“I don’t have a martyr complex; I’m fighting because I want to live. Living in this system has not been life for me. But I cant take someone else’s life knowingly. I thought we were going to Mississippi because people have been getting killed there for years and no one cared. I thought we were going there to say to the world that if any of us dies, it was not a redneck who shot us but the whole society that had us killed.” – Prathia Hall , Freedom Rider (1964) (from PBS’s This Far By Faith: A Faith Forged in Albany)
“Prathia Hall is the one platform speaker I would prefer not to follow.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (from PBS’s This Far By Faith: Prathia Hall)
Prathia Hall grew up in Philadelphia. Her father, Reverend Berkeley Hall, was a Baptist minister and a passionate advocate for racial justice. She left her undergraduate studies at Temple University to join the throng of college students who were heading south to be freedom fighters and to take part in the movement taking place there. Prathia joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and eventually became one of the first women field leaders in southwest Georgia. Prathia would later go on to become a preacher, following her father’s footsteps as a Baptist minister. She helped break barriers for women’s leadership in the Baptist church by distinguishing herself as an outstanding preacher. In 1962 she was the first woman to be received into the membership of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Philadelphia. After her father’s death Prathia accepted the call of Mount Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia to come and pastor the church her father once pastored.
Prathia later enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary where I met her. We were classmates, she focusing on ethics while I focused on biblical studies. I remember the long talks we had about God, ministry, life, love, and the struggle for justice. I don’t recall her making any special effort to impress me with her SNCC credentials. Neither do I recall her saying a word about having influenced ML King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. She was always in great demand as a speaker even while she was still a graduate student at Princeton, probably because she had been speaking and preaching for a long time before she arrived at Princeton. I got a chance to watch Prathia juggling studies, pastoring, her travels as a speaker, along with her most important job of being single mom to two rambunctious teenagers. I would often go down from Princeton to Philadelphia to preach for her at Mt. Sharon Baptist on those Sundays when she had to be out of town. Prathia Hall (Wynn) eventually graduated from Princeton with a Ph.D. in ethics, specializing in womanist ethics, theology, and African-American church history.
In 1962 Prathia Hall inspired the imagination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by lending him a phrase (”I Have A Dream”) that would become a staple of his preaching and the signature of his life work. It seems only fitting decades later that Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall would go on to become 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.
(Mrs. Hall’s biographical information is from Something Within Blog)
*Welcome to Black History Month (more will be discussed on this later). As a proud African-American, I plan to highlight the women who made critical impacts in black history and paved the way for me to be able to do the things that I have done and will do today. They may be activist for equality, women’s rights, pioneers, educators, figures in black feminism (yes we had to even create our own piece of feminism!) so on. If you have a woman you would like to see highlighted this month — do let me know.