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A mother's struggle with the klan

Posted November 16th, 2012 at 06:03 AM by tarhaka bey

Beulah Mae Donald's youngest child went out for cigarettes one night in 1981 and did not come back. The badly beaten body of her son, Michael Donald, 19 years old, was found the next morning, hanging from a camphor tree along a street in Mobile.
He was a broad-shouldered young man who loved basketball and music and was studying brick masonry at a technical college. His mother can hardly remember identifying his body, so great was her grief.

Mrs. Donald was determined that this child of hers, so brutally slain, would not become ''just another colored man, as they say, gone on and forgotten.'' And so it was that Beulah Mae Donald, a quiet woman whose life was bound by work and church and children, took on the Ku Klux Klan.

Last month, as a result of a lawsuit brought on Mrs. Donald's behalf, an all-white jury in Mobile returned a $7 million verdict against the United Klans of America, considered the largest Klan organization in the country and headquartered in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Two Klansmen had already been convicted of criminal charges in the slaying, one for murder and the other for violating the victim's civil rights. But Mrs. Donald's civil suit went after the organization itself

Her lawyers said the verdict marked the first time that a Klan group had been held financially liable for acts committed by its members. Experts said the verdict sent a powerful signal to similar extremist groups. An Unlikely Combatant

The case attracted widespread notice in civil rights, legal and law-enforcement circles, but at its heart was the retiring figure of Mrs. Donald, 67 years old, who seemed an unlikely combatant as she talked this week in the tiny living room of her apartment, while neighborhood children played outside in the late afternoon sun. Her voice was weary and ineffably sad. She rose from time to time to tend to her cooking, in preparation for a family gathering. On the television was an afternoon soap opera to which she paid no attention.

She seemed almost frail and clearly leery of the limelight. Yet one of her lawyers said it was quiet women like Mrs. Donald who were the backbone of the civil rights movement.

Mrs. Donald said her aspirations for the case were simple. ''I just hope it helps someone else with children,'' she said. ''It could have been somebody else's child, just like it was mine.'' She did not seek vengeance, she added, leaving that to God. As for the money, she said, she really had not thought much about it. $7 Million Judgment Morris Dees, who represented Mrs. Donald, said it was impossible to know how much she would collect from the $7 million judgment, which was returned against the Klan and six past or present members. Lawyers for the Klan have not yet indicated whether they will appeal the verdict, Mr. Dees said, and his investigators are still trying to determine the Klan's assets.

Chief among those assets, Mr. Dees asserts, is an office building near Tuscaloosa. Such issues will ultimately be settled in Federal court. ''Realistically, if she gets $300,000, she'll be lucky,'' said Mr. Dees, chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

The lawyer for the Klan, who argued at the trial that the Donald killing was a ''horrible atrocity'' but that the organization was not responsible for it, has repeatedly declined comment since the verdict was returned. Black Woman Awarded Deed To Klan Headquarters Property
May 20, 1987|By New York Times
ATLANTA The keys to the door and the deed to the headquarters of one of nation's largest Ku Klux Klan organizations now belong to a 67-year-old black woman from Alabama, the mother of a teen-age son who was murdered in 1981 by two Klansmen.
Under the terms of a federal court verdict last March, the woman, Beulah Mae Donald of Mobile, was given the property deed this week to a 7,200-square- foot brick and corrugated metal building and 6.5 acres of wooded land near Tuscaloosa, Ala. Until a few weeks ago the building was the national headquarters of the United Klans of America.
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