Hidden History: Beulah Mae Donald


Echo Staff

No doubt, you’ve heard of the tragic murder of Emmett Till in 1955, and how his mother requested an open casket funeral to show the world the horror that was done to her child, but you probably don’t know about another grieving mother who did the same thing for her son in 1981. That’s right. 1981.

On the night of March 21, 1981, Beulah Mae Donald’s 19-year-old son, Michael, was walking home in a predominantly black neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama when two white men stopped to ask for directions. They weren’t actually lost though. They were members of the United Klans of America (UKA), known as one of the most violent organizations under the KKK. The group’s history of heinous deeds included the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963 which killed four young girls in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 1965 murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo.

It took two and a half years for the men who killed Michael Donald to be arrested. They were tried and sentenced in 1984 for the crime, but Beulah Mae Donald’s search for justice continued. With the help of the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Donald filed a more than $10 million civil suit against the United Klans of America, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and several other individual groups and members. By 1987 an all-white jury found the entire UKA as a group to be at fault for the death of Michael Donald. The UKA was sentenced to damages of $7 million in the wrongful-death verdict in the case and the suit became a precedent for civil legal action against other racist hate groups in the United States. Interestingly enough, the Klan didn’t have the funds to pay the judgment and was forced to turn over the deed to the UKA’s 7,000-square-foot national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which was valued at around $225,000. This move essentially bankrupted the UKA. Beulah Mae Donald sold the building in 1987 and used the money to buy her first home.