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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Mission Network

MLK’s “I Have a Dream” inspired by Prathia Hall Wynn

In honor of Women’s History Month, this is the first in a Mennonite Mission Network series about women’s contributions to make earth more like heaven. Originally Published at:

Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech was inspired by Prathia Hall Wynn. Hall Wynn was the first female field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in southwest Georgia, where being a civil rights activist was especially dangerous. During Hall Wynn’s years of study at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she engaged in civil rights activism. In 1961, she was held in jail for two weeks, without bail, for participating in a sit-in at a Maryland restaurant that refused to serve Black people. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science, Hall Wynn joined SNCC and worked with the organization for four years. Sept. 6, 1962, three days before the Ku Klux Klan set fire to two Georgia churches, Mount Mary Baptist Church and Mount Olive Baptist Church, White segregationists fired into the house where Hall Wynn was lodged, wounding two of her fellow activists. The day after the fires, Sept. 10, 1962, a prayer vigil was held amid the ashes of the Mount Olive building. King attended the service and heard Hall Wynn pray. She wove in the phrase “I have a dream” throughout her prayer, and King was captivated by it. He asked Hall Wynn’s permission to use this phrase in his sermons, the most famous occasion being in his speech during the March on Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1963. In 1978, Hall Wynn became the pastor of the Mount Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a congregation that her father, the Rev. Berkeley Hall, founded 40 years earlier. She went on to earn three degrees from Princeton (New Jersey) Theological Seminary; a Master of Divinity in 1982, a Master of Theology in 1984 and a Ph.D. in 1997. In 2000, she became a professor of social ethics at Boston (Massachusetts) University School of Theology. Hall Wynn, aged 62, died of cancer in 2002.

Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Writer for Mennonite Mission Network

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