#Michael Donald is known as the last young African-American lynched in the United States by the Ku Klux Klan in Mobile, Alabama in 1981. His lynching was in the same pattern as many of the mob lynchings that had taken place prior to his, so that is how the connection was made to the Ku Klux Klan. Michael Donald was born in 1961 in Mobile, Alabama, and was the son of Beulah Mae and David Donald, and he was the youngest out of six children. Donald grew up during a time when Blacks could participate in politics in the South, their ability to register to vote also meant they were selected to serve on juries. Before Donald’s lynching he was attending a technical college and working at a local newspaper.
Michael Donald was murdered because he was in the wrong place and for being #black. Prior to his hanging, a mistrial had taken place for Josephus Anderson, an African-American charged with the murder of a White Policeman in Birmingham, Alabama. Bennie Jack Hays, the second-highest ranking official in the United Klans in Alabama felt it was because Black people were serving on the jury, and if Blacks could get away with killing whites, then they should be able to kill a Black person and get away with it. So, that same night Klan members went looking for trouble, burning crosses and searching for Blacks to attack. “At random, they spotted Michael Donald walking home after buying his sister a pack of cigarettes. They kidnapped him, drove out to another county and a secluded area in the woods, attacked him and beat him with a tree limb. They wrapped a rope around his neck, and pulled on it to strangle him, before slitting his throat and hanging him from a tree in a mixed neighborhood in Mobile, on Herndon Street across from a house owned by Klan leader Bennie Jack Hays.” (read more)
Donald’s murders were convicted of committing criminal activities and were sentenced. One was sentenced to death and executed in 1997, and the younger of the two men received life in prison after pleading guilty and testifying against his partner.
The crime was noted as the first execution in Alabama since 1913 for white-on-black crime. Hays was the only known KKK member to be executed during the 20th century for the murder of an African-American. A third man was convicted as an accomplice, and a fourth indicted but he died before his case could be completed at trial. In the same time period, Donald’s mother brought a civil suit for wrongful death against the United Klans of America, to which the attackers belonged. In 1987 the jury found the UKA guilty and awarded damages of $7 million, which bankrupted the organization. This case set a precedent in the United States for legal action against other racist groups.
In 2006, Mobile commemorated Michael Donald by renaming Herndon Avenue, where his body had been hanged from a tree by his murderers, in his honor. Mobile’s first black mayor, Sam Jones, presided over a small gathering of Donald’s family and local leaders at the commemoration.