Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

    Students remember social work trailblazer


    Ethel Hall was the first African-American woman elected into the Alabama State Board of Education, and the first woman and African-American to graduate from the University of Alabama’s School of Social Work doctoral program. Hall died on Nov. 12 in Birmingham, Ala., from illness. She was 83.

    “Like so many other role models I hold dear, she helped to pave my journey as a black female educator in the state of Alabama,” said Joyce Stallworth, professor and senior associate dean in the college of education. “She was always the consummate teacher who privately and publically practiced what she taught. She epitomized so much of what I believe about education, schooling, justice and equity for all of the nation’s children. Now more than ever, this state needs courageous educators like Dr. Hall to ensure we remain focused on a trajectory of educational improvement and higher student achievement.”

    Hall served 24 years on the Alabama Board of Education while holding the position of Vice President for 10 of those years. She released a book titled “My Journey: A Memoir of the First African-American to Preside Over the Alabama Board of Education” in 2010 chronicling her life as an educator.

    Though her teaching career began on the high school level, Hall taught at the University of Montevallo and at Alabama. At one point in time, she was the lone black instructor at Montevallo. In 1990, the UA Board of Trustees named Hall associate professor emerita. She retired from UA in 1999.

    Hall was a guest speaker at the School of Social Work’s first ever Women’s History Month lecture this past spring. She spoke on life experiences dealing with discrimination and poverty and becoming a pioneer on Alabama education.

    “I couldn’t get over the fact that I have finally met the woman who paved the way for me,” said Tierra Gleason, a junior majoring in social work. “Who knows what could be if she never took the time to challenge the School of Social Work’s Ph.D. program. I couldn’t imagine living then with times being worse then than they are now here at UA…I was always told it takes a special person to be a social worker, and she was definitely special.”

    While Hall is known for her many accomplishments, she was also adored for being inspiring and setting a path for others that came and will come behind her.

    “Dr. Hall didn’t let the color of her skin limit her to what she could and couldn’t do,” Gleason said. “She came here and did what she sought out and was successful at accomplishing her tasks. Every social work major can learn from her in that aspect, not just from the color of her skin. We are not what someone says we are. We are not what someone else made us. We are not our past. We have control over our lives. We are not what happened to us. We are what we choose to be. I believe Dr. Hall exemplified that to the fullest.”

    “Throughout all of those [24 years on the board of education], she remained passionate about improving the lives of others,” Stallworth said. “I am reminded of a line from my brother’s eulogy of our mother, who was also a life-long educator, titled, ‘Get to a Place.’ Like our mother, Dr. Hall was always ‘armed and ready to serve others and the public good,’ and she always challenged us to ‘get to a place where we can help someone else along life’s journey.’

    Hall was a native of Decatur, Ala. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M University before obtaining master’s degrees from the University of Chicago and Atlanta University, and later getting her doctoral degree from UA.

    Along with her education initiatives, Hall was also on the Board of Directors for the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum among a number of other institutions. In 1999, she was awarded the NASBE Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of State Board of Education.

    Terri Sewell, Alabama’s first elected African-American congresswoman, talked about Hall in the House of Representatives.

    In her speech, Sewell said, “Today, I ask my colleagues in the United States House of Representatives to join me in celebrating the life and legacy of this extraordinary Alabamian. Let her life stand as a testament to the courage and strength of one individual’s ability to shape the lives of many.  We should be renewed by her love of learning and recommit ourselves to providing our Nation’s greatest asset—its children—with the resources and opportunities they need to compete in this global economy.”

    Hall is survived by her two children, Donna Hall-Mitchell and Alfred James Hall Jr.

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