12 organized a protest in the dining room as they chanted and refused to eat in hopes to increase the amount of food each student received.
“I felt like I should participate in the protest to be part of the student body, but I also didn’t want to get in trouble because I wanted to make my parents proud as their only child. My thinking was, if we did this and we were successful, we might be able to participate in some of the bigger marches going on in the south,” he said. “We walked around the dining room chanting what we had heard our instructor tell us about how it was going with the civil rights workers in the south, so we were mimicking what we had learned since none of us actually saw a protest.”