SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Former Indiana congresswoman Katie Hall, one of the sponsors 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.
John Henry Hall said his wife’s work on the bill to make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday 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 of Representatives, got her start in politics working for the election of Richard Hatcher as mayor of Gary in 1967, when he became 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 won election to a full two-year term that November.
Hall was defeated in the 1984 Democratic primary by Peter Visclosky, who has held the seat since then after defeating another challenge from Hall 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 plea 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.
Associated Press writer Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.