Abram Thompson Hall Jr. (1851-1951)

Nicodemus, Kansas
Courtesy Kansas Historical Society (526)

Abram Thompson Hall, Jr., a northern journalist, forced the organization of Graham County after arriving in Nicodemus, Kansas, the first all-black community on the high plains. The county’s rapidly increasing white population objected, but Kansas Governor John Pierce St. John acknowledged the validity of Hall’s petition for county status. Through receiving the appointment to complete the requisite organizational census, Hall became the first African American census taker in the United States.

Abram Thompson (A.T.) Hall, Jr., son of Abram Thompson Hall, Sr. and Joanna (Huss) Hall was born in Chicago in 1851. His father was the first African American licensed to preach in Chicago, and founded Quinn Chapel, the city’s first black church. Hall moved from Chicago, Illinois to Nicodemus in April 1878 with his friend and political ally, Edward P. McCabe. The two men were motivated by the opportunity to acquire Kansas land though the provisions of the Homestead Act. Upon arriving in unorganized Graham County, Hall and McCabe set up a law office and specialized in land location.

To the astonishment of local newspaper editors, Hall quickly established himself as the official correspondent from Graham County by sending letters and columns to newspapers throughout Kansas. Due to his skillful editorials, Hall shaped Kansans’ favorable perception of the Nicodemus colony.

Hall and McCabe developed a land office that was quite prosperous. Through frequent trips to Topeka, the two men became acquainted with African American politicians in eastern Kansas and soon were influential in state politics. Hall spoke French, quoted Shakespeare, and was a popular speaker at Topeka’s prestigious St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Abram Hall, Jr. left Nicodemus in October 1880 to accept the position of city editor of the National Tribune in St. Louis, Missouri. By 1882 he was city editor of the Chicago Conservator. In 1883 he married Mary (Minnie) Robinson and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hall worked in the city clerk’s office, and contributed the Afro Notes column to the Pittsburgh Press, a white newspaper. He was active in a number of social and fraternal organizations and a vestry member of the Holy Cross Episcopal Church. The Halls had four sons and three daughters. Hall’s wife, Mary, died October 6, 1920 and he subsequently married Louise Chaplin Kerr May 1924. She died in 1947.

Throughout his life Hall was a vigorous, non-violent advocate for racial uplift and education. On numerous occasions he melded his racial agenda with that of whites to obtain cultural and economic gains for African Americans. The Chicago Conservator referred to Hall as “a pioneer of colored journalism.” He wrote all of his life and published poems, short stories, essays, and articles. He was one of the few black writers invited to contribute to the WPA study of The Negro in Pittsburgh.

Abram Thompson Hall died on January 7, 1951, just four months short of his 100th birthday. At that time the Pittsburgh Post announced that “one of Pittsburgh’s oldest, most respected and beloved citizens died Sunday.”