Beulah Mae Donald (1919-1988)

Beulah Mae Donald
Beulah Mae Donald

Beulah Mae (Gregory) Donald is best known for filing a civil lawsuit against the United Klans of America after Donald’s youngest child Michael Donald was found hanging from a tree in Mobile, Alabama on March 21, 1981. Henry Hays (26 years old at the time) and James Knowles (17 at the time), members of the United Klans of America, were the individuals arrested for the murder. Following the murder of her son, Michael, Beulah Mae Donald contacted the Southern Law Poverty Clinic in Montgomery, Alabama and proceeded with an unprecedented lawsuit that would later establish a foundation for filing civil suits for damages involving hate groups and hate crimes committed.

Beulah Mae Gregory was born on October 20, 1919, to Mary Hollman Gregory, a laundress in Mobile, Alabama. Beulah Mae was the youngest in her family. She was pregnant with her first child in the 10th grade and stopped attending school to work. On April 15, 1936 16-year-old Beulah Mae Gregory married William Miller, her first husband.

Michael Donald, born July 24, 1961 in Mobile, was the youngest child of Beulah Mae from her second marriage with David Donald. The marriage quickly ended and she moved her family into a Mobile housing project where she raised them as a single mother. Michael grew up in Mobile, attended Carver State Technical College in the city and worked at the Mobile Press Register.

On March 21, 1981, 19-year-old Michael Donald, was walking home from his sister’s residence when two members of the United Klan lured him to their vehicle and kidnapped him intent on killing him in retaliation for a murder of a white Mobile police officer by a Black man. Despite his attempts to escape, the Klansmen lynched Michael and then slit his throat to ensure he died.

Initially the Mobile police attempted to blame others but Beulah Mae Donald remained convinced Klansmen were responsible for Michael’s death. With growing numbers of supporters who in the summer of 1981, began demonstrations in downtown Mobile, Donald continued to pressure Mobile police to continue their investigation. Her efforts gained national attention and in 1983, the two Klansmen, Henry Hays and James Knowles, were arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder of Michael Donald by a jury of 11 whites and one Black person. Hays was executed for the murder and Knowles received a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Hays.

Donald, however, did not stop with the conviction. With the support of the Southern Poverty Law Center, she brought a lawsuit against the United Klans of America in 1984 which demanded that the organization be held responsible and accountable for the actions of its members. In February 1986 an all-white jury in Mobile returned a verdict awarding Donald $7 million dollars. The judgment forced the bankruptcy of the United Klans of America and in May of 1986, the terrorist organization turned over the deed to their national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Donald along with other property. Her lawsuit set a precedent for other legal actions against violent white supremacist organizations. Beulah Mae Donald remained in Mobile Alabama until she died on September 17, 1988 of natural causes at a Mobile hospital. She was 69 years old.