A LANDMARK CASE
Donald v. United Klans of America
Thirty-seven years ago, The Southern Poverty Law Center filed one of the most important cases in our 50-year history: a civil suit on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, the mother of a 19-year-old lynching victim named Michael. Donald v. United Klans of America resulted in a historic $7 million verdict against the hate group responsible for Michael’s murder, bankrupting and destroying the notorious United Klans after decades of racist violence and terrorism.
Michael Donald was selected at random in Mobile, Alabama, by two members of the United Klans of America. The Klansmen were angry that an interracial jury in Birmingham had failed to convict a Black man for killing a white police officer. Michael’s lynching – his body was found hanging from a tree on a residential Mobile street – was intended as a threat to the Black community. On the same evening as Michael’s murder, other Klan members burned a cross on the Mobile County courthouse lawn.
The two individuals directly responsible for Michael’s killing were eventually arrested and convicted. But the United Klans of America group faced no legal consequences – until they were sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which argued that the Klan itself should be held responsible for the violence incited by their hateful ideology. This, after all, was the same group that had beaten the Freedom Riders in 1961, murdered civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo in 1965 and bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.
The $7 million verdict shut down the United Klans for good. The group was forced to turn over its headquarters to Beulah Mae Donald. Two additional Klansmen were convicted of criminal charges.