Pvt. Felix Hall was just 19 when he was found hanging from a tree on a Georgia military base 80 years ago. Hall, who is the only known victim of a lynching on a U.S. military installation, was last seen alive in an all-White neighborhood in February 1941, according to Northeastern University’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.
One month after his disappearance, he was declared a deserter. However, a group of soldiers found him in a wooded area at Fort Benning on March 28, 1941, while training.
“Hall had been hung in a shallow ravine in a jack-knife position, with his neck bound to one tree, his hands bound, and his feet bound to other trees, suspending him in the air,” according to Northeastern. It said that Hall had managed to free his feet and his left hand but died with a noose around his neck.
To date, his killers have not been prosecuted. In other words, his case remains unsolved. On Tuesday, the U.S. Army unveiled a memorial to honor the Black soldier after Lauren Hughes, a former staffer in Rep. Sanford Bishop’s office, led calls to make sure Hall received recognition. Bishop represents Georgia’s 2nd District, which includes Fort Benning.
Bishop and U.S. Army officials unveiled the marker honoring Hall at Fort Benning, where the Black soldier was last seen in February. “Our country was struggling and often, failing, to uphold the equal protection under the law, let alone, the decency of respect and dignity for African-Americans as valued members of the human family,” Bishop said. “Felix Hall was lynched. His hands and feet bound together and hanged by the neck, until he was dead.”
“Though Pvt. Hall was taken from us decades ago, this wound has been open for far too long,” Bishop said in a statement. “Thank God, today we are coming to heal,” he said, adding that the marker is a reminder that racism is a “constant challenge”.
Hall enlisted in the Army in August 1940 when he was 18. The Montgomery, Alabama, native was assigned to the Fort Benning-based 24th Infantry Regiment, one of the first post-Civil War all-Black units known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” as stated by CNN. When his body was found, the military initially dismissed the hanging as a suicide, according to Northeastern. However, a doctor ruled his death a homicide. The NAACP and other organizations subsequently demanded justice, leading the FBI to launch a 17-month investigation.
Black soldiers told investigators Hall feared for his life following an argument he had with a White civilian foreman at a sawmill, who was angry Hall refused to address him as “sir”. The FBI identified two suspects, but no one was prosecuted, according to Northeastern.
Hall’s death, as well as other events, led President Harry Truman to desegregate the armed forces in 1948, the statement by Bishop said. “But we can’t be satisfied until we have a generation that fully represents all elements of our population, serving this country in uniform that can look at the marker we will unveil, and say to themselves, ‘Never again in my country, never again in my Army,’” Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, said in the statement.
Martin, who posted a photo of the memorial to his Twitter account, said, “I wish that today felt like we were righting a wrong, but I know today what we are really doing is just acknowledging one.”
Fort Benning located near the border of Georgia and Alabama is named after Henry L. Benning, a Confederate general from Columbus. It is among other military bases across the South named after a Confederate officer.