On August 18, 1898, Private James Neely, an African American veteran who had recently returned from the Spanish American War, proudly donned his Army uniform for a stroll through Hampton, Georgia. By the day’s end, Private Neely had been tragically murdered by a lynch mob.
EJI collaborated with director Julie Zammarchi and acclaimed television, film, and stage actor Chris Chalk to create this 3-minute video about the lynching of Private Neely, which mirrors the violent killings of countless other African American veterans. The piece is based on EJI’s original research, which is detailed in the report Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans.
Inspired to defend their country and pursue greater opportunity, African Americans have served in the US Military for generations. But instead of being treated as equal members of society upon their return from military service, thousands of Black veterans were accosted, attacked or lynched between the end of the Civil War and the post-World War II era.
On that day in Hampton, Private Neely stopped in a local drugstore to order a cold soda, but the store’s white owner angrily refused to serve him at the counter because he was Black. The two argued, and Neely was thrown onto the street. There, even as he continued to defend his rights as a soldier and an American, a crowd of armed white men chased Private Neely and shot him dead.
Violent hate crimes like the lynching of Private Neely continued for decades between the Civil War and Civil Rights period and terrorized entire Black communities. EJI has recovered newspaper editorials and speeches by white public officials warning that returning African American veterans, who might insist on equal rights and opportunities, would threaten white primacy. Rather than a hero’s welcome, those veterans were met with brutality.
The legacy of racial terror has profoundly shaped modern-day American society and institutions. EJI believes we must confront this history, including the lynching of Black veterans, in order to heal the wounds of our past.