Lynching of Private Felix Hall, 1941
On April 3rd, 1941, white soldiers captured, bound, and lynched Private Felix Hall in a wooded area of Fort Benning near this location. Although Private Hall was found with his hands bound, local military officials reported Hall's death as a suicide until the NAACP investigated the incident. The guilty parties were never identified and military officials at Fort Benning and the War Department continued to attempt to deny and then minimize the incident. Hall was one of several African Americans who were executed in the South during World War II-an expression of racial hatred carried out by men who were offended by the appearance of proud black men in uniform and feared that this service might lead toward greater racial equality.
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.