Harlem bids farewell to 'Mother Hale'

December 24, 1992|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- Harlem's towering Riverside Church wa packed by hundreds of residents, politicians and others who mourned Clara McBride Hale with eulogies that likened her to St. Peter and called her "our black Madonna."

In the front rows sat children and adults whose precarious lives had depended on Hale House, the Harlem brownstone set up by Mrs. Hale to house drug-addicted or HIV-infected mothers. In the course of caring for nearly 1,000 children, the former domestic worker earned herself the moniker "Mother Hale."

Mrs. Hale died Friday at the age of 87, and yesterday's funeral ran according to her instructions. James Forbes, Riverside's senior minister, said Mrs. Hale wanted "no sad funeral, no expensive casket surrounded by rows and rows of flowers . . . but plenty of music." He called Ms. Hale the community's "black Madonna."

The unadorned pine casket was followed into the church by a long procession of mourners, including Mayor David N. Dinkins, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, and several other politicians and clergymen.

Mr. Dinkins said that Mrs. Hale's frugal lifestyle had reminded him of "Peter the Apostle."

Mrs. Hale began her work in 1969, when her daughter, Lorraine, persuaded a heroin-addicted woman on the streets of Harlem to leave her infant with Mrs. Hale while the woman sought drug treatment.

Having attracted the praise of everyone from city officials to then-President Reagan, Mrs. Hale ultimately was able to expand her care without any public funds.

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