Army Corrects the Record About a Black Soldier Killed by a White Sergeant in 1941


According to Ms. Russell’s petition, in the early hours of March 24, 1941, the white driver of a segregated, chartered civilian bus described Private King and his friends, who were sitting in the back of the bus, as “hollering and laughing and cutting up” and said he had told them to be quiet or they would be removed. The driver asked for help from Sergeant Lummus, who was patrolling the road on a motorcycle.

Sergeant Lummus ordered Private King and his friend Private Lawrence J. Hoover off the bus. As they were disembarking, Sergeant Lummus hit Private Hoover in the back of the head with a blackjack. Private King fled, while a dozen of the white soldiers from the bus beat Private Hoover until he was semiconscious, according to the petition. (He went on to serve in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, according to The Washington Post.)

Sergeant Lummus was the only person to testify about what happened next. The sergeant said he had found Private King and ordered him to stop. Sergeant Lummus said the private had begun running toward him and had “kept coming” while the sergeant fired five shots.

According to Ms. Russell’s appeal, three gunshots struck Private King on the side of his head and neck, and there was one each in his lower back and the front of his body.

Fort Benning’s investigation into the killing began and ended the same day Private King was killed. A military court determined that Sergeant Lummus, who was transferred to Fort Knox, Ky., had been justified in the fatal shooting.

A second, independent investigation by a board of officers determined that Private King had died in the line of duty. Less than two weeks later, though, the commanding general of Fort Benning, Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, ordered that the board reconsider its findings, and the decision was reversed.

Decades later, researchers at the Northeastern University School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project explored Private King’s story and published an investigation in The Washington Post.



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