The Murder Of Private King

My father told me he was certain that there were incidents like this during World War II, but that the military covered them up.

The Army Board for Correction of Military Records has changed the death record of African-American WWII Private Albert H. King to list him as having died “in the line of duty.” King, a 20-year-old black soldier with the Quartermaster Corps, was in fact murdered on March 23, 1941, by a white member of the military police, Sgt. Robert Lummus, who shot King five times as he walked on the main road at Fort Benning toward his barracks. King had tried to escape a mob of whites intent on beating him on a bus. Sergeant Lummus claimed self-defense and just 13 hours after shooting King, was found not guilty by a military court.

A thorough investigation had taken place, clearly.

King was listed as having died “not in line of duty.”

In November, more than 80 years after Private King’s death, Army officials corrected the record after a real investigation instigated by Helen Russell, a first cousin to Private King and his last known living relative, In a Nov. 28 letter, the Army notified Ms. Russell that her 2021 petition had been reviewed by the board and that Private King’s status would be updated to “reflect this new finding.”

Russell’s petition alleged that in the early hours of March 24, 1941, the white driver of a segregated, chartered civilian bus objected to Private King and his friends, sitting in the back of the bus, “hollering and laughing and cutting up.” The driver told them to be quiet, and asked for help from Sergeant Lummus, who was patrolling the road on a motorcycle. Lummus ordered Private King and his friend Private Lawrence J. Hoover off the bus. Sergeant Lummus hit Private Hoover in the back of the head with a blackjack and King fled, while a dozen of the white soldiers from the bus beat Private Hoover until he was semiconscious.

Sergeant Lummus testified that 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.

Ms. Russell’s petition stated that three gunshots struck King on the side of his head and neck, and there was one each in his lower back and his torso. After the initial ruling that that the shooting was justified, a second, independent investigation by a board of officers determined that Private King had died “in the line of duty.” But the commanding general of Fort Benning, Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, ordered the board to “reconsider” its findings, and the decision was reversed. Researchers at the Northeastern University School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project explored Private King’s story decades later and published their conclusions in The Washington Post, giving Russell the basis for her appeal.

King is one of dozens of active-duty black military personnel who are believed to have been murdered on or near U.S. bases during the World War II. One such victim of racism was Felix Hall, who was lynched at Fort Benning a few weeks before Private King was killed there. In 2021, the Army installed a plaque in Private Hall’s memory.

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Source: New York Times.

12 thoughts on “The Murder Of Private King

  1. How would he qualify as a WWII private if he was killed in March of 1941? The war was on, yes, but the US wouldn’t get involved until December 8.

    • How would he qualify as a WWII private if he was killed in March of 1941? The war was on, yes, but the US wouldn’t get involved until December 8.

      For what it’s worth, there were already U.S. forces committed in war zones well before that, e.g. they freed up British divisions in Iceland by taking over its defence under the pretence that Iceland was not at war itself. Per wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_occupation_of_Iceland#United_States_occupation):-

      “Britain needed her troops elsewhere and requested that US forces occupy the island. The US agreed on 16 June 1941. The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade of 194 officers and 3,714 men from San Diego under the command of Brigadier-General John Marston sailed from Charleston, South Carolina, on 22 June to assemble as Task Force 19 (TF 19) at Argentia, Newfoundland:[10] TF 19 sailed on 1 July. Britain failed to persuade the Althing to approve an American occupation force, but with TF 19 anchored off Reykjavík that evening Roosevelt gave approval for the invasion. The United States Marine Corps commenced landing on 8 July, and disembarkation was completed on 12 July. On 6 August, the United States Navy established Naval Air Station Keflavik at Reykjavík with the arrival of Patrol Squadron VP-73 PBY Catalinas and VP-74 PBM Mariners. United States Army personnel began arriving in Iceland in August.[10]”

      That was after the murder, but then again some convoy work and similar happened even before that. The first U.S. casualty was arguably a diplomat in Norway, killed by bombing even before the Fall of France. But are you suggesting that no U.S. troops have been killed in the line of duty since 1945, the end of the last formal war involving the U.S.A.?

      • I never said that. I questioned classing him as a WWII soldier when he was killed by a bigoted MP before the US got officially involved in the war. I’m aware of the USS Reuben James, etc.

        • That may have been what you were thinking, but, with all due respect, that was indeed what you wrote. I went to the trouble of quoting it. I only had that to go on, so I brought out material relevant to that. I may not be telling you anything you didn’t already know, but spare a thought for other readers who might be going by what you wrote. At least I might be clearing things up for them.

          And, of course, there is still the issue of just how relevant that official status is to the matter. For comparison, consider that Britain introduced conscription in anticipation of war; how would we classify recruits who died during training then? In my view, this victim did indeed die during his service, and whether that was formally during peace or war is not very material to that.

  2. Now that it has been declared killed in active duty, does that mean his estate is entitled to past-due benefits from the VA? I don’t know the rules, but that would seem to make sense, especially considering that he was murdered by an active sergeant.

    jvb

  3. Some quibbles. I thought I recognized Fredendall’s name and sure enough, he was the U.S. commander at Kasserine Pass, one of the U.S. Army’s worst defeats in WWII. He was relieved by Eisenhower and replaced as II Corps commander by someone you may have heard of — George Patton.

    Fredendall was sent back to the United States, getting a richly undeserved hero’s welcome and, since he was not relieved ‘for cause’, was promoted to Lieutenant General and given command of Second Army, a stateside training command.

    However, he was never the commandant of Fort Benning. It may have been under Second Army’s purview, I’m not sure, and he certainly was not there when this incident happened in 1941.

    The commander at Fort Benning in March, 1941 was also someone you may have heard of before — Omar Bradley, who went on to do other things for the Army.

    You don’t have any information on dates of the various investigations. Bradley was the commandant until February, 1942 so it is certainly possible he was in charge when the second board determined King died ‘in the line of duty’.

    If Fredendall was involved, it could not have been prior to April 1943, when he assumed command of Second Army.

    ==========================

    A fascinating note on Omar Bradley’s promotions. It’s complicated, but his official effective date for becoming a Brigadier General in the Regular Army is Sept. 1, 1943. His official effective date for becoming a Colonel in the Regular Army is Oct. 1, 1943.

    Things that make you say, hmmmm.

  4. One other thing, and why this ruling makes a difference.

    If a serviceman’s death is considered ‘not in the line of duty’, then in essence the military is stating that it occurred due to the “veteran’s own willful misconduct”.

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