Caring for the abandoned, addicted, HIV infected children: The Legacy Of Clara McBride Hale

“We hold them and touch them. They love you to tell them how great they are, how good they are. Somehow, even at a young age, they understand that.”

Hailed by President Ronald Reagan as an “American heroine” in his 1985 State of the Union address, Clara McBride Hale, a champion caregiver with a large heart was founder of Hale House, a nationally recognized save haven dedicated to caring for abandoned, orphaned, addicted children, and drug-addicted mothers, who would undergo counseling on how to improve their health and that of their babies, as well as children with HIV and those who lost parents to the dreaded AIDS disease.

She notably funded the charity with her own resources but accepted private donations until she finally won a federal grant and assistance.

Born on April 1, 1905, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during childhood her father was murdered, leaving her mother to care for children. In order to survive, her mother took in boarders and ran a lunchroom for longshoremen. It was while growing up with her mum that her mother’s values begin to rub up on Hale’s. Hale credits her mother, who died when she was just 16 with instilling the values on which Hale House is based.

Upon graduation from high school, Clara McBride married Thomas Hale, the pair moved to New York and had two children, Nathan and Lorraine, while they adopted Kenneth. Along the line, at age 27, her husband, Thomas died, leaving Hale to support her family as a domestic. She cleaned homes by day and theaters by night.

Naturally drawn to children, while raising her kids, she developed a deep sympathy for abandoned and neglected children and began taking care of them in her own home, eventually leaving her other jobs to concentrate on these kids. In 1960, she became a licensed foster parent, caring for hundreds of children in her home. Her genuine passion and success as a foster parent earned her the affectionate nickname of “Mother Hale.”

In 1969, at the age of 64, Hale became a foster parent of an infant addicted to cocaine, this inspired her to found her groundbreaking foster care program in Harlem, Hale House. It opened its doors to abandoned, neglected, drug-addicted, and HIV-infected children as well as those who had lost their parents to AIDS.

By 1991, Hale House cared for approximately 1,000 infants and toddlers. Clara McBride Hale’s selflessness, passion, and dedication earned her local and international praise as well as numerous honors and accolades including an honorary doctorate from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and public service awards from the National Mother’s Day Committee and the Truman Award for Public Service. In 1985, during his State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan referred to Hale as an “American hero” for her commitment to at-risk children.

In 1986, in a chat with Herschel Johnson of Ebony, she was quoted as saying, “I’d like for it to go down in history that we taught our children to be proud Black American citizens, and that they learned they could do anything, and that they could do it for themselves.”

Clara McBride Hale died on December 18, 1992, in New York City at the age of 87 from complications from a stroke. She was a recipient of an NAACP Image Award and a Candace Award for her exemplary humanitarian service.

Today, the Hale House which was rocked by scandal is now focused on traditional community services.

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