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Home » Daily News Updates » 2 Day in Civil Rights: Klan bankrupted in wrongful death lawsuit 2 Day in Civil Rights: Klan bankrupted in wrongful death lawsuit

From 2019 EJI Calendar

1981: After a Mobile, Alabama jury acquits a black man of killing a white police officer, Ku Klux Klan members randomly kidnap and kill 19-year-old Michael Donald, a black man, and hang his body from a tree.

From EJI Timeline

Michael Donald Hanged by Members of Klan in Mobile, Alabama

Michael Donald.

Michael Donald.

On March 21, 1981, a 19-year-old young black man named Michael Donald was beaten, strangled, slashed at the throat, and hanged in Mobile, Alabama, by two members of United Klans of America. Local police initially attributed Mr. Donald’s death to drug violence but his family insisted he had not been involved in drug activity and demanded a more thorough investigation. Tests also showed no trace of drugs in Mr. Donald’s body.

Authorities later charged Klansmen Henry Hays and James Knowles with Mr. Donald’s murder and charged Benjamin Cox Jr. as an accomplice. Evidence revealed that local Klan leaders had been monitoring the trial of Josephus Anderson, a black man charged with killing a white police officer in Birmingham, Alabama. When that trial ended in mistrial on March 21st because the jury was unable to reach a verdict, members of the Klan in Mobile sought to make a violent response. “If a black man can get away with killing a white man,” said Benny Hays, a high-ranking Klansman and the father of Henry Hays, “we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man.” Michael Donald was killed that night.

All three white men charged with Michael Donald’s death were convicted; Mr. Knowles and Mr. Cox received life sentences and were later paroled, while Mr. Hays was sentenced to death and executed by the State of Alabama in 1997. In 1984, Michael Donald’s mother, Beulah Donald, sued the United Klans of America. She ultimately won a $7 million wrongful death suit, and though very little money was ever collected, the ruling did bankrupt the white supremacist organization.

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