“Spirit of Democracy” Lecture Series Resumes

Attorney Sophia Hall answers questions after her Spirit of Democracy talk at First Parish on Sunday. Photo by Doris Smith

Sophia Hall, Deputy Litigation Director of Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), spoke at First Parish Church on April 2, 2023.  According to their website, “Sophia actively represents people of color and immigrant women to protect their rights in the workplace and in the community.”

At the outset, Hall said she was there to bring hope. “Hope,” she said, “is a discipline….it is hard work. It is believing we all get to play a minor role in the story of life.” She said, referencing Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

The organization was founded in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy gathered 250 prominent lawyers at the White House and charged them with providing pro bono service to those in need of civil rights protection. 

Nearly 60 years later, LCR drew headlines last fall when their team was awakened by a midnight phone call to learn that a plane was on its way to Martha’s Vineyard carrying 30-40 passengers from San Antonio, Texas. Those on board had been seeking asylum in the United States. It was going to land in Martha’s Vineyard with no forewarning to local officials and no preparation for their arrival. Those on board had been falsely told that jobs and housing would be available. 

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Hall alerted her team, contacted local aid groups, and by 9 o’clock in the morning when the plane landed the community of Martha’s Vineyard, was standing by to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the new arrivals. The LCR sprang into action, ready to protect the asylum seekers’ rights on U.S. soil. Eventually, they were able to obtain UV visas (emergency visas for victims of criminal activity) for each. 

First Parishioner member Rebecca Green Neale, left, with The Spirit of Democracy speaker Attorney Sophia Hall. Photo by Doris Smith

Sunday’s service was a resumption of the annual “Spirit of Democracy” Speaker series established in honor of the late Jack Mendelsohn, a renowned civil rights activist who was minister at First Parish from 1979 to 1988. The series had been suspended for three years due to Covid. Previous speakers have included environmentalist Bill McKibben, Neera Tanden (President of the Center for American Progress), and Bree Newsome Bass, who scaled a flagpole to remove a Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds after the murder of eight Black churchgoers in Charleston, SC.

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