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Beaulah Mae Donald v. United Klans of America Inc. et al: 1987

Klan's Violent History Traced

Dees next concentrated on proving that violence was essential to the corporate philosophy of the UKA. He relied heavily on a deposition by Gary Thomas Rowe, a controversial government informer who had been present during the 1965 murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo. As well as detailing UKA sanctions of the Liuzzo killing and describing her murder on a Mississippi highway, Rowe's deposition illuminated Shelton's conspiracy with Birmingham police in 1961 attacks on Freedom Riders and the 1963 bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist church. Rowe's damaging testimony went uncontested by Mays—although invited, Shelton's attorney had not attended the taking of Rowe's deposition. Consequently, it was read into the trial record unchallenged.

To buttress Rowe's claims that the Klan was institutionally violent, Dees called Randy Ward, a former UKA member living in the federal witness protection program. Ward detailed his own violent past and recalled Shelton inspiring Klansmen with his exploits during attacks on civil rights volunteers in the 1960s. Ward also recalled a telephone conversation with Shelton, during which the Imperial Wizard told Ward that Klansmen implicated in shooting incidents would receive legal and financial aid.

At the end of the trial, the defendants offered no witnesses. In contrast to the lack of contrition among the other defendants, Knowles tearfully asked the jurors to return a guilty verdict and sought Mrs. Donald's forgiveness.

"Son," she replied, "I forgave you a long time ago."

The six members of the all-white jury ruled in favor of Donald, awarding her damages of $7 million. The decision effectively bankrupted the UKA, which mailed the deeds and keys to its property to Donald. Evidence unearthed during the trial resulted in murder charges against Frank Cox and Bennie Hays. Cox was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989. Bennie Hays suffered a heart attack during his trial and died before he could be retried. Henry Hays continued to protest his innocence until his execution on June 6, 1997. Most significantly, the SPLC led by Morris Dees pursued civil suits in future murder and assault cases, dismantling hate groups through their bank accounts.

Tom Smith

Suggestions for Further Reading

"Alabamian Guilty in Killing of Black." New York Times (May 20, 1989): 33.

Dees, Morris. A Season for Justice. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1991.

Stanton, Bill. Klanwatch: Bringing the Klan to Justice. New York: Grove WVeidenfield, 1991.

"U.S. Jurors Award $7 Million Damages in Slaying by Klan." New York Times (February 13, 1987): Al.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Beaulah Mae Donald v. United Klans of America Inc. et al: 1987 - Klansmen Plot Racial Revenge Murder, Civil Suit Goes After Klan, Klan's Violent History Traced