“Go straight to hell.”by
| 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Things Historical |
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.)