Felix Hall, a Soldier Lynched at Fort Benning, Is Remembered After 80 Years

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No 1 was ever charged successful his decease successful 1941. This month, a memorial was dedicated successful Georgia — and a historiographer yet recovered a photograph of the young soldier.

A plaque astatine  Fort Benning successful  Georgia was dedicated to Felix Hall this month.
Credit...Matthew Odom for The New York Times

Aug. 20, 2021, 5:30 a.m. ET

Felix Hall joined the Army successful 1940, conscionable arsenic the United States was emerging from the Great Depression and connected the verge of deploying millions of troops to combat successful World War II.

Private Hall, a Black teen from Alabama, was stationed astatine Fort Benning, a segregated basal conscionable crossed the authorities enactment successful Georgia. But alternatively of warring overseas, helium mislaid his beingness connected American soil. He was hanged astatine Fort Benning successful February 1941, erstwhile helium was 19.

This period — much than 8 decades aft Private Hall’s decease — a plaque astatine Fort Benning was dedicated successful his memory. But large details astir his decease stay unclear. Officials person been accused of failing to afloat analyse what happened, and nary 1 was ever charged.

“The bittersweet happening to maine is that this was 80 years ago, but things similar that are inactive happening today,” said Nancy Cooks, Private Hall’s archetypal cousin, who was a babe erstwhile helium died.

Representative Sanford D. Bishop Jr., a Georgia Democrat, said efforts to erect the plaque began past twelvemonth amid widespread protests against racism aft the police sidesplitting of George Floyd successful Minneapolis. Mr. Bishop said that helium and a erstwhile unit member, Lauren Hughes, dug into what happened to Private Hall aft a constituent asked astir it. They yet worked with Army officials to unveil the marker astatine Fort Benning successful a ceremonial connected Aug. 3.

“It is important that much radical cognize astir Pvt. Hall, and that his lynching was investigated by the F.B.I.,” Mr. Bishop said successful a statement. “But the perpetrators were ne'er brought to justice.”

There was different caller improvement this period — new, astatine least, to modern researchers, who had seen gruesome photographs of Private Hall’s assemblage but ne'er his face. A section historiographer who had been funny successful the lawsuit for years revisited aged quality clippings and recovered a photograph of the young worker successful a 1941 newspaper.

The historian, Dave Gillarm Jr., had searched for photographs of the backstage successful subject documents and newspapers that had been published during his life. But conscionable hours aft the ceremonial astatine Fort Benning, it occurred to him that quality outlets would person been acold much apt to people photographs of Private Hall aft helium was recovered dormant successful March 1941.

“When helium was lynched, it became nationalist news,” Mr. Gillarm said. “So I had to displacement and commencement looking for him aft helium died.”

He recovered what helium was looking for successful an online database. The 3rd leafage of an 80-year-old contented of The Pittsburgh Courier, a nationally circulated Black newspaper, carried a black-and-white photograph of a young antheral successful his Army headdress and tie, looking into the camera.

“His Death a Mystery,” the header said.


Credit...The Pittsburgh Courier, via Dave Gillarm Jr.

According to research compiled by the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project astatine Northeastern University School of Law, the backstage was past seen live successful a achromatic vicinity astatine Fort Benning connected Feb. 12, 1941. Then helium seemed to vanish for weeks — F.B.I. records suggest that Army officials did not look for him — and was declared a deserter.

But connected March 28, 1941, immoderate soldiers recovered his assemblage successful a wooded area, tied to a sapling and hanging against the borderline of a ravine. A heap of ungraded nether his shoes suggested that successful his last moments, Private Hall had been trying to usage his feet to claw his mode up, to breathe.

Although the decease certificate said helium died of homicide, immoderate subject officials claimed that helium mightiness person taken his ain life. F.B.I. reports astir the investigation, galore of which are inactive importantly redacted, suggest that immoderate avenues of enquiry successful the lawsuit were not pursued — including investigations into imaginable suspects — contempt unit from journalists, civilians and the N.A.A.C.P.

One F.B.I. cause wrote successful 1941 that the atrocious publicity surrounding the lawsuit had been caused by “the misstatement of facts by the Communists.”

As precocious arsenic this month, the F.B.I. declined a petition nether the Freedom of Information Act to reappraisal and assistance redactions passim the reports, responding that the records successful question “do not suffice for reprocessing.”

Questions astir the decease person persisted for 80 years, prompting the probe astatine Northeastern, a 2016 probe by The Washington Post and different coverage successful multiple quality outlets.

Private Hall was a subordinate of the 24th Infantry, a regiment of Black Army soldiers who person besides been referred to arsenic Buffalo soldiers.

The 24th — oregon “deuce-four,” arsenic it is sometimes called — was formed aft the Civil War, arsenic were different Black regiments similar the 9th and 10th Calvaries that were deployed on the Western frontier of the United States.

The 24th regiment besides served successful the West. But its bequest suffered aft an outbreak of unit connected the eve of United States engagement successful World War I, erstwhile astir 150 soldiers, reacting to racism, segregation and constabulary unit successful Houston, participated successful an uprising determination that resulted successful the deaths of civilians, constabulary officers and soldiers from the 24th. Some members of the regiment were aboriginal executed.

In aboriginal years, soldiers of the 24th regiment would service successful the South Pacific during World War II, including Guadalcanal and Bougainville successful the Solomon Islands and the Kerama Islands adjacent Okinawa. They besides fought successful respective large Korean War battles, including Inchon and the Pusan Perimeter. The 24th was dissolved successful 1951 but reconstituted successful 1995, nary longer a Black regiment.

“The deuce-four — careless of each the hard worldly they went done — they accomplished thing that’s conscionable singular successful my eyes,” said Darrel Nash, the historiographer for the regiment.


Credit...Matthew Odom for The New York Times

For Mr. Gillarm, a historiographer for a Masonic lodge successful Georgia and an Army veteran, researching the decease of Private Hall and different lynchings from that epoch has been a mode to header with post-traumatic accent aft 2 deployments to Iraq.

“This is my outlet: research,” helium said. “It helps wide my mind, to probe and to beryllium capable to contiguous these stories that person been forgotten about.”

Now, his enactment has fixed a look to Felix Hall’s name. Though she has nary representation of him from erstwhile helium was alive, Ms. Cooks, his cousin, said the representation brought tears to her eyes. She could spot that helium was household — his eyes and chemoreceptor reminded her of her ain brothers.

“They don’t cognize who killed him,” she added. “That’s the bittersweet part.”

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