Gary's Katie Hall, Indiana's first African-American member of Congress, dies

Former congresswoman helped turn MLK’s birthday into a national holiday.

February 21, 2012

Former Indiana Congresswoman Katie Hall died on Monday at the age of 73. For many, she’ll be remembered for marking a significant milestone in American history, but for others, she’ll be remembered for leaving political office in a cloud of shame.

Hall’s long political career in Northwest Indiana dated back to the 1970s. She served a single term in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1974 to 1976 and later held a state senate seat from 1976 to 1982.

In 1982, she won a special election for a local congressional seat, becoming Indiana’s first African-American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. That election followed the sudden death of U.S. Rep. Adam Benjamin, a much-revered congressman from Gary. Hall was appointed the Democratic nominee for the seat by Gary’s mayor, Richard Hatcher. 

In Congress, Hall had a spotty record. She gained notoriety for sponsoring the law that made Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday but, despite that, she did not win re-election in 1984. Instead, she narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Peter Visclosky, who is the son of a former mayor of Gary and remains the congressman from Northwest Indiana. Former Lake County Prosecutor Jack Crawford finished third in that race.

Hall wasn’t finished politically, though.

Following her congressional defeat, she won election as Gary City Clerk, serving from 1985 to 1993. She twice challenged Visclosky for Congress, but failed both times. Later, she returned to office as Gary City Clerk.

During her last term in 2002, she and her daughter, Junifer Hall, who served as Deputy Clerk, were indicted by a federal grand jury on racketeering, extortion and mail fraud charges. A series of newspaper articles in the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana alleged Hall extorted campaign cash from her employees. In 2003, Hall was spared prison following her guilty plea on mail fraud charges, but her daughter served 16 months. In 2009 Hall asked President Barack Obama for a pardon, which was denied.

Hall, who earned political science and social studies degrees, taught for more than 30 years in the Gary Public School system.

Katie Hall died Monday morning at a Gary hospital of an undisclosed illness.