Fort Benning dedicates memorial to Black soldier lynched on post in 1941

08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Congressman Sanford D. Bishop Jr., right, and Army Lt. Gen. Theodore D. Martin unveil a memorial for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall was lynched at the base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Congressman Sanford D. Bishop Jr., right, and Army Lt. Gen. Theodore D. Martin unveil a memorial for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall was lynched at the base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Pvt. Felix Hall’s killers have never been caught

Fort Benning – The U.S. Army and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop on Tuesday unveiled a memorial to Pvt. Felix Hall, a 19-year-old Black soldier who was lynched on this Columbus-area military installation in 1941.

The historic marker stands near where Hall, a rifleman in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment, was last seen before his body was found hanging in a ravine. The FBI investigated for months but never caught his killers.

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Soldiers attend the memorial dedication ceremony for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall was lynched at the Army base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Soldiers attend the memorial dedication ceremony for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall was lynched at the Army base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Soldiers attend the memorial dedication ceremony for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall was lynched at the Army base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Hall is the only African American known to have been lynched on a U.S. military base, according to the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University, which researched his case.

Located near Fort Benning’s red and white practice parachute jump towers, the memorial refers to President Harry Truman’s 1948 order to desegregate the U.S. military.

“Since then, as a nation, we have made incredible progress,” said Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin, commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. “But we can’t be satisfied until we have a generation that fully represents all elements of our population serving this country in uniform and that can look at the marker we will unveil and say to themselves, ‘Never again in my country. Never again in my Army.’”

Bishop, whose district includes Fort Benning, said he was heartbroken to learn about Hall’s murder.

“This happened on this base. It happened in our community,” Bishop said. “Though Pvt. Hall was taken from us decades ago, this wound has been open for far too long. But thank God today we are coming together to heal.”

Hall grew up in Millbrook, Alabama, about 100 miles west of Fort Benning. He enlisted in the U.S. military in August of 1940 as it was building up its forces amid World War II. He was last seen alive during the afternoon of Feb. 12, 1941, according to FBI records. Fellow soldiers who saw him working at a sawmill that day told authorities he was heading to a store on base. He never arrived. By early March of 1941, he was declared a deserter.

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — The exterior of Wigle Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched at the base in 1941, was said to be headed to this building the day he was killed. It was once a store where African American soldiers could get food, when the base was segregated. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — The exterior of Wigle Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched at the base in 1941, was said to be headed to this building the day he was killed. It was once a store where African American soldiers could get food, when the base was segregated. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — The exterior of Wigle Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched at the base in 1941, was said to be headed to this building the day he was killed. It was once a store where African American soldiers could get food, when the base was segregated. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Later that month, military engineers were training just north of the regiment’s swimming pool when they discovered Hall’s body in a heavily wooded area. Hall’s hands were bound by rope, his neck was tied to one tree with a slipknot and his feet were bound with baling wire and tied to another tree.

The FBI concluded Hall had been “undoubtedly murdered by hanging.” Based on how he was killed and where his body was found, the FBI added, “it does not appear that one man could have committed the crime.”

Fort Benning is also preparing to place a granite marker near where Hall’s body was found that lists his birth date and declares “May he rest in peace.” A path leads to the somewhat secluded area, which remains thickly wooded.

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Members of the Fort Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence Band perform during a memorial dedication for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall, a Black soldier, was lynched at the base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Members of the Fort Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence Band perform during a memorial dedication for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall, a Black soldier, was lynched at the base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption
08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — Members of the Fort Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence Band perform during a memorial dedication for Pvt. Felix Hall at Fort Benning, Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Hall, a Black soldier, was lynched at the base in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Richard Liebert, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who trained at Fort Benning, contacted the base and Bishop’s office about Hall’s lynching after reading about it in The Washington Post in 2016.

“I was just aghast. I said that Fort Benning has to restore its integrity and set this right and do something,” said Liebert, a cattle rancher who lives in Great Falls, Montana. “It is never too late to do the right thing, though.”

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08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — A memorial marker for Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched on the military post, is displayed in the area where his body was found in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — A memorial marker for Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched on the military post, is displayed in the area where his body was found in 1941.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption
08/03/2021 —Fort Benning, Georgia — A memorial marker for Pvt. Felix Hall, a Black soldier who was lynched on the military post, is displayed in the area where his body was found in 1941. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Hall’s surviving relatives did not attend Tuesday’s ceremony. But they spoke approvingly about Fort Benning’s plans in the days leading up to it. Meanwhile, they still want justice.

“Who did this?” said his cousin Nancy Cooks, 81, of San Jose, California, who was an infant when he was killed. “If he was man enough to join the service and go out there and try to serve the country for us, this deserves to be looked into and found out. I would love to find out. I’m sure they are probably dead, too, whoever did it. Who knows.”

Lisa Jenkins, who was among the dozens of people who observed the ceremony at Fort Benning Tuesday, said the proceedings were handled with honor.

“The marker is a symbol of hope and healing as well as education to future generations of how far we have come as a society,” said Jenkins, the Department of Georgia president for Gold Star Mothers Inc., which supports military families who have lost loved ones. “But as we know there is so much more work to be done.”

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