Wednesday, June 1, 2016

March 20, 1981: Michael Donald

Today is the second anniversary of this blog. I am very thankful to the people who read this blog and help keep me motivated. It is a dark and tiring subject, but an important subject none the less. This year I will be focusing on finding more information on the lynchings I have covered, posting lynchings regardless of reason that I have not covered, and posting editorials and other articles showing the climate in which these lynchings occurred. I have so far covered over 620 lynchings and there are many more to be covered. Many are just a line in the newspaper and some do not even have that. I hope to bring awareness to how many people have lost their lives and the varying tales as to the reason why. 

Today I am featuring a lynching that occurred not too long ago in Alabama, starting with an article found in the Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) dated March 24, 1981:

Death of Youth


MOBILE (AP) — Black leaders urged residents to remain "as cool as possible" yesterday while police attempt to solve the murder of a black youth who was strangled, then hanged in a tree.

The city of Mobile, meanwhile, posted a maximum $1,000 reward in the case. Gov. Fob James has been requested to offer a reward on behalf of the state, Mayor Robert Doyle said.

MICHAEL A. Donald, 19, was dead before his beaten body was hanged in a tree sometime early Saturday, authorities say. An autopsy indicated the cause of death was strangulation.

The FBI and state authorities have joined the investigation, enlisted by detective Capt. Sam McLarty.

"We are exploring every angle," McLarty said.

NO MOTIVE for the killing has been established.

State Sen. Michael Figures of Mobile said yesterday there is "concern race may have been a motive in the killing."

"We are calling on the Mobile black community to be as cool as possible," the black lawmaker said. Although there was no immediate racial connection to the killing, Figures urged blacks to "exercise due caution."

DONALD WAS last seen at 11 p. m. Friday, leaving his aunt's home in a black housing project where he had watched a basketball game on television. 

He went for a pack of cigarettes and never returned.

His body was found a few miles from his intended destination, a service station. Some residents on the racially-mixed street said they were scared.

"He was hanging right on a city street in broad daylight," a resident told a reporter. "I don't know how it could happen without anyone seeing it. I'm sure some people are just too scared to talk."

Our next article is found in The Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama) dated March 26, 1981:

Motive is mystery in Mobile hanging; city mood uneasy

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Police have charged three men with murder. The state pathologist has detailed the grisly death. Racial tensions, inflamed by the murder of a well-liked young black man, have cooled. But still, nobody knows why Michael Donald was killed.

"The investigation is still open," Capt. Sam McLarty, Mobile's chief of detectives, said Wednesday. He said no motive had been established.

Donald, 19, was found dead Saturday morning, dangling in a noose from a camphor tree.

"It was right there in broad daylight," said a resident of the street where the body was found. "I don't know how it could happen without anyone seeing it. I'm sure some people are just too scared to talk."

BEFORE DAWN Wednesday, police arrested Ralph Hayes, 23, and two brothers, Jimmy Edgar, 22, and Johnny Edgar, 26, all of rural Mobile County. Each was charged with murder.

Police described the men as "junkies." Hayes and Jimmy Edgar had served jail sentences for burglary.

All three are white. Robert Gilliard, president of the Mobile branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the arrests "will do a lot to cool off the emotions that have been generated."

But Earl Shinhoster, an NAACP regional director, called the slaying a "racially motivated lynching" and called for a federal civil rights investigation.

"We'll take all the help we can get," McLarty said.

DONALD'S SISTER, Cynthia Donal Koger, said her parents would not comment on the arrests.

"Maybe no more innocent children will be killed," she said, as she carried a baby on her hip.

She said the Donald family "would not stand" for any violence.

Donald, a student and part-time employee in a newspaper mailroom, was severely beaten and strangled, said state pathologist Dr. LeRoy Riddick. Police say he was dead before his body was hanged from the tree.

Police said there was a shoe mark on Donald's face — apparently the noose around his neck was tightened while someone stood on his face.

McLarty said the search for a motive "may still be going on after the April 2 preliminary hearing."

Donald had left the housing project where he lived with his parents at 11 p. m. Friday to buy a pack of cigarettes. He never returned.

"Everyone we talked to who knew Michael had nothing but good things to say about him," McLarty said. "He was a clean-cut, 19-year-old kid."

MOBILE, a coastal city of about 200,000 where azaleas splash color along oak-shaded streets, avoided much of the racial tension that gripped Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s.

But for some in the black community, the recent hanging and the "mock lynching" of another man five years ago "reflect a deteriorating attitude in race relations."

For another black man here, the killings brought back memories of the March night — five years earlier and half a mile away — when a noose was tightened around his neck and the end of the rope tossed over the limb of an oak.

Glenn Diamond had been seized by a crowd of white policemen, some of them off duty. By their own testimony, they pulled the "mock lynching" to scare the 27-year-old, who was suspected in a robbery.

Diamond, who maintained his innocence and later had the charges dropped, said the rope burned his neck, and his feet were jerked off the ground. That was disputed, but the image of a lynching remained.

"IT WAS LIKE a nightmare," said Diamond. "The thought kept going through my mind:  What if someone comes by and wants to help me? Who do they go to? The police are all here already taking part in the lynching."

Racial tensions were stirred again when all of the policemen were either acquitted of assault charges by all-white juries or won dismissal of the charges. All returned to the force.

The city's police played a different role in the Donald case. In a matter of days, they filed charges against three white men. Gilliard said the arrests will "help a great deal" to ease tensions; but he also said the Donald killing, combined with the Diamond case, "reflect a deteriorating attitude in race relations."

Attorney General Charles Graddick, formerly district attorney in Mobile, said the incidents were isolated cases.

"There has been no common thread joining them all together," he said.

Gilliard said Mobile was not struck with the bombings and bloodshed suffered by Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma during the civil rights upheaval on the 1950s and 1960s.

But where Birmingham now has a black mayor and Selma and Montgomery now have racially mixed governments, he said, Mobile has an all-white city commission for a population that is one-third black.

The commission fought a court ruling that cited the city election system with racial bias. It won a favorable ruling froma divided U. S. Supreme Court, and a new trial is scheduled for May.

While city officials deny charges of racial bias in Mobile's government, Gilliard says a "negative attitude" towards blacks is prevalent.

The Daily News (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) dated March 28, 1981:

Funeral Patrols Increased

MOBILE, Ala. (UPI) — Police put extra patrols in the streets today to guard against possible violence during the funeral of a black teen-ager who was beaten, strangled, then hanged from an elm tree.

"We'll put a few more people out just to be ready if anything happens," Mobile Mayor Robert Dotle said.

State Sen. Michael Figures, a local civil rights leader, said the funeral home handling the body of Michael Donal, 19, had received some threatening telephone calls and "we expect security to be there" at the funeral.

Three white men described by police as "street toughs" have been charged in Donald's death.

Neither police nor the owners of Johnson-Allen Mortuary would comment on the telephone threats.

"I'm sure the funeral will be emotional and well attended," said Figures, warning trouble could break out in the community. "I hope it won't, but being Saturday it could well do it," he added.

Ralph Hayes, 23, Jimmy Edgar, 22, and his brother Johnny Edgar, 26, were led into a courtroom Friday for their bond hearing handcuffed and surrounded by 15 policemen.

Relatives of the defendants refused to talk with reporters.

District Court Judge James Sullivan set bond at $250,000 each after District Attorney Chris Galanos argued anything less would be inadequate in view of two of the defendants' criminal records. Hayes and the younger Edgar both have served time on felony convictions.

Donald, a masonry student at a vocational school, dropped from sight the night of March 20 when he left his home to buy a pack of cigarettes. his badly beaten body was found the next morning hanging from a tree in a racially mixed community, a noose of plastic rope around his neck and his feet just above the ground.

An autopsy revealed he had been killed before being strung from the tree.

Police have offered no motive in the slaying, but the victim's brother said Donald may have been mistaken for another black youth who was dating a white girl.

Our next article come to us through the pages of the Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) dated June 6, 1981:


Panel Refuses to indict 3 in teen's death

MOBILE, Ala — (UPI) — A mobile County grand jury refused Friday to indict three white men who were charged with killing a black teenager and hanging his body from a tree.

The jury's report said testimony in a hearing last month indicated witnesses in an earlier preliminary hearing had lied.

Ralph E. Hayes, 24, and brothers Johnny Edgar, 26, and Jimmy L. Edgar, 22, were charged with murder in the March 20 slaying of Michael Donald, 19, whose body was found hanging from an elm tree in a racially mixed neighborhood.

AN AUTOPSY revealed that Donald had been beaten, stabbed and strangled before being hanged from the tree with the plastic rope used to strangle him.

Civil rights leaders called the young man's slaying a lynching.

The jury, in making its decision, indicted a key witness on a perjury charge. The indictment was sealed, and the witness' identity was not disclosed.

The state had sought first-degree murder indictments against the three suspects. They had been jailed on $100,000 bond each since March 25.

WINSTON ORR, Mobile police chief, said all law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, had put forth a "maximum effort" in the case and would still do so.

Orr said he told black leaders of the jury's decision Thursday and assured then that the investigation would continue.

District Attorney Chris Glanos said time limitations may have hampered the state in putting together its case. After the three men were arrested, prosecutors were ordered to present their evidence to the grand jury at the May 25 session, allowing only two months to work on the case.

He said the FBI conducted an investigation and "ran into the same blank walls we ran into."

In its report, the grand jury cited "material conflicts in statements given investigating officers and what the grand jury believes is false testimony given under oath."

The jury said its decision not to indict "does not foreclose future consideration of any person as a suspect in the murder of Michael Donald," including Hayes and the two Edgars.

In pre-trial hearings, several witnesses offered conflicting testimony.

Reacting to the grand jury's decision, Cynthia Donald Koger, the victim's sister and spokeswoman for the Donald family, said, "We are going to our knees for these three and the persons who let them go."

The Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama) dated July 2, 1981:

Man convicted of perjury in 'hanging' case

MOBILE (AP) — A man convicted of perjury Wednesday faces up to 10 years in prison for giving false testimony against three white men in connection with the murder of a black youth whose body was hanged.

Johnny Ray Kelly, 28, of Prichard said during his two-day trial that he made a deal with Prichard police to implicate the three in exchange for dismissal of two felony charges against him.

Sentencing for Kelly, who once served a prison term for attempted murder, was scheduled for July 27.

Police Sgts. Bill Williams and Jack Harbin both denied making any deal with Kelly.

The three men — Ralph Eugene Hayes, and brothers Jimmy Edgar and Johnny Edgar — were charged, but later released, in connection with the slaying of Michael Donald, 19, of Mobile.

A grand jury declined to indict the three, concluding that Kelly's testimony was false.

Kelly testified at a preliminary hearing April 16, that he had seen the three on March 21, the night Donald was beaten, stabbed and strangled to death before his body was hanged. He said they admitted "jumping on a black dude who owed them money for some pills."

Donald's body was hanged to a tree on a residential street in Mobile. Prichard is a suburb on the port city's north side.

The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida) dated July 28, 1981:

Perjurer Given Life Sentence

MOBILE, Ala. — A witness convicted of perjury in connection with the death of a black youth whose body was hanged received a life prison sentence yesterday.

Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Hocklander sentenced Johnny Ray Kelly, a former state prisoner, for giving false testimony against three white men charged and later released in the murder of Michael Donald.

The case remains unsolved.

Donald, 19, was beaten and strangled, according to an autopsy report. his body was found hanging in a tree on a residential street on March 21.

An editorial from The Baytown Sun (Baytown, Texas) dated December 29, 1983: 

Brutality of Klan Revealed in Trial

One of the strongest possible condemnations of the infamous Ku Klux Klan highlighted the trial record the other day in Mobile, Ala., when a Klansman told a jury he and a fellow member abducted a black teen-ager two years ago because he "seemed like a good victim," strangled him with a rope and left his body dangling from a tree.

The Klansman also testified that 19-year-old Michael Donald, who pleaded in vain for his life, was murdered because he was black and to "show Klan strength in Alabama."

Donald's relatives wept as 20-year-old James Llewellyn "Tiger" Knowles, who pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation in the black man's killing was the state's chief witness in the capital murder trial of Francis Hays, 29.

The state alleged Hayes and Knowles picked Donald at random on March 20, 1981, while looking for a black man to kill in revenge for a mistrial in the case of a black man accused of killing a white policeman.

Knowles testified he and Hays had a casual discussion with a senior Klan official "about what people would think if they found a nigger hanging in a tree."

Investigators said during the trial that persons in the case belonged to the United Klans of America, one of the nation's oldest and largest KKK organizations. in Mobile, they said, there were two "klaverns" with combined membership of about 75.

Knowles told how he got a rope from one person and a pistol from a fellow Klansman to assure success of the abduction. He said Donald "seemed like a good victim" and was alone in a secluded area when Knowles and Hays seized him. They passed up an elderly black man using a pay phone because he was "too far from the car."

Knowles told jurors Donald fought "like a crazed animal" as the two Klansmen beat him with a tree limb after they drove to an isolated area.

Knowles said the young man tried to fight off their blows but in the end "just gave out and laid on the ground." He said Hays then got the rope and was trying to put it around Donald's neck while "I (Knowles) was hitting him with the limb."

Knowles testified Hays cut Donald's throat three times to make sure he was dead before they stuffed his body in the car trunk, drove to a residential area in Mobile, dragged the body to a tree and suspended it from a limb.

It is a shame that Knowles, who is just as guilty of murder as Hays, was not tried on that charge instead of for a relatively minor civil rights violation.

This was an incredibly cold-bloodied [sic] conspiracy to murder a youth whose only "crime" was being black and seeking solitude. That qualified him as a perfect target.

Both cases are still pending for final disposition.

The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) dated October 17, 1984:

3rd Klansman indicted in hanging of black teen

MOBILE, ALA (AP) — A third Ku Klux Klansman has been indicted in the 1981 murder of a black teen-ager whose body was found hanged in a tree.

A Mobile County grand jury returned the murder conspiracy indictment Monday against Frank Cox, the brother-in-law of a Klansman already sentenced to death for the killing of Michael Donald, 10.

Henry Francis Hays, the KKK member found guilty of capital murder in January, is on death row at Holman Prison.

Donald was beaten to death on March 21, 1981, his body hanged in a tree across the street from a house where Hays was living.

Also charged in the slaying was James "Tiger" Knowles, a Klansman who pleaded guilt to a federal charge of violating Donald's civil rights.

We end with an article from the Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) dated December 21, 1987:

February verdict has financially ruined Klan

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — The $7 million verdict that Beulah Mae Donald won against the Ku Klux Klan in the slaying of her son hasn't brought her riches. but she has a new home now and has financially crippled a branch of the KKK.

The federal jury's verdict last February brought many changes in the life of the 67-year-old Mrs. Donald, whose son, 19-year-old Michael Donald, was murdered by two Klansmen who hanged his body from a tree in Mobile.

Two members of the United Klans of America are serving sentences in the 1981 killing. Henry Francis Hays, convicted of capital murder, is appealing a death sentence, and James "Tiger" Knowles is serving a life term after pleading guilty to a federal civil-rights violation charge. He testified against Hays.

Awaiting trial on murder charges in February are Hay's father, Bennie Jack Hays, 72, and his brother-in-law, Frank Cox, 32. 

Knowles testified at the younger Hays' trial that Michael Donald was abducted just because he was black and was killed "to show Klan strength in Alabama." According to testimony, Donald was beaten unconscious with a branch, and his throat was cut.

The local Klan allegedly had been angered by an unrelated trial in which a black [man] was accused of killing a white Birmingham police officer.

As the criminal trials in Michael Donald's killing were pursued, the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil suit against the United Klans on Mrs. Donald's behalf, leading to the jury's landmark $7 million verdict in her favor.

What followed was a wave of publicity and praise for the verdict that dealt a fatal blow to the nation's oldest KKK organization, the Tuscaloosa-based United Klans.

Since the organization's only asset was its headquarters building in Tuscaloosa, title to the property was surrendered to Mrs. Donald.

"I feel like the Lord has really been good to me," Mrs. Donald said in a recent interview.

Her phone rang constantly during the year, forcing a change to an unlisted number. Her story and the detail of the death of her son were detailed in national magazines.

"I try to be as nice as I could to them," she said, referring to the stream of calls from reporters. "None of them can say I would turn them away unless I didn't feel good or have a problem."

But she said she had "so many calls I couldn't take my nap."

She has so far turned down trips north to appear on national television shows because "I have never flown and its cold. I don't need to catch a cold."

Mrs. Donald, who has 19 grand-children and 8 great-grand-children, said her New Year's wish is to "stay the same and keep on praying."

She worked as a maid most of her life. In her spare time now, she has been working in a foster grandmother program for handicapped children.

One thing she is praying for is the sale of the Klan building in Tuscaloosa so she can pay for her home in Mobile. She said SPLC director Morris Dees helped her buy a house and she plans to repay him once the building is sold.

David Byrd, sales manager at Pritchett-Moore Inc. in Tuscaloosa, said the KKK building is listed for $91, 500.

"We've been pushing it as hard as we can. It's suitable for small manufacturing or day camp for school or church. The problem with it, No. 1, is it takes 25 minutes to get to it from downtown Tuscaloosa, but we have shown it."

Dees said the poverty law center issued a no-interest loan for Mrs. Donald's house which took her out of public housing.

He said the personal assets of at least two Klansmen were being pursued through the courts.

"We never expected her to get $7 million," Dees said. "That's only what the jury thought the case was worth. The Klan doesn't have that kind of money."

[Beulah Mae Donald, right, leaves the U. S. District Court in Mobile, Ala., last February with her daughter after a jury awarded her $7 million in a suit against the United Klans of America in connection with the murder of Mrs. Donald's son Michael.]

If you are interested in this case a good book to read is The Lynching, The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer. I have this book on my list of to read books and I have heard good things about it. 

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder. 

1 comment:

  1. I read a thesis tonight, titled "thirteen loops"...really details the bigger and intertwined stories behind this lynching. Good read.


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