Former Indiana U.S. Rep. Katie Hall, a key sponsor of the 1983 legislation that established a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has died. She was 73.
Hall’s husband, John Henry Hall, said she died Monday at Methodist Hospitals’ Northlake campus in Gary from an undisclosed illness.
Although she was just a freshman congresswoman at the time, Hall was credited with playing a key role in getting the King holiday approved after it stalled in the House the previous 14 years. She sought the chairmanship of a Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee so she could get the bill moving and held hearings, bringing in King’s widow, Coretta, singer Stevie Wonder, Sen. Edward Kennedy and House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill.
“Sometimes when you get to the goal line it’s good to go to someone fresh and new to take it over. She brought a freshness of approach, a spirit of reconciliation to what had sometimes been a bitter battle,” Rep. William H. Gray III, a Philadelphia Democrat, said at the time.
John Henry Hall said his wife’s work on that bill was the accomplishment of which she was most proud.
“She was there with President Reagan as well as Coretta Scott King and others when the president signed it. It was one of the highlights of her career, tremendously so,” he said.
Katie Hall, who was Indiana’s first black member in the U.S. House, was a school teacher and got involved in politics in 1962 shortly after moving to the city. In 1963 she worked on the campaign for Richard Hatcher when he first ran for City Council and helped with his campaign again four years later when ran for mayor of Gary, becoming one of the first black mayors of big U.S. city.
“That energized her and got her into politics,” James Lane, a history professor at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.
She served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1974-76 and in the Indiana Senate from 1976-82. When U.S. Rep. Adam Benjamin of northwestern Indiana’s 1st District died suddenly in 1982, two months before the election, Hatcher was influential in persuading Democratic Party officials to nominate Hall to replace him, Lane said. She was picked over Benjamin’s widow, Patricia, during a meeting at Hatcher’s home. Hall won election to the remainder of Benjamin’s term and a full two-year term on the same day in November.
Hall was defeated in the 1984 Democratic primary by Peter Visclosky, who has held the seat since. Visclosky accused her of being unresponsive to voters outside of Gary.
“She serves one constituent, the mayor of Gary,” Visclosky said at the time.
Visclosky defeated her again two years later. She then served as Gary’s city clerk from 1988 until 2003, when she pleaded guilty to mail fraud as part of a deal with federal prosecutors on 20 felony public corruption charges. Hall and others had been accused of making workers in the city clerk’s office raise money for Hall’s re-election campaigns in order to keep their jobs.
Hall was sentenced to house arrest and probation, but her daughter, Junifer Hall, served a 16-month prison term.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson expressed her condolences to Hall’s family in a statement released Tuesday.
“She was a great friend of our family, a phenomenal educator, author of the King holiday bill and a political trailblazer we will never forget,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Hall’s husband said his wife should be remembered as a humanitarian who rose from humble beginnings growing up on her grandfather’s cotton farm in Mound Bayou, Miss.
“She left a great legacy of love and concern for city, state and country as well as humanity, and her great work rising from the cotton fields of Mississippi to serve in the Congress of the United States of America,” he said.
A public viewing for Hall will be held 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Van Buren Baptist Church in Gary. A funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.
Associated Press writer Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.