January 1, 1940 – August 12, 2002
Raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“Prathia had presence,” said Mary King, and Betty Garman Robinson agreed, “When she spoke, I paid attention.”
Both the death of her father and the eruption of student sit-ins in February 1960 seeded Prathia Hall’s resolve to fight for social justice. Her father, a Baptist minister, instilled in her faith and fortitude. Like most in SNCC, she could feel change in the air as a teenager. With her father’s support, she began studying nonviolence in the 1950s, frequenting workshops on nonviolent direct action. In high school and college, she was an active member of the Fellowship House, which organized students from across Philadelphia around peace and interracial human relations. By her junior year at Temple University, she had joined demonstrations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Hall left Temple in August of 1962 and joined the Albany, Georgia project led by Charles Sherrod. There, the mass meetings always began with prayer, and Hall was extremely moved by “that power with which those songs and prayers were infused transcended the objective reality of our situation, fashioned fear into faith, cringing into courage, suffering into survival, despair into defiance, and pain into protest.”
She soon began working in Terrell County, nicknamed “Terrible Terrell” or “Tombstone Territory” because of the extent of violence there. She and others lived with Mrs. Carolyn Daniels and her son Roy in Dawson, the county seat. The Daniels’ two-bedroom house became the freedom house, which also made it a target of white terrorists. On September 6, 1962, night riders fired into the house, wounding Hall, Jack Chatfield, and Christopher Allen. “We’ve talked a lot about coming face-to-face with death, and I think sometimes for young people that’s very hard to imagine. But we did it, and we had to do it every day,” said Hall.
In her work, Prathia Hall was constantly moved by the resilience of the communities with whom she worked. “Fueled by their freedom-faith, Southwest Georgia residents were willing to walk face-to-face with the forces of death and in the struggle for life,” she explained. Hall, along with SNCC’s Faith Holsaert, canvassed the “rurals” of Terrell County in Mrs. Daniels’ red and white Chevy Impala. Later she worked in Selma, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia.
Hall was extremely involved in the Baptist church. She was well-known for her moving sermons and speeches, and she became one of the first women ordained by the American Baptists’ Association. In the 1970s, Ebony magazine declared her one of the most powerful preachers in the country.
Judy Richardson remembered the power of her words, “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.”
Cheryl Greenberg, ed., A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998).
Prathia Hall, “Bloody Selma,” Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, edited by Faith Holsaert et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 470-472.
Prathia Hall, “Freedom-Faith,” Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, edited by Faith Holsaert et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 172-180.
Prathia Hall and the Civil Rights Movement; Several Interviews with Civil Rights Activists by Courtney Lyons, Institute of Oral History, Baylor University.