Oneida Hall Gallerson, a longtime member of Mount Zion Baptist Church and nearly 80-year Seattle resident, died at home in the early morning of June 1. She was 100. Following a hip fracture in 2013 and an earlier diagnosis of dementia, her last years were spent at home in retirement from a lifetime of volunteer and social activities plus a variety of employment which began with an after school WPA job cleaning classrooms during the Great Depression. She also worked as a housecleaner, receptionist and assistant in a dry goods store.
Gallerson was born on a 240 acre cotton farm in north central Louisiana which is still in her family. She was the daughter and second child of Arbrie Bennett Hall, a rural school teacher in neighboring parishes (counties) who trained in summer normals at Philander Smith College at Little Rock, Arkansas, and Ester Hall, a successful cotton farmer of Hilly, Louisiana whose parents were Emily May Hall, and Henry Hall, who was emancipated by Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in a state (La.) in which only part of the Black population was freed by that edict.
Following her father’s death in 1928, she, her brother, Shellie and their mother moved to Ruston, a small nearby town of about 4,000 people where her mother found work at the Louisiana Methodist Orphanage for White children. The 1930s were difficult economic years and particularly harsh for Black people. During that decade, 20 of the 21 people lynched were African Americans. One of Gallerson’s early memories was of her mother hiding a young Black man and helping him escape a violent death at the hands of a White mob which was pursuing him.
Shortly after her graduation from Lincoln Parish Training High School in 1940, Gallerson married Alton Harris and they spent a short time in Shreveport, La. from where, after a brief stay, they moved to Kansas City, Kansas before relocating to Seattle in 1944.
After their first week in Seattle, the Harrises were invited by a 1940s emigrant to a church service at Mt. Zion which they soon joined, becoming lifetime members and where Gallerson participated in the World Fellowship group and the Women’s Ministry among other committees during her active years. It was through an introduction by a Mt. Zion member that she met her second husband, the late Clem Gallerson, Sr., also a lifetime Mt. Zion member of the church.
A member of the Order of Eastern Star of which she served as Illustrious Commandress and member of the Daughters of Isis Beni Hassan Court No. 45, she was also a longtime director of the Isisirettes drill team.
Her strong opinions about dress and propriety probably dated back to her earliest years when the prettiest flour sacks and feed bags were reserved for her dresses, or eggs from her family’s farm were bartered for fabric to make her clothes. In her hometown, the orphanage where her mother worked received donations of unsold end-of-season clothing from downtown stores, some of which the orphanage sold at affordable prices, which her mother purchased, and from her small salary set aside small amounts each month to purchase new Easter outfits for her and her brother. In an oblique reference to her propensity to pay close attention to her appearance Charles Brown, a Seattle Times writer and late member of the church, referred to her as “the dutchess.”
Gallerson is survived nieces Shirley Hall White (Harry), Chandler, AZ; Esther Hall Mumford (Donald), Seattle; and Debra Hall Sapp (Douglas), Houston, TX; Grand nephew, Donald Toussaint Mumford and grand nieces Myra Lynn White, Zola Mumford and Janel White Jones (John); three great Cheyna, Aria and Taylor; cousins Maudine and Claudine Bennett, Bobby Harvey of South Carolina and other relatives in California, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Colorado; forever friend Lorraine B. Harris and good friend Winfred Graves.
Towards the end of her life Gallerson remarked, “I’m so glad that Mount Zion was the first church I went to after I came to Seattle. Had I gone to another church I might have joined that church, but I’m so glad it was Mt. Zion.”