On a Friday night in March 1981 Henry Hays and James Knowles scoured the streets of Mobile, Alabama in their car, hunting for a black man. The young men were members of Klavern 900 of the United Klans of America. They were seeking to retaliate after a largely black jury could not reach a verdict in a trial involving a black man accused of the murder of a white man. The two Klansmen found nineteen-year-old Michael Donald walking home alone. Hays and Knowles abducted him, beat him, cut his throat, and left his body hanging from a tree branch in a racially mixed residential neighborhood.
Arrested, charged, and convicted, Hays was sentenced to death—the first time in more than half a century that the state of Alabama sentenced a white man to death for killing a black man. On behalf of Michael’s grieving mother, Morris Dees, the legendary civil rights lawyer and cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a civil suit against the members of the local Klan unit involved and the UKA, the largest Klan organization. Charging them with conspiracy, Dees put the Klan on trial, resulting in a verdict that would level a deadly blow to its organization.
My guest, Laurence Leamer, has written about this event, uncovered new information, including the climate of hate created by former Alabama governor, George Wallace that led to this lynching.
Laurence Leamer is a New York Times Bestselling author of over a dozen books including the Kennedy Women and The Price of Justice. He is with me via Skype from Washington DC to discuss his latest book The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan.
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