In March of 1981, 19-year-old Michael Donald was lynched by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Mobile, Alabama. His mother, Beulah Mae Donald, sued the white supremacist group for her son’s death, and won.
A new docuseries from CNN covers the tragically remarkable steps Beaulah Mae Donald took to get justice for her son. The first two episodes of The People v. The Klan premiered Sunday (April 11) and features an additional two parts set to air April 18. The documentary is produced by Blumhouse Television and tells Beulah Mae Donald’s tenacious story with archival footage and current interviews as a way to illuminate how long the fight for racial justice has been going on in America.
Beulah Mae Donald’s fight, as depicted in the series, would upend the economic prowess of one of America’s most notorious white supremacy groups, who, when they killed her son, had been terrorizing Black Americans well over a century.
The men responsible for the heinous crime were punished by 1984, but the lasting impact of Michael Donald’s murder, or the threat of the Klan did not go away with prison sentences.
Donald took the Klan to court after filing a lawsuit that accused the group of encouraging violence among its members. In 1987, an all-white jury award Donald $7 million which basically bankrupted the United Klans of America. To pay off some of the debt they owed, the group had to give Beulah Mae Donald their Tuscaloosa, Alabama headquarters. She sold the property and bought her first home with the money.
Beulah Mae Donald died in 1988 at the age of 67. Her tenacity was recognized before her death by Ms. Magazine. In 1987, she was named the publication’s Woman of the Year. Donald told The New York Times she wanted to get to the bottom of her child’s death.
“I wanted to know who all really killed my child,” she told The Times. “I wasn’t even thinking about the money. If I hadn’t gotten a cent, it wouldn’t have mattered. I wanted to know how and why they did it.”
To learn more about Beulah Mae Donald and the landmark case, the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School created an educational guide.
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