Hanna with Dr. Martin Luther King

Ted Bell

Hilton Hanna, a prominent civil rights and labor activist and former Madison resident, died Sunday in hospice care near his home in Tuskegee, Ala. He was 97.

Hanna, along with other Madison community leaders, worked to revive the Madison chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The group was founded in the 1920s but had floundered until Hanna, helped re-establish it in the early 1940s.

"He was full of vitality," said Fannie Hicklin, of Madison. Hicklin first learned about Hanna when she was a student at Talladega College in Alabama, where he had gone. Later, she got to know him through church in Madison. "His concerns ran very deep," she said. "There was never anything superficial about him. I think that had been characteristic of him all of his life."

A native of the Bahamas, Hanna came to Madison in 1934 to attend UW-Madison, where he pursued a postgraduate degree in economics.

Tuition for out-of-state students was $137 a semester, which he could not easily afford. He would alternate going to school for a semester and then taking a semester off to work and save money.

Hanna wrote a column and editorials for the Daily Cardinal, a student newspaper, and joined the varsity debate team. He was the first black person at UW elected to the national forensics fraternity.

He also worked in the casing department at Oscar Mayer Foods, where he became chairman of the union education committee of Butchermen's Local 538.

During the 1950s, Hanna lived for a short time in Chicago. But he moved back to Madison, and in 1968 he helped found and was elected president of the Madison Urban League.

He left for Tuskegee in the late 1980s with bittersweet memories of Madison, telling the State Journal, "I've had a wonderful time as an individual here" but bemoaning that socioeconomic conditions for minorities had not changed much since he arrived more than 50 years earlier.