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People of Faith Prathia Hall

Albert Cleage James Cone Warith Deen Mohammed Thomas Dorsey Frederick Douglass Olaudah Equiano Prathia Hall Daniel Payne Howard Thurman Sojourner Truth Henry McNeal Turner Denmark Vesey Cecil Williams


Prathia Hall

Photo of Prathia Hall "Prathia Hall is the one platform speaker I would prefer not to follow." --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Prathia Hall grew up in Philadelphia, but her family's Southern roots were deep. Her father, Reverend Berkeley Hall, was a Baptist minister and a passionate advocate for racial justice. Hall was nurtured in what she would later describe as "Freedom Faith," the belief that she was God's child and was therefore loved and important. As a young girl, she lived sheltered from the indignities other black people in America dealt with. But her family could not always keep her safe. At age five, on a train ride South to visit her grandparents, she and her sisters were forced to sit in a car behind the engine. Hall recalls the incident as her first encounter with the dehumanizing effects of racism.

Hall attended predominantly white schools until college, so she was insulated from Southern racism. By age 15, Hall ached to join the Civil Rights Movement.

After graduating from Temple University, she joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She became one of the first women field leaders in southwest Georgia. Hall and her companions in the Freedom Faith movement found courage and spiritual transformation in the prayers, songs, and examples of their peers. Prathia Hall lived to tell her story. Many who fought with her were not as fortunate.

Hall was ordained a Baptist minister and became pastor of her father's church, Mount Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia. She received her doctorate in theology from Princeton, where she specialized in womanist theology, ethics, and African-American church history. In 1982, Hall became the first woman to join the Baptist Ministers Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity. Hall was also an associate professor at Boston University School of Theology, holding the Martin Luther King Jr. Chair in Social Ethics. Prathia Hall died on August 12, 2002, following a long illness.

"Negroes must also bear the blame for the desecration of humanity that is segregation. For we have been silent much too long. We've been preoccupied with telling our city power structure not what it needs to know, but what it wants to hear. We are here today because we can no longer bear the shame of our guilt, because delay means compromising our dignity... we are here today to serve notice on the city of Altanta and the state of Georgia. We are tired of segregation and we want equality now." --Prathia Hall, December, 1963, Address to an SNCC meeting in Atlanta


KEY MOMENTS OF FAITH

BORN WITH A MISSION

Prathia Hall had a sharp eye and ear for the causes that affect social justice, and she described her origins in "freedom faith" as follows: "Well it sounds presumptuous to say you were born with a mission, but I have always had a deep passion for justice. I was raised by my parents in what I believe to be the central dynamic in the African-American religious tradition. That is, an integration of the religious and the political. It is a belief that God intends us to be free, and assists us, and empowers us in the struggle for freedom. So the stories of our history helped me to understand that we were called to be activists in this struggle for justice. "

SNCC: ACTIVISM AND DANGER

Prathia Hall helped Charles Sherrod to pilot SNCC's 22-county SW Georgia Project. Prathia was one of three voter registration workers wounded by night riders' shots in Dawson, GA in the summer of 1962. Charles Sherrod remembers: "Out of the night that covered us, pitch black, there were two blasts. Jack Chatfield (now an Associate Professor of History at Trinity College/Hartford) crouched, gliding into where I was. Suddenly, he snaps around, explaining quite suprisedly but not too excited - 'I'm hit.' Prathia Hall and Christopher Allen were grazed, one on the finger, the other on the arm. We were all on the floor. We were working together on Voter Registration. We had been shot at. Some were hit. There was blood. We were afraid. Where was the Federal Government? We crawled about on that floor as if we were in Korea on Pork Chop Hill."

BLOODY SUNDAY

The 600 marchers meant to call attention to their struggle for suffrage by marching from Selma to Montgomery. But state troopers at the Edmund Petttus Bridge blocked their way. Then they attacked. Television cameras recorded the event; public outrage over it led to passage of the Civil Rights Act. But that day, Prathia Hall's faith in the strategy of nonviolent confrontation was shaken. In retrospect, Hall said that a nonviolent movement "has to make space for the expression of authentic anger, even rage…we might have had even greater power if we had somehow found a way to allow space for the expression of righteous anger."

CRISIS OF FAITH AND PERSONAL TRAGEDY

Through four or five years, Hall struggled through a crisis of faith before deciding to go to Princeton Theological Seminary to take up her father's profession. She became one of the first women ordained in the American Baptists' Association. She suffered through tremendous personal tragedy — her daughter died at 23, after suffering a stroke; and she herself battled continued health problems stemming from a car accident.

POST CIVIL RIGHTS: PRATHIA HALL'S NEW MOVEMENT

Prathia Hall answered the challenge to her faith by digging deeper. She worked tirelessly through ministry to make a difference. She served on the steering committee of the American Baptist Conference (the Northern Baptists' conference) on the Partnership of Women and Men in the Community of Faith and served as chair of the Program Committee of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. She became known as a womanist theologian. Hall held the Martin Luther King Jr. Chair in Social Ethics at Boston University. Rev. Prathia Hall died August 12, 2002.