Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall (1940–2002) was a leader and activist in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, womanist theologian, and ethicist. She likely 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 who regarded her as his successor. 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.
Hall preached at the Albany Movement’s first anniversary program along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who praised her oratorical skills. She spoke of her dream for the future at the burned down site of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church where the movement had its mass meetings in Terrell County. Hall often repeated the phrase “I have a dream” during her speeches, which some say became the inspiration to King for his famous “I Have a Dream”speech. After Southwest Georgia, she worked in Selma, Alabama. She worked for SNCC until 1966.
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, although she endured enormous back pain from an old accident. 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 Seminaryin Dayton, Ohio, eventually becoming dean of the seminary and director of the school’s Harriet Miller Women’s Center. She died in Boston in 2002 after a long illness, at the age of 62.
“Prathia Hall is one of the platform speakers I would prefer not to follow.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
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