Henry Francis Hays

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Henry Francis Hays (November 10, 1954 – June 6, 1997[1]) was a member of the United Klans of America, a Ku Klux Klan group in Alabama, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 lynching-style murder of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old African American.[2] He was executed in 1997. This was the first execution in Alabama since 1913 for a white-on-black crime, and the first execution of a known KKK member in the United States in the 20th century for murder of an African American.

History of murder[edit]

The murder was ordered by UKA leader Bennie Hays, reportedly to "show Klan strength in Alabama," after he and others were unhappy about the outcome of a case in which a black man was accused of killing a white policeman.[3] His son Henry Hays and his accomplices abducted Donald at random from a Mobile street, took him to an isolated location, beat him and strangled him, cutting his throat to ensure he was dead.[4] They hanged his body from a tree across the street from Hays' home.[5]

After a brief investigation, the city police claimed that Donald had been murdered due to disagreement over a drug deal,[6] but his mother insisted that Donald was not involved with drugs.[7] The assistant US Attorney in Mobile, as well as activists, pressed the FBI to investigate the case. Hays and fellow KKK member, James Knowles— the two men who murdered Donald[8]— were arrested, tried, and convicted. Knowles, who appeared as the chief prosecution witness, was convicted of violating Donald's civil rights and sentenced to life in prison. Hays was tried six months later and received a death sentence.[8] A third man, truck driver Benjamin Franklin Cox, Jr., was convicted as an accomplice and sentenced to life. Henry's father Bennie Jack Hays, a leader of the UKA, was indicted for inciting the murder, but his trial ended in mistrial when he collapsed in court due to grave illness. Before he could be tried again, he died.

While on death row, Henry Hays was incarcerated at the Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama.[9] Hays, Alabama Institutional Serial #Z443, entered death row on February 2, 1984.[10] He was executed on June 6, 1997.[1]

Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald, with assistance of the Southern Poverty Law Center, sued United Klans of America for wrongful death in a civil suit. An all-white jury found the Klan responsible for the murder of Michael Donald and ordered a $7 million judgment. The UKA was bankrupted and had to hand over all its assets, including its national headquarters in Tuscaloosa.[11][12] This ruined the Klan in Alabama.

Hays was executed in Alabama's electric chair Yellow Mama[13] after Governor Fob James refused to commute his sentence.[14] He was the first white person executed in Alabama for murder of a black citizen since 1913, and was the only known member of the KKK to be executed in the United States in the 20th century for murder of an African American. Hays was 42 years old when executed. [14]


  1. ^ a b "Inmates Executed in Alabama." Alabama Department of Corrections. Retrieved on March 3, 2011.
  2. ^ Lewis, Claude (9 June 1997). "Is It Progress For Alabama To Execute A White Man?". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "U.S. JURORS AWARD $7 MILLION DAMAGES IN SLAYING BY KLAN". The New York Times. 13 February 1987. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Kornbluth, Jesse (1 November 1987). "The Woman Who Beat The Klan". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Smith, Gita M. "Alabama case shows how father's sins were visited on son; white's execution for killing black didn't end inherited racism". Atlanta Journal-Constitution (newspaper). p. 4A. 
  6. ^ Kornbluth, Jesse (12 November 2014). "They Killed Her Son. So Michael Donald’s Mother Went After the Klan.". The Good Men Project. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Michael Donald
  8. ^ a b "Black Becomes Owner of Klan Headquarters". Los Angeles Times. 20 May 1987. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "Alabama pays Ohio for holding Klansman." Associated Press at The Tuscaloosa News. September 25, 1994. 8B. Retrieved from Google News (12 of 132) on March 3, 2011. "His son, Henry Hays, was sentenced to death for the Donald murder. He awaits an execution date at Holman Prison."
  10. ^ "ALABAMA JUDGE OVERRULES JURY, SENTENCES A KLANSMAN TO DEATH". The New York Times. 3 February 1984. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  11. ^ Schmidt, William E. (20 May 1987). "BLACK IS HANDED DEED TO OFFICES OF KLAN GROUP". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Beulah Mae Donald; Sued Klan, Won". Los Angeles Times. 20 September 1988. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  13. ^ Kaplan, David A. (15 June 1997). "Life And Death Decisions". Newsweek. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Klan Member Put to Death In Race Death". The New York Times. 6 June 1997. Retrieved 4 January 2015.