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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

“Go straight to hell.”

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Sam B. Hall, Jr., the son of an East Texas lawyer and judge who rose to a leadership role in Congress and finished his career as a federal judge, was one of East Texas’ most interesting contemporary politicians.

Hall’s life is profiled in a new book, “Sam B. Hall, Jr.: Whatever is Right,” by Jerry Summers, who serves as the Sam B. Hall, Jr. Professor of History at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.

Hall was a down-to-earth East Texan who had a way of using the experiences of his constituents and neighbors to explain things in the kind of plain-spoken language that we seldom find in Congress today.

Hall was a typical East Texas conservative Democrat in a time when Democrats in Texas leaned more to the right. He challenged others to emphasize the good in themselves, in others and in their country.

During his career, Hall worked quietly, without any fanfare, to get things done, but older East Texans will remember the day in 1982 when he stood up in Congress and attracted national attention by denouncing atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair for her opposition to public funding for chaplains in Congress.

Addressing the House of Representatives, Hall spoke at the top of his voice, “It’s a terrible thing to have to be faced with a creature like Madalyn Murray O’Hair. But I would like...with all the force that I can command...to request that Mrs. O’Hair, since she does not believe in hell, immediately go straight to hell and make what determination she can as to what she believes is true or false.”

Stunned, the House sat in tense silence, but after Hall’s comment sank in, and they realized that the Congressman from Texas had publicly told someone to go to hell, Hall received a roaring applause.

The House then voted, 388-0, to keep a House chaplain to offer prayer.

Hall’s constituents at home in East Texas approved, too. Among them was a Bowie County resident who wrote Hall. “It is a very gratifying feeling to know there are Christian leaders in this country that will stand up for God and for the people that are fighting for the right to believe in our Supreme Being.”

For years, people with similar convictions always associated Sam Hall with the issue of prayer before Congress, the exercise of prayer in the schools and the free exercise of faith elsewhere.

On a Sunday church night, April 10, 1996, Sam Hall died at Marshall after a long battle with cancer.

Former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, a close friend, was one of those who mourned him, calling him “a conservative with a humane face.”

And in East Texas, there were others who simply remembered him as “the man who stood up in Congress and told an atheist to go to hell.”

For copies of the Sam B. Hall, Jr., book, contact Jerry Summers at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. It’s an excellent read.
All Things Historical
August 1, 2005 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)
 
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