Timeline

1981

March 21st, 1981

Michael Donald Lynched in Mobile, Alabama

In what is widely regarded as the last recorded lynching in the United States, black teenager Michael Donald was beaten, strangled, slashed at the throat, and hanged by two United Klans of America members in the Mobile, Alabama, area on March 20, 1981. Local police initially attributed Mr. Donald's death to drug violence but his family insisted he had not been involved in drug activity and demanded a more thorough investigation. Tests showed no trace of drugs in Mr. Donald's body.

Authorities later charged Klansmen Henry Hays and James Knowles with Mr. Donald's murder and charged Benjamin Cox, Jr. as an accomplice. Evidence revealed that local Klan leaders had been monitoring the trial of Josephus Anderson, a black man charged with killing a white police officer in Birmingham, Alabama. The Anderson trial ended in mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Angered that Mr. Anderson had not been convicted, Benny Hays, a high-ranking Klansman and Henry Hays's father, reportedly said, "If a black man can get away with killing a white man, we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man." Michael Donald was lynched the same day.

All three suspects were convicted in the lynching of Michael Donald. Mr. Knowles and Cox received life sentences and were later paroled; Mr. Hays was sentenced to death and executed by the State of Alabama in 1997. In 1984, Michael's mother Beulah Donald sued the United Klans of America and ultimately won a $7 million wrongful death suit that bankrupted the white supremacist organization, although very little money was ever collected.