Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall ( January 1, 1940 – August 12, 2002) was a leader and activist in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, womanist theologian, and ethicist. She was the key inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.
Hall was raised in Philadelphia, the daughter of founders of Mount Sharon Baptist Church, an inner-city church, in an under-served area of Philadelphia. Her father was a Baptist preacher and a passionate advocate for racial justice, who regarded her as his successor, he was her inspiration to include religion and social justice. Prathia believed she was brought into the world for a reason and the reason was to integrate religion and freedom together. Her leadership potential was recognized early, and she credited many groups, such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews for singling her out and helping her to develop. Hall attended predominantly white schools until college, but at the age of five, on a train ride South to visit her grandparents, she and her sisters were forced to sit in a car behind the engine. This was her first experience of dehumanizing discrimination.
Civil Rights Involvement
By her mid-teens, Hall hoped to join the African-American Civil Rights Movement. In high school and college, she became involved with Fellowship House, a Philadelphia ecumenical social justice organization, where she studied the philosophy of nonviolence and direct action. After graduating high school she attended Temple University. In 1961, while still a junior at Temple, Hall was arrested in Annapolis, Maryland for participation in the anti-segregation protests on Maryland's Eastern Shore and was in jail for two weeks and held without bail.
After graduating from Temple with a degree in political science, she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) working with Charles Sherrod, in Southwest Georgia. She became one of the first women field leaders in southwest Georgia. Hall later began working in Terrell County, Georgia, Terrell County was known as the "Terrible Terrell County" because African Americans who attempted to register to vote would end up missing or dead. On September 6, 1962, nightriders fired into the house, wounding Hall, Jack Chatfield, and Christopher Allen. She was shot at by police and jailed many times in Georgia, including in the notorious Sasser jail. While working for SNCC, Hall worked by canvassing door to door to register voters and teaching in freedom schools (educational programs that helper potential voters pass the required registration tests). She became involved in the Albany Movement, becoming known for her oratorical power, speaking at movement meetings and preaching as well.
"I Have A Dream"
In 1962, a young Prathia agreed to participate in a service commemorating Mount Olive Baptist Church in Terrell County, Georgia that had been burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan because of it being the movement’s place of mass meetings in the county. The service was also attended by Martin Luther King, Jr. and SCLC's strategist James Bevel. Hall was scheduled to deliver a prayer during the service. According to Bevel, “As she prayed, she spontaneously uttered and rhythmically repeated an inspiring phrase that captured her vision for the future-‘I have a dream’”. Bevel claims that her use of this memorable phrase is what inspired King to begin to put it as a fixture in his sermons. Hall never claimed to be the inspiration behind King’s use of the phrase, but after his attendance of the service King began to incorporate the phrase into a number of his sermons as he traveled the United States.
Hall was called down to Selma in the winter of 1963 after SNCC field secretary Bernard Lafayette was beaten and jailed there. The area there was filled with circumstances of police brutality and a sadistic joy of inflicting pain on those involved in the movement. The violence became too much for Hall after the events of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. Hall was working out of the Atlanta SNCC office when they received a call to come down to Selma and help organize after the march to Montgomery ended in bloody violence. It was this event that led to a theological crisis for Rev. Hall and her eventual resignation from SNCC in 1966 when the organization transitioned away from nonviolence.
Hall later decided to focus her attention on her academic interests. She earned a Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1978 Hall began serving as pastor at the Mt. Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, driving down from Princeton every weekend. Prathia came across some struggles with religion where she felt her religion had failed her when her daughter died of a stroke, she later had health issues and suffered from pain due to an injury from an old car accident that ultimately led to her death. She also became one of the first women ordained in the American Baptist Association.
Hall later joined the faculty at the Boston University School of Theology, holding the Martin Luther King Chair in Social Ethics. Her work focused on womanist theology and ethics. She then became a visiting scholar at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. She later joined the faculty at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, eventually becoming dean of the seminary and director of the school's Harriet Miller Women's Center. In 1997, Ebony magazine named Hall as number one on their list of top 15 Greatest Black Women Preachers. She remained active in her role in the church until her death in Boston in 2002 after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 62.
Quotes about Hall
"I remember sitting one day in the little area outside Forman's office, transcribing a mass meeting speech given by Prathia Hall, a SNCC field secretary then posted to Selma, Alabama. As she described the violence in Selma, the awful beauty of her words—and the intensity of her moral outrage—took me by such force that I remember typing on to that long, green mimeo stencil with tears just streaming down my face. It was as if some force of nature had swept me away to another place." -Judy Richardson
"Prathia Hall is one of the platform speakers I would prefer not to follow." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes".
- Oral history with Sheila Michaels, 1999, Columbia University.
- "Prathia Hall", This Far By Faith.
- Civil Rights Movement in 1963 C- Span
- "Prathia This Far by Faith
- "Prathia Hall - One Person One Vote". One Person One Vote. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- "Prathia Hall Social Justice Award | WomanPreach! Inc.". womanpreach.org. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Civil Rights Movement of 1963 C-Span
- "Prathia Hall: An Extraordinary, Ordinary Saint". EthicsDaily.com. 2014-08-28. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- "Society for the Study of the Black Religion" (PDF).
- "Bloody Selma | Civil Rights Teaching". civilrightsteaching.org. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- "Prathia Hall" This Far by Faith
- "Learning about a faith-filled woman, Prathia Hall", Soul Rhythms. March 21, 2011.
- Holsaert, Faith et al. Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. University of Illinois Press, 2010.
- Parthia Hall