Henry Francis Hays
(died June 6, 1997) was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in
Alabama, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a
1981 lynching-style murder of 19-year old African-American
Lynch was ordered by KKK leaders,
reportedly to to show Klan strength in Alabama.
Donald was abducted at random from a Mobile street by
two men, then beaten, cut and strangled. His body was
strung up in a tree.
Although brief investigation took
place and eventually the local police claimed that
Donald had been murdered as a result of a disagreement
over a drugs deal (Donald was, in fact, not involved
with drugs), Federal attorneys, as well as public
pressure, led FBI to examine case.
In result Hays and fellow KKK member,
James Knowles - people who lynched Donald, were arrested,
tried and convicted (Knowles, who appeared as chief
prosecution witness, was sentenced to life in prison for
violating Donald's civil rights. Hays, tried six months
later, received a death sentence).
Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald,
in assistance of Southern Poverty Law Centre, sued
United Klans of America in a civil suit. All-White jury
found the Klan responsible for the lynching of Michael
Donald and ordered it to pay 7 million dollars. This
resulted the Klan having to hand over all its assets
including its national headquarters in Tuscaloosa.
Despite earlier KKK leaders plans, Donald murder case
ruined Klan in Alabama.
Hays was executed in Alabama electric
chair Yellow Mama after Governor Fob James refused to
commute his sentence. He was the first white person
executed for murder of a black in Alabama since 1913.
Hays was 42-year old at time of his electrocution.
Klan Member Put to Death In Race
The New York Times
June 6, 1997
A Ku Klux Klansman whose
killing of a black teen-ager ultimately
bankrupted the KKK faction that incited the
crime was executed early today in Alabama's
first execution for a white-on-black crime since
The inmate, Henry Francis
Hays, 42, was convicted in the 1981 slaying of
Michael Donald, a 19-year-old black man who was
abducted at random from a Mobile street by two
men, then beaten, cut and strangled. His body
was strung up in a tree.
Gov. Fob James Jr. refused to
grant clemency to Mr. Hays.
Prosecutors said the slaying
was ordered by Klan leaders ''to show Klan
strength in Alabama.'' Instead, the slaying
wound up financially destroying the United Klans
of America in 1987. A jury found the Klan liable
in a wrongful-death case brought by Mr. Donald's
mother and was ordered to pay $7 million.
The Klan had nowhere near
that amount in assets. It had to sign over its
Tuscaloosa, Ala., building to Beulah Mae Donald,
who sold it for about $52,000 and bought a house.
She has since died.
The last time a white person
in Alabama was executed for killing a black
person was 84 years ago.
Assistant Attorney General
Joe Marston 3d said there was no bias involved
in the record, just simple math. ''Most murders
are black-on-black,'' he said. ''You'd have to
do some very deep and difficult research on how
many white-on-black crimes you have, and how
many fall into capital murder categories.''
On Wednesday, in Huntsville,
Tex., a man who shot a convenience store clerk
and a gang leader who ordered the killing of a
teen-age girl who had been raped, were executed
as Texas tied its 1935 record for executions in
a single year.
Dorsey Johnson-Bey, 30, who
was convicted of killing a grocery store clerk,
on March 23, 1986, became the 19th convicted
killer to be executed by injection in the state
this year. A little more than an hour later,
Davis Losada, 32, convicted with three others in
the killing of a 15-year-old girl, became the
Henry Francis Hays
A former Ku Klux Klansman convicted of killing a black
teenager had tears in his eyes and words of love for his victim's family
before he was executed early this morning in Alabama's electric chair.
Henry Francis Hays, whose case eventually put his Klan
faction out of business, was pronounced dead at 12:18 am. It was
Alabama's 1st execution for a white-on-black crime since 1913.
Hays, 42, was convcited of the 1981 lynching-style
murder of Michael Donald, who was beaten, slashed and strangled with a
rope after being abducted at random from a street in Mobile. His body
was hanged from a tree.
Seated in the electric chair, a frightened, tearful
Hays gave a thumbs up sign to witnesses. He then turned to his brother,
Ray, and Donald's brother, Stanley, and mouthed, "I love you."
Donald later called Hays a "nut", and said
the execution brought no satisfaction, adding that "what I just
witnessed was a sad sight to see a young man let his life go like that."
Prosecutors said the killing was ordered by Klan
leaders, including Hays' father, "to show Klan strength in
Alabama" after a jury deadlocked in the trial of a black man
charged with killing a white policeman in Birmingham.
James "Tiger" Knowles testified that he and
Hays picked Donald at random on the night of March 20, 1981. He
described the beating and hanging and was sentenced to life in prison
for his testimony. Knowles acknowledged that they were cruising the poor
neighborhoods of Mobile when they grabbed Donald off the street, forced
him into the car, beat him with tree branches, cut his throat and strung
hp his body in a tree by the curb.
Hays maintained his innocence, saying Knowles had
Hays' father, Bennie Jack Hays, was charged in the
slaying but died before his trial.
Henry Francis Hays
By Frances Colemen - Mobile Register
June 1, 1997
June 6 will be a sad
day for Alabamians, whether their skins are white, black or brown. On
that day -- the previous night, really, at 12:01 a.m. -- the state of
Alabama will electrocute Henry Francis Hays for beating a black man to
death 16 years ago, and then hanging his body from a tree.
The execution will
rip the scab from the old, deep, nasty wound of racism, which in the
20th-century South alternately heals and festers. It will fester again
this week as residents of the Heart of Dixie re-live the brutal death of
19-year-old Michael Donald.
It is a story of
contrasts: The murderer, a white man, grew up in a home filled with hate
and violence. The victim was reared by a loving mother and doting older
Henry Hays knew what
he was about that night, when he and a friend set out to kill a black
man. Michael Donald, on the other hand, was innocently walking up the
street on a spring evening in Mobile to buy some cigarettes, when fate
delivered him into the white men's hands.
Most vivid, though,
is the contrast between fiction and reality. Michael Donald was murdered
- beaten to death with a tree limb - not in the 1930s or '40s, even in
the 1960s, but in 1981. Such things weren't supposed to happen almost 30
years after the Supreme Court declared "separate but equal''
unconstitutional, and nearly 20 years after the Civil Rights Act of
Nor were they
supposed to happen in Mobile, which in the 1960s had somehow managed to
avoid the racial violence that erupted in Selma and Birmingham.
Black men kidnapped
and beaten, their bodies strung up in a tree? That was something that
happened on the dark back roads of Dallas County or over in the
Mississippi Delta, not in Alabama's second-largest city.
But hate crimes
aren't constrained by time, place or suppositions. The reality is that
Michael Donald died just 16 years ago at the hands of two Ku Klux
Klansmen. So what if his death came years after lynchings were supposed
to have ceased, and in a place not known for such things?
Barely out of
childhood, he was a tragic, latter-day victim of a time when it was
safer to be white - when to be a black girl or woman was to invite
sexual violence, and to be a black boy or man was to evoke daily
disrespect, laced always with the potential for a fatal confrontation.
In the early hours of
Friday morning, Henry Hays will pay for ending Michael Donald's life
that day in 1981. He claims that he is innocent - death row residents
generally say that - but the evidence shows otherwise. Yet Hays is also
a victim, albeit in a much different way than Donald.
Reared by an abusive
father who beat his sons mercilessly, he was steered into a life of
brutality and hate - a life that one day included membership in the KKK.
Hays learned little about love and less about tolerance.
Death penalty advocates tout execution as a
deterrent to crime, and maybe it is in some respects. Henry Hays' death,
though, will serve mostly as a sad commentary on a society that in 1997
- less than three years from the turn of the century - is having to
electrocute a man for murdering another man, solely because of the color
of his skin.
Ex-Klansman executed in Alabama for 1981 slaying
of black teen
June 23, 1997
The execution of a former
Ku Klux Klansman in Alabama for the 1981
brutal murder of a Black teen marked the
first time a White has been executed for
killing a Black in the state in 84 years.
Henry Francis Hays, 42,
received a death sentence for the lynching-style
murder of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old who
was beaten, slashed and strangled with a
rope after he was abducted at random from a
street in Mobile. His body was strung up in
a tree by the curb.
Before dying, a
frightened Hays said "I love you" to his
brother, Ray, and the victim's brother,
Stanley, who later called Hays "a nut" and
said the execution brought him no
Prosecutors said the
killing was ordered by Klan leaders,
including Hays' father, "to show Klan
strength in Alabama' after a jury.
deadlocked in the trial of a Black man
charged with killing a White policeman.
James "Tiger" Knowles
testified that he and Hays picked Donald up
at random on the night of March 20, 1981. He
described the beating and killing and was
sentenced to life in prison for his
Hays' father, Bennie Jack
Hays, was charged in the murder but died
before his trial.
Hays maintained his
innocence until days before his death when
he confessed to Rev. Bob Smith, president of
Smith, who witnessed the
execution, mentioned the confession at Hays'
After encouraging the
death row inmate to "take a bath in
confession," Smith said a tearful Hays gave
a 40-minute detailed account of Donald's
abduction, beating and strangulation.
The case financially
destroyed the Klan.
The Klan faction was hit
with a $7 million wrongful-death verdict
brought by Donald's mother, Beulah Mae
Because it had nowhere
near $7 million in assets, the 10an faction
filed for bankruptcy and deeded its property
near Tuscaloosa to Mrs. Donald. She sold the
building for about $52,000 and bought a home.
She died a year and a half later at age 67.
was born in Mobile, Alabama, in
1962. He attending a local trade school and worked part-time at the
Mobile Press Register.
In 1981 the trial of
Josephus Andersonan, an African American charged with the murder of a
white policeman, took place in Mobile. At the end of the case the jury
was unable to reach a verdict. This upset members of the Ku Klux Klan
who believed that the reason for this was that some members of the jury
were African Americans. At a meeting held after the trial, Bennie Hays,
the second-highest ranking official in the Klan in Alabama 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."
On Saturday 21st March,
1981, Bennie Hays's son, Henry Hays, and James Knowles, decided they
would get revenge for the failure of the courts to convict the man for
killing a policeman. They travelled around Mobile in their car until
they found nineteen year old Donald walking home. After forcing him into
the car Donald was taken into the next county where he was lynched.
A brief investigation
took place and eventually the local police claimed that Donald had been
murdered as a result of a disagreement over a drugs deal. Donald's
mother, Beulah Mae Donald, who knew that her son was not involved with
drugs, was determined to obtain justice. She contacted Jessie Jackson
who came to Mobile and led a protest march about the failed police
Thomas Figures, the
assistant United States attorney in Mobile, managed to persuade the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into the case. James
Bodman was sent to Mobile and it did not take him long to persuade James
Knowles to confess to the killing of Michael Donald.
In June 1983, Knowles
was found guilty of violating Donald's civil rights and was sentenced to
life imprisonment. Six months later, when Henry Hays was tried for
murder, Knowles appeared as chief prosecution witness. Hays was found
guilty and sentenced to death.
With the support of
Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin at the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC),
Beulah Mae Donald decided that she would use this case to try and
destroy the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. Her civil suit against the United
Klans of America took place in February 1987. The all-white jury found
the Klan responsible for the lynching of Michael Donald and ordered it
to pay 7 million dollars. This resulted the Klan having to hand over all
its assets including its national headquarters in Tuscaloosa.
After a long-drawn out
legal struggle, Henry Hayes was executed on 6th June, 1997. It was the
first time a white man had been executed for a crime against an African
American since 1913.
Michael Donald (July 24, 1962
– March 20, 1981) was picked at random as the victim of
a lynching by two Ku Klux Klan members in Mobile,
Alabama in 1981.
According to a contemporary source,
"In 1981, the trial of Josephus Andersonan, an African
American charged with the murder of a white policeman,
took place in Mobile. At the end of the case the jury
was unable to reach a verdict. This upset members of the
Ku Klux Klan who believed that the reason for the lack
of decision was that some members of the jury were
African Americans. At a meeting held after the trial,
Bennie Hays, the second-highest ranking official in the
Klan in Alabama 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."
The same night other Klan members
burnt a three-foot cross on the Mobile County courthouse
lawn, Bennie Hays' son, Henry Hays (age 26), and James
Knowles (age 17) drove around Mobile looking for a
victim. They spotted Michael Donald walking home from
getting his sister a pack of cigarettes. They attacked
him and beat him with a tree limb before slitting his
throat and hanging him from a tree across the street
from his house.
Local police first stated that Donald
had been killed as part of a drug deal gone wrong,
despite his mother's insistence that he had not been
involved in drugs. Beulah Mae Donald then contacted
Jesse Jackson, who organized a protest march in the city
and demanded police answers.
The FBI became involved, partly at
the urging of Michael and Thomas Figures, local
activists. Two and a half years later, Henry Hays and
James Knowles were arrested. Bennie Hays was also
indicted in Donald's murder but died before his trial
Henry Hays was convicted and was
executed in the electric chair on June 6, 1997. The
Associated Press reported that Hays was Alabama's first
execution for a white-on-black crime since 1913. James
Knowles is serving a life sentence. He avoided the death
penalty by testifying against Hays at trial. The elder
Hays was tried some years later but the first case ended
in a mistrial. Hays died of a heart attack before he
could be retried.
Henry Hays maintained his innocence
right up until a few days before he died. However, he
confessed to Rev. Bob Smith, who was the president of
The Associated Press reported that
the slaying was ordered by Klan leaders, including Hays'
father, "to show Klan strength in Alabama."
Morris Dees, founder of the Southern
Poverty Law Center, brought a wrongful death suit on
behalf of Beulah Mae Donald. The Klan was hit with a $7
million wrongful-death verdict in the case. The
settlement bankrupted the United Klans of America. The
Donald family was given the deed to the UKA meeting hall
in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Beulah Mae Donald used
the settlement to buy her first home. She died in 1987.
The incident served as a springboard
for other legal cases against racist groups across
In 2006, Mobile renamed Herndon
Avenue as Michael Donald Avenue. Mobile's first black
mayor, Sam Jones, presided over the small gathering of
Michael Donald's family and local leaders at the
Michael Donald’s story was turned
into a novel by Ravi Howard called Like Trees Walking in
2007. The true story of Michael Donald is told with
fictional characters and fictional dialogue. Ravi Howard
tells the story through two young boys named Roy and
Paul Deacon that live with their family in Mobile, Al.
The young boy’s family owns a funeral home that has been
in their family for six generations. Roy feels the
pressure to take over the family funeral business
because his older brother Paul decides to pursue a
different career. In the novel the town is hit hard by
the hanging and the brutal beating of Michael Donald.
Mr. Deacon and Roy were asked by the Donald family in
the novel to prepare the body for the open casket
funeral. Because of the nature of the funeral business
and the death of Michael, it pushed Roy to constantly
ponder the idea of afterlife and what faith means to him.
The novel depicts the aftermath pain and struggle of the
small town Mobile.
Donald v. United Klans of
Michael Donald Lynching Case
Case Number: 84-0725
Court where filed: USDC Southern District
Date filed: 06/14/1984
Beulah Mae Donald, mother of Michael Donald, a black teenager lynched by
United Klans of America, Inc., Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Bennie Jack
Hays and other members of the United and other Klan groups
Date(s) of Disposition:
08/19/1985: Case amended
02/12/1987: Verdict for the plaintiff
Composite complaint 8-19-85
Final judgment and order 2-12-87
Shutting down the notorious
Nineteen-year-old Michael Donald
was on his way to the store in 1981 when two members of the United Klans
of America abducted him, beat him, cut his throat and hung his body from
a tree on a residential street in Mobile, Ala.
Angry that an interracial jury had failed to convict
another black man for killing a white police officer in Birmingham, the
Klansmen selected Michael Donald at random and lynched him to intimidate
and threaten other blacks. On the same evening, other Klan members
burned a cross on the Mobile County courthouse lawn.
The two Klansmen who carried out the ritualistic
killing were eventually arrested and convicted. Convinced that the Klan
itself should be held responsible for the lynching, Center attorneys
filed a civil suit on behalf of Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald vs.
United Klans. In 1987, the Center won an historic $7 million verdict
against the men involved in the lynching.
The verdict marked the end of the United Klans, the
same group that had beaten the Freedom Riders in 1961, murdered civil
rights worker Viola Liuzzo in 1965, and bombed Birmingham's 16th Street
Baptist Church in 1963.
The group was forced to turn over its headquarters to
Beulah Mae Donald, and two additional Klansmen were convicted of
U.S. JURORS AWARD $7 MILLION DAMAGES IN SLAYING BY
The New York Times
February 13, 1987
A Federal jury today awarded
$7 million in damages against the United Klans
of America and six past and present Klansmen in
the 1981 slaying of a black man whose body was
left hanging in a tree.
The verdict by the all-white
jury was awarded in a suit brought by the family
of the victim, Michael Donald, 19 years old, and
the Alabama branch of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People, Mr.
Donald was beaten and strangled in Mobile in
April 1981 and then hanged. 'It Won't Bring My
His mother, Beulah Mae
Donald, said at a news conference: ''I'm glad
justice was done. Money don't mean a thing to
me. It won't bring my child back. But I'm glad
they caught the guilty and brought them to court
because I did everything I could to help.''
Federal District Judge Alex
Howard said he would hold a hearing within 90
days to determine the Klan's assets and what
action was needed to turn them over to the
Donald family and N.A.A.C.P. in Alabama.
John Mays, the attorney who
represented the Klan, said no decision had been
made on whether to appeal.
Morris Dees, an attorney for
the Donald family and founder of the Southern
Poverty Law Center, said the verdict was
expected to give the family title to the United
Klans' 7,000-square-foot national headquarters
The United Klans has about
2,500 members in the Southeast.
Michael Figures, a State
Senator who is also an attorney for the Donald
family, called the verdict a ''landmark ruling
that will make sure Donald's death was the last
Robert Shelton, a Klan
Imperial Wizard, who had sat with the defendants
in court although he was not sued, left the
courtroom immediately after the verdict,
refusing to comment.
Bill Stanton, director of
Klanwatch, an anti-Klan group associated with
the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery,
said his organization was ''extremely pleased''
for the Donald family.
''We believe the death of
their relative will not be in vain as a result
of this case,'' Mr. Stanton said. ''Victims of
Klan violence now have a precedent to seek
damages from the corporate Klan behind the
perpetrators of these kinds of violent acts.'' 'Return
Judgment Against Me'
Before the jury began
deliberating today in the four-day trial, a Ku
Klux Klansman convicted in the killing of Mr.
Donald pleaded with the jury to decide in favor
of the victim's family.
''Return a judgment against
me and everything else,'' said James Knowles,
24, who was a defendant in the suit.
Then, turning to the mother
of the victim, Mr. Knowles, in tears, apologized
before the courtroom filled with about 100
''God knows, if I could trade
places with him, I would,'' said Mr. Knowles,
who had conducted his own case and was allowed
to make a closing statement.
Mr. Knowles was sentenced to
life in prison in the killing. Another Klansman,
Henry Francis Hays, 32, was sentenced to death
in the case. Mr. Knowles testified against Mr.
Hays at the murder trial.
In the trial of the Donald
family's suit, Mr. Hays's father, Bennie Jack
Hays, a local Klan officer who was a defendant,
said witnesses who accused him of having prior
knowledge of plans to kill a black person were
The other defendants, who
also conducted their own defense and denied
involvement in a conspiracy to murder Mr.
Donald, were Henry Francis Hays; Frank Cox, the
son-in-law of Bennie Jack Hays; William O'Connor,
and Thaddeus Betancourt.
The Klan presented no
witnesses. Mr. Shelton said the Klan did not
call witnesses to avoid a debate with Mr. Dees.
Mr. Mays, the Klan's attorney,
said in his closing argument that the murder was
a ''gross and horrible atrocity,'' but he said
the jury should not hold the organization
responsible. Charge Against One Dismissed
The judge dismissed the
charge against one defendant, Teddy Kysar, at
the end of testimony Wednesday at the
plaintiff's request. Mr. Kysar is a former Klan
member who cooperated with the authorities in
the investigation that led to Mr. Hays's
Mr. Knowles testified that
Mr. Donald was abducted at random and slain to
show Klan strength in Alabama and intimidate
blacks from serving on juries.
Earlier today, Mr. Dees
compared Mr. Donald to martyrs of the civil
rights movement, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. ''They sacrificed a human being
to get some publicity for the Klan,'' Mr. Dees
said. ''He'll go down in civil rights history in
the fight for black rights. I hope your verdict
goes down in history right beside him.''