Each of Michael Donald's steps that night took him closer to an untimely death. His family and friends would not see him alive again.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, July 14, 1961, Donald was enrolled in a technical college. He wanted to be a mason. He finished high school and worked part-time in the mailroom at the Mobile Press Register before he was senselessly murdered. His "random" death was later deemed a hate crime. The African American teenager had no way of knowing that he, an innocent citizen of Mobile, Alabama would become a symbolic target of hate and revenge, randomly selected for execution by U. S. born and raised terrorists living in one of America's the Deep South states.
The United Klans of America (UKA) was notorious reputation for intimidating Blacks in the South long before the lynching of Michael Donald. During the civil rights movement the group beat Freedom Riders in 1961; shot to death civil rights worker Viol Liuzzo, 1965 as she was driving down the highway, and bombed Birmingham's 16th Baptist Church, killing four little girls in 1963.
The KKKers tricked the lone teen into approaching their car, asking him the location of a night club. When he was close to the car, one of them pointed the gun at Donald, ordering him to get into the car. Prior to her son's death Beulah Donald dreamed about a casket in her living room. The male lying in the casket wore a gray suit. A mother's premonition? Perhaps.
"Mrs. Donald drank two cups of coffee and moved to her couch, where she waited for the new day. At dawn, Michael still wasn't home. To keep busy, she went outside to rake her small yard. As she worked, a woman delivering insurance policies came by. 'They found a body,' she said, and walked on. Shortly before 7 A.M., Mrs. Donald's phone rang. A woman had found Michael's wallet in a trash bin. Mrs. Donald brightened - Michael was alive, she thought. 'No, baby, they had a party here, and they killed your son,'' the caller reported.
'You'd better send somebody over.'
"A few blocks away, in a racially mixed neighborhood about a mile from the Mobile police station, Michael Donald's body was still hanging from a tree. Around his neck was a perfectly tied noose with 13 loops. On a front porch across the street, watching police gather evidence, were members of the United Klans of America, once the largest and, according to civil rights lawyers, the most violent of the Ku Klux Klans.
"Less than two hours after finding Michael Donald's body, Mobile police would interview these Klansmen. Lawmen learned only much later, however, what Bennie Jack Hays, the 64-year-old Titan of the United Klans, was saying as he stood on the porch that morning. 'A pretty sight,' commented Hays, according to a fellow Klansman. ''That's gonna look good on the news. Gonna look good for the Klan'.'' (The New York Times, November 1, 1987)
The Alabama police department conducted an investigation into the lynching. Investigators quickly concluded that the teenager was involved with drugs. He was killed in a drug deal that turned deadly. Beulah Mae Donald told the police her son was not involved with drugs. She even allowed them to search Michael's room. She was not having any of the nonsensical talk that her deceased son was involved with drugs.
Beulah, believing that she was not going to get justice for her murdered of son, called on civil rights activist Jesse Jackson to come and help her. He traveled to Mobile to lead marches, drawing national attention to the murder. Jackson and the participants demanded answers to questions that they did not get from the Mobile police department.
|Teenage lynching victim Michael Donald|
"As an act of appeasement to me--or to convince me that a second investigation would come to the same conclusion--I was allowed to work with a second F.B.I. agent, James Bodman," Figures recalls.
"I'll never forget the first things Bodman said. He asked me, 'Why the hell do you wan to reopen this can of worms'? But then he got interested in it, and we worked on it everyday. We had lunch together, we talked at night--people started calling us 'the odd couple'.
In a sense, they were, both are from the deep South, but Figures is Black and Bodman is White". (The New York Times) Results was forthcoming. In 1983 James Llewellyn "Tiger" Knowles made a full confession to Bodman. He admitted that he participated in violating Michael Donald’s civil rights.
At a March 18, 1981 KKK meeting called by Bennie Jack Hays, exalted cyclops, and the father of Henry Hays. The discussion centered around the random killing of an African American as payback if Josephus Anderson, a Black criminal, was not found guilty of killing a White policeman. "A nigger ought to be hung by the neck until dead to put them in their place", Hays declared.
Klans member Frank A. Ginocchio concurred and said, "We gonna kill a nigger!" When the not guilty verdict was announced the Klan stepped into action. They did not wait for the retrial, which subsequently ended with a guilty verdict. Ginocchio later became a defendant in Donald's murder.
An interracial grand jury of 11 Blacks and one White could not come to a unanimous decision. The trial of Josephus Anderson ended in a mistrial. His trial had been moved to Jefferson County because of a world wind of interest and publicity. Anderson, an African American, and small time criminal, had shot and killed a White cop in Alabama. The prosecutor said there would be a new trial. In 1985 Anderson was finally convicted for killing the cop after two more mistrials.
June 22, 1983 a special Mobile Grand Jury indicted Henry Hays for the murder of Donald. It took two-and-a-half years to arrest and indict Hays and all others involved with the murder. Hays trial lasted from December 6 through 10. At his trial the KKK member testified that when they were scouting for a Black victim, Donald “seemed like a good victim, and no one else was around. I asked him if he knew where a nightclub was, and he started to direct me. I asked him to come closer, and I pulled a gun out. Donald was yelling in the back of the car, acting like a crazed madman".
For two hours Hays and Knowles drove around with Donald's body in the trunk of their car. They sneaked back into Mobile during an early morning hour, where they hanged Donald’s body on a camphor tree close to a sidewalk on Herndon Avenue. They used the nylon rope they procured from Frank Cox's mother's house. Knowles tied the hangman's knot at the end of the rope. They had borrowed a gun from Klan member Johnny M. Jones, but they did not shoot Donald.
According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Morris Dee of the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Hays and Knowles took the unconscious body of Michael Donald to Henry Hays' house on Herndon Street, showing it to defendant Frank Cox between the hours of midnight and 5 A.M.".
|Body of Michael Donald, the noose still around his neck|
|Beulah Mae Donald|
When Knowles got a chance to address the jury at his trial, he said: "I've lost my family. I've got people after me now. Everything I said is true. I was acting as a Klansman when I done this. And I hope people learn from my mistake. I do hope you decide a judgment against me and everyone else involved."
Beulah Mae Donald said to Knowles: "I do forgive you. From the day I found out who you all was, I asked God to take care of you all, and he has." It took the jury 30 minutes to award Donald a $7 million judgment against the United Klan of America, including all the property the organization owned.
Frances Coleman wrote in the Mobile Register, 1997: "June 6 will be a sad day for Alabamians, whether their skins are white, black or brown. On that day -- the previous night, really, at 12:01 a.m. -- the state of Alabama will electrocute Henry Francis Hays for beating a black man to death 16 years ago, and then hanging his body from a tree.
"The execution will rip the scab from the old, deep, nasty wound of racism, which in the 20th-century South alternately heals and festers. It will fester again this week as residents of the Heart of Dixie re-live the brutal death of 19-year-old Michael Donald.
"It is a story of contrasts: The murderer, a white man, grew up in a home filled with hate and violence. The victim was reared by a loving mother and doting older siblings.
"Henry Hays knew what he was about that night, when he and a friend set out to kill a black man. Michael Donald, on the other hand, was innocently walking up the street on a spring evening in Mobile to buy some cigarettes, when fate delivered him into the white men's hands.
"Most vivid, though, is the contrast between fiction and reality. Michael Donald was murdered - beaten to death with a tree limb - not in the 1930s or '40s, even in the 1960s, but in 1981. Such things weren't supposed to happen almost 30 years after the Supreme Court declared "separate but equal'' unconstitutional, and nearly 20 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"Nor were they supposed to happen in Mobile, which in the 1960s had somehow managed to avoid the racial violence that erupted in Selma and Birmingham.
"Black men kidnapped and beaten, their bodies strung up in a tree? That was something that happened on the dark back roads of Dallas County or over in the Mississippi Delta, not in Alabama's second-largest city.
"But hate crimes aren't constrained by time, place or suppositions. The reality is that Michael Donald died just 16 years ago at the hands of two Ku Klux Klansmen. So what if his death came years after lynchings were supposed to have ceased, and in a place not known for such things?"
In 2006 Mobile changed Herndon Avenue to Michael Donald Avenue at the urging of Mayor Jones and the city council. Donald's night of terror was relived in a novel titled Like Tree, Walking by Ravi Howard. Also on National Geographic, Donald's story was revisited in 2008 in a piece titled Inside American Terror. Below is a video in which Michael Donald is remembered by friends who knew him.
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