TheNew York Timesbestselling author ofThe Kennedy Womenchronicles the powerful and spellbinding true story of a brutal race-based killing in 1981 and subsequent trials that undid one of the most pernicious organizations in American history the Ku Klux Klan.Read more...
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TheNew York Timesbestselling author ofThe Kennedy Womenchronicles the powerful and spellbinding true story of a brutal race-based killing in 1981 and subsequent trials that undid one of the most pernicious organizations in American history the Ku Klux Klan.
On a Friday night in March 1981 Henry Hays and James Knowles scoured the streets of Mobile 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.
Based on numerous interviews and extensive archival research, The Lynchingbrings to life two dramatic trials, during which the Alabama Klan s motives and philosophy were exposed for the evil they represent. In addition to telling a gripping and consequential story, Laurence Leamer chronicles the KKK and its activities in the second half the twentieth century, and illuminates its lingering effect on race relations in America today.
The Lynchingincludes sixteen pages of black-and-white photographs."
From our buyer, Jordan Weinmann: "Laurence Leamer provides a captivating tale of the horrific lynching of nineteen-year-old Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama in 1981, which lead to the conviction of Henry Hays. Hays’ sentence of death was the first time in more than 50 years that Alabama had sentenced a white man to death for the killing of a black man. But this book is about more than that trial, it’s also the story of Morris Dees, civil rights lawyer and cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s about how his story of growing up in Alabama and the journey he took to becoming a civil rights lawyer. This book is also about the civil case he brought forth against the UKA, the largest Klan organization, ultimately destroying them. The Lynching brings to life story of the KKK, their horrific actions, and how their influence still lingers today."
From our buyer, Jordan Weinmann: "Laurence Leamer provides a captivating tale of the horrific lynching of nineteen-year-old Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama in 1981, which lead to the conviction of Henry Hays. Hays’ sentence of death was the first time in more than 50 years that Alabama had sentenced a white man to death for the killing of a black man. This book is also about the civil case he brought forth against the UKA, the largest Klan organization, ultimately destroying them."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-18
- Reviewer: Staff
The prolific Leamer (The Price of Justice)swiftly traces the entwined lives of three Alabama men—civil rights lawyer Morris Dees, Gov. George Wallace, and top Klansman Robert Shelton—during and following the civil rights movement. Bookending this tripartite biography are two legal cases concerning the 1981 murder of Michael Donald, a young black man lynched by United Klans of America (UKA) members in Mobile County. The ensuing investigation and criminal trial reveal lingering sympathies for white supremacy. During Shelton's time as imperial wizard, Klansmen had attacked Freedom Riders in collusion with local cops and bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church. Leamer details Shelton's privileged relationship with Governor Wallace, who rode populist racism into the state's executive office and ran for president, showing how Wallace stoked rage against integration while carefully distancing himself from racist violence. As a student, Dees worked for Wallace's gubernatorial campaign and had even defended a Klansman in court. By the time he files a civil lawsuit against Shelton and the UKA over Donald's death, intending to bankrupt the organization, Dees is a changed man. Leamer's slice of American civil rights history prefers courtrooms and the Capitol to churches and the streets, with Dees—a cunning and tenacious lawyer doing dangerously unpopular work—playing hero. This well-written, suspense-filled book vividly evokes themes from the ugly, not-so-distant past. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary Agency. (June)
Bringing down the KKK
Robert Shelton, George Wallace and Michael Donald may no longer be in the news, but they are forever entwined in this riveting account of a racist murder in the Deep South. The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan, by journalist and author Laurence Leamer, recounts 19-year-old Donald’s horrific death in 1981 at the hands of Alabama Ku Klux Klan members. The book is also a deftly researched history of the civil rights movement. Most vividly, it is the story of Morris Dees, born poor and white in solidly segregated Alabama, who abandoned his inherited segregationist leanings to become a civil rights attorney and cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC’s civil lawsuit against the United Klans of America led to an unprecedented $7 million judgment against the group.
Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the Alabama Klan, was driven to rage when murder charges against a black man resulted in a mistrial. Underlings turned hate into action: Two Klan members randomly selected, beat and strangled Donald, unlucky enough to be walking alone one night. They hung his body from a tree on a residential street.
Wallace, about to win his fourth term as governor, had imbued his state with racist rhetoric, and the United Klans of America were his devoted supporters. They had met the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s with bombings, beatings and murders, and their power, like Wallace’s, remained largely unchallenged. Despite landmark civil rights legislation, with Donald’s murder, it appeared nothing much had changed in Alabama.
Yet times had changed, thanks to lawyers like Dees: One of Donald’s killers was eventually executed and his accomplice imprisoned. The SPLC’s lawsuit bankrupted the Alabama Klan. As for Shelton, before his death in 2003 he despaired, “The Klan is my belief, my religion. But it won’t work anymore. The Klan is gone. Forever.” Today, the Klan still exists. The Lynching reminds us why that matters.