Tell Me How It Ends is our reading group for nonfiction titles focusing on current events and social justice.
This month's book is The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer.
In March 1981, Henry Hays and James Knowles, members of the United Klans of America, the largest and most dangerous Klan organization in the United States, picked up nineteen-year-old Michael Donald on the streets of Mobile, Alabama. They were seeking retaliation after a largely black jury failed to convict a black man accused of murdering a white policeman. Hays and Knowles beat Donald, 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 had given that penalty to a white man for killing a black man.
Morris Dees, the cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, saw the case as an opportunity to file a lawsuit against the UKA. His colleagues said his lawsuit was impossible to win and a folly. But Dees had heard that before. On behalf of Michael's grieving mother, Mrs. Beulah Donald, Dees filed a first-of-its-kind civil suit and charged the Klan organization and its leaders with conspiracy. He proceeded to put the Klan leaders on trial, which produced some of the most audacious testimony of any civil rights case--as well as a stunning and precedent-setting verdict. Dees destroyed the UKA and created a weapon that the SPLC used time and again against other racist organizations.
The Lynching is a suspenseful true story that takes us into the heart of darkness, but in the end shows that Michael Donald and other civil rights martyrs did not die in vain.
"America's unaddressed history of lynching and racial violence has left this nation vulnerable to horrific hate crimes, none more devastating than what is documented in this compelling book. We ignore Laurence Leamer's account at our peril." -Bryan Stevenson, author of the New York Times bestseller Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Laurence Leamer is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including The Kennedy Women and The Price of Justice. He has worked in a French factory and a West Virginia coal mine, and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. His play, Rose, was produced off Broadway last year. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida, and Washington, D.C., with his wife, Vesna Obradovic Leamer.
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