Pvt. Felix Hall was barely an adult when he was found hanging from a tree on a segregated Army base in Georgia in 1941. His killers were never prosecuted but 80 years later, the US Army has unveiled a memorial to honor the Black soldier who is the only known victim of a lynching on a US military installation.
On Tuesday, US Rep. Sanford Bishop and Army officials dedicated a historic marker that stands near where Hall was last seen alive at Fort Benning on February 12, 1941. He was killed less than a year after he enlisted.
Lauren Hughes, a former staffer in Bishop’s office, led the charge to ensure Hall received recognition. Bishop represents Georgia’s 2nd District, which includes Fort Benning.
“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.”
It’s not clear how old Hall was at the time he was murdered, but the Montgomery, Alabama, native enlisted in the Army when he was 18 in August 1940. He was assigned to the Fort Benning-based 24th Infantry Regiment, one of the first post-Civil War all-Black units known as “Buffalo Soldiers.”
When he went missing, Hall was declared a deserter. But his body was discovered on March 28, 1941, in a wooded area by a platoon performing training drills, according to Northeastern University’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.
According to the project, Hall was hung between several trees with his neck bound to one tree, his hands tied and his feet tied to other trees, suspending him in the air. He managed to free his feet and left hand and tried to save himself but died of asphyxiation to the noose around his neck.
The military initially tried to dismiss the hanging as a suicide, but a Fort Benning doctor ruled it as a homicide, the Northeastern University project reported. As news of the lynching traveled, the NAACP and others demanded a federal investigation.
The FBI launched a 17-month investigation that corroborated the doctor’s findings and suspects were identified, but the case was never prosecuted.
“I wish that today felt like we were righting a wrong, but I know today what we are really doing is just acknowledging one,” said Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin, commander of the US Army’s Combined Arms Center.
Martin posted a photo of the memorial to his Twitter account.
Fort Benning is next to Columbus, near the border of Georgia and Alabama. It’s named for Henry L. Benning, a Confederate general from Columbus, and is one of 10 military bases across the South named after a Confederate officer.
In the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets funding and policy for the military, Congress directed the Defense Department to rename such posts by 2024.