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Landmark Case

Donald v. United Klans of America

Case Number

84-0725

Shutting down the notorious United Klans

Nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was walking to a store in 1981 when two members of the United Klans of America abducted the Black youth, beat him, cut his throat and hung his body from a tree on a residential street in Mobile, Alabama.

Angry that an interracial jury had failed to convict a Black man for killing a white police officer in Birmingham, the Klansmen selected Donald at random and lynched him to threaten the Black community. On the same evening, other Klan members burned a cross on the Mobile County courthouse lawn.

The two Klansmen who carried out the ritualistic killing were eventually arrested and convicted. Convinced that the Klan itself should be held responsible for the lynching, the family’s attorney, Michael Figures, who served as lead counsel, and SPLC attorneys filed a civil suit on behalf of Donald’s mother, Beulah Mae Donald, against the United Klans of America. In 1987, they won an historic $7 million verdict against the men involved in the lynching.

The verdict marked the end of the United Klans, the same group that had beaten the Freedom Riders in 1961, murdered civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in 1965 and bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.

The group was forced to turn over its headquarters to Beulah Mae Donald. Two additional Klansmen were convicted of criminal charges.