Lynching of Private Felix Hall, 1941
Backstory and Context
Terrifying racial violence instances, such as the lynching of Felix Hall, had been commonplace during period between Reconstruction and 1912. During World War I and World War II, and as more and more black men joined the military, a growing number of white supremacists felt threatened by the appearance of black men in uniform and responded with racial violence. The NAACP pressured the War Department and the Justice Department to investigate these attacks, but these investigations were often second in importance to federal officials than the perceived need to avoid the appearance of meddling in local affairs. With little federal oversight, Southern state and county officials were free to turn their backs on the violence faced by black men in uniform during both World Wars.
The lynching of Private Hall gives some insight into the vengeful south’s attitude towards African Americans who serve in the armed forces. As novelist James Baldwin wrote, “The people I knew felt a peculiar kind of relief when they knew their boys were being shipped out of the south to do battle overseas. It was perhaps like feeling that the most dangerous part of the journey had been passed.” This statement paints a picture of the terrifying reality of living in the south at this time.