tv The People v. The Klan CNN February 6, 2022 7:00pm-8:00pm PST
>> someone has taken a young man, hung him in a tree. who would do something this hideous? >> in my vision, a brown skinned man in a gray casket. i wouldn't tell who he was. and that's when i began to call all my children. >> when i think about the hurt my mom went through, i can't talk about it. the mobile police department just didn't want to believe that mobile would still have klan in it. but they did. >> the fact that klansmen lived across the street from where this happened, it was something that the police officers found to be more a coincidence. >> michael donald was an innocent, good samaritan, not a thug.
>> the likely suspects were identified. but we had the wrong people. >> the ku klux klan did that. >> we felt the cops and the klan were working hand-in-hand. >> we're calling on mobile's black community to be as cool as possible in response to this murder. >> let there be no doubt the klan is behind this. but you got to prove it first. >> the body of a black man has been found hanging from a tree in mobile, alabama. >> lynching is a tool to control and oppress black people. >> racialized violence is as old as the constitution. >> klans are not running around with white sheets over their head, but it's still happening >> today, people are horrified over police. it's the modern-day lynching. >> what are we going to do about it? >> we move forward with people deciding, "i'm bold enough, and i'm gonna make it change."
>> beulah mae donald took on one of the most violent criminal organizations in the united states. >> this is an incredible story of courage. >> here we are in 2020, without a federal anti-lynching statute. i believe we're at a point of a reckoning. lynching today, is it at the end of a rope, the end of a gun, at the end of a baton, at the end of a taser? it's not merely about the white hood or the blue uniform, it's about us. it's about red, white, and blue. >> we need to declare, as a country, these acts that were
used to instill terror must never be treated as acceptable. breonna taylor's killing saw her through the eyes of her dad. dad would give up everything to keep his daughter safe. i don't want my daughters to have their door kicked in. >> just the idea they took him and hung him, just hung him up. they beat him unmercifully. i wondered, did he have time to know he was gonna die? did he have time to say, "lord, have mercy on me?" >> it took courage. it took strength, 'cause you didn't know who to trust and who not to trust. the mobile police department, they sat on it.
they would just call and say, "we still working on the case." my ma would say, "it really gets on my nerves. i don't want them to call me. just tell me that they've got the person that have killed my son." we asked god to send us somebody that's going to help us along the way. >> the opportunity to come back and to work with the criminal justice system here in mobile, was a good opportunity. >> thomas figures, who was the first black assistant u.s. attorney, he's in a position to push and nudge and keep knocking on doors, and making sure that this case does not rest from a criminal standpoint. my uncle felt deep in his heart and soul, just as my father did, that this was a racially motivated attack, and the federal government should step in and be involved in the investigation. jeff sessions was the u.s. attorney for the southern district of alabama.
>> we worked with the fbi, and the local people, too, to investigate it, and it was difficult to move forward. we just were not making much progress. jim bodman was appointed by the fbi to get to the bottom of this case. >> january of 1983, the head of the fbi office came up to me and laid a paper file on my desk. and he said, "jim, take this case." the justice department, they want to allow us to close a case. and i asked him, i said, "sir, what do you think i'm gonna do with it? i understand everybody's been interviewed three times." he said, "you take this case and you work it." and he used, i think, maybe, a little stronger terminology, but i sure got the message. so, okay, january of '83, i get the case. they, supposedly, kept saying it was a drug case gone bad. it was not a racial case.
it was a drug case gone bad. that was not the issue. that case was being reassigned to me because i had experience and background specifically with the klan. >> as a daughter of the south, who was raised in the heart of dixie, beulah mae donald understood what it meant to take on the klan. she understood what it meant in terms of the legacy of racial terrorism by the klan. 1963. the 16th street baptist church was targeted by klan members because it was an organizing ground for civil rights activity. it was a place from which martin luther king organized.
the worship hour was chosen to maximize terrorism. >> i was standing across from the girls, over by the sink, and they was a few feet away from me. addie reached her hand out. that's when i heard this loud boom. and i said, "jesus! addie! addie!" when she didn't answer, everything went dark. i was the only survivor, and i lost my right eye. those beautiful girls was killed for nothing, just for being black. everybody was klansmen back there in the '60s.
the police knew who did it, but they weren't going to bring them to the bar of justice, so they just kept it quiet. they even gave these men nicknames. they called cherry "cherry bomb" and they called chambliss "dynamite bob." they knew who it were. >> the birmingham police department and the jefferson county sheriff's office, their investigation of the bombing was aimed at this crazy, nutty theory that the blacks themselves had set the bomb. being that they wanted to bomb their own church so that they'd bring sympathy to their cause. >> in 1963 and in 1981, black scapegoats were killed. victims were brutalized. and we, as a country, have to learn the lesson.
there are no scapegoats. there's only justice. >> when i went down to mobile, i never went to the local authorities. they never volunteered anything to me. donald had been hung on a tree, the same block where this group of klan lived. and i'm thinking, "gee whiz, what better place to start?" so i started interviewing these people. and i approached them with the idea they were not the subject of that investigation other than the fact that i want your information. "i want to know what you know." and the more i ask questions, the more they talk. i had some photographs of some individuals standing beside a pickup truck, looking at the individual when he was hanging in his tree. i identified a klansman. his name's teddy kyzar, and i went and talked to him.
and i told him, i said, "all right. look, teddy, i know you live on herndon avenue. you're there. tell me what you saw." >> well, when the neighbor in apartment one was knocking on the door, i asked him what was the problem. he said, "there's a black man hanging from a tree out here." i said, "you kidding?" he said, "no." so i went out on the front porch, and sure enough, it was. >> i stuck to the klansman because i was on the right trail.
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people were telling me, "there ain't no such thing as the klan. michael must have been doing something wrong." the truth will come out, 'cause we ain't gonna let it rest. >> we originally arrested the wrong people. it was my mistake. >> eventually, mr. galanos realized, he said, "look, we're gonna go back, and we're gonna investigate the michael donald case from day one." >> behind the scenes, there was a lot going on. there were two separate investigations. there was one track was the federal track, the other was the state track.
we were both trying to get to the same place, following different paths. on the state side, i went to jeff sessions and said, "i've got this guy named bob eddy." he was chief investigator for the d.a. bob had investigated the klan successfully. bob eddy solved the '63 church bombing in birmingham. >> the klan felt that they were either protected or purely invincible. their influence and sympathizers were embedded throughout government, throughout law enforcement, in both the city and the state level. >> in spite of the fact that four innocent negro girls were brutally murdered in a church in birmingham, alabama, not a single arrest has been made. >> a little over six years after the bombing, i was elected attorney general of alabama.
that meant i had the real position where i could do something about it. so i got a terrific investigator named bob eddy. one great witness bob eddy found was chambliss' niece. she testified that two or three days before the bomb went off, robert was ranting and raving about the blacks and the demonstrations. and he said, "you just wait 'til sunday. they'll beg us to segregate." somebody said, "what do you mean?" well, he said, "you'll find out. you'll find out." and so that was pretty powerful. that made an impact on the jury. >> so baxley and bob eddy in a new light, put the pieces of a puzzle together that resulted in the conviction of robert chambliss. but the community knew that there were still others out there other than chambliss that were involved. >> justice, freedom, and truth, and god's people are on the move.
>> the 16th street baptist church bombing was carried out by members of the untied klan of america, the same organization who killed michael donald. again and again, we've seen white racists take the lives of black people and do so with impunity, with the legitimization, and the seeming permission, of law enforcement. >> bob eddy, he said, "chris, this is a klan killing." you not only had the noose, but the typical klan diversionary tactic, burning a cross on the lawn of the county courthouse. bob eddy, in the course of interviewing witnesses, learned that there had been a meeting on wednesday night, preceding the
friday abduction of michael donald. >> three days before michael donald's murder, we had a private meeting, which we would have every wednesday for just klan members. >> bob eddy knew who was at that klan meeting -- tiger knowles, frank cox, teddy kyzar, henry hays, and bennie hays, the second highest ranking klansman in the state of alabama. >> bennie hays is the great titan, which is the third highest ranking official in the united klan. >> bennie jack hays was a hard-nosed business man. he could drop a dime in his pocket and pull out a quarter. bennie jack was a very detailed man. he was pure evil when he set his mind to it. >> henry hays was bennie hays' son. he was a lifetime member. he was secretary treasurer.
he collected the dues and the minutes and stuff like that. >> he was a holdover from the late '60s. he was doing his best to be a hippie. he loved to smoke dope. he'd do any drug he could get his hands on. henry was a very lovable young man. but he made sure to please daddy. and if daddy caught on to some of the stuff he was doing, his daddy would discipline harsh. it would usually come down to beatings. even in his adult life, he let his daddy do to him what he wanted to. tiger knowles was an entrepreneur on the equal of bennie jack hays. he was very ambitious. he had his hands in everything. if he could make a dollar, by golly, he was going after it. >> at 17, i was a regional officer in the klan for south alabama. but, yeah, i was the second in command. i aspired to be the grand dragon of the state. i thought it would give me political contacts, and that's what i was looking for.
>> tiger was the most volatile of the bunch. i think he mentored under bennie jack. you could talk him off the ledge, but he got up on the ledge in a hurry. >> they were klansmen. they were at that meeting on wednesday night. out of that motley crew, more than one, we strongly suspected, had participated in that murder, in that lynch. >> the klan, it was still [sighs] really guys? t-mobile has more 5g bars in more places than anyone. and now, when you switch, you can get iphone 13 on us, on every plan. you're not going to fit in that hole. don't look any further. unlock the full power, iphone 13 on us at t-mobile. the network with more 5g bars in more places.
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>> the klan, it was still around, because they were hanging nooses everywhere they could in mobile. and my ma would say to me, "don't you go there 'cause you know people are looking at you." i'd tell her, "i don't care." and she'd be like, "yes, you do care. don't you care? you got your children to raise." but i wasn't fearful of that. i felt like nothing man could do to me now would affect me as much as michael's death affected me. >> i'm a strong believer. i don't know about man, but i know what god can do.
>> there's a difference between what you know and what you can prove. the investigation was evolving. bob eddy was on the case. he was interviewing people. he never took his foot off the gas. agent bodman, under the direction of thomas figures, was out there interviewing klansmen. we knew who committed this crime. we, however, could not prove it without a break. >> i never once thought that i was not being looked at seriously as a suspect. law enforcement started to zero in on us more and more. >> i was bound and determined that i wasn't gonna talk to nobody. they were building that narrative, and i just wasn't going to give anybody the satisfaction. >> everybody thought i was
hiding something. i felt like i was being harassed. my mom and daddy's phone has gotten tapped twice. >> my biggest concern was someone saying something, like henry. henry had a big mouth. >> henry's never said it one way or the other. 'course he denied it. >> teddy kyzar, when interviewed by bob eddy, implicated frank cox in the cross burning. >> the cross burning? yeah. teddy and i burned a cross on the courthouse lawn that night. did we do it to promote a notion? no. we did it because bennie jack said, "go do it." >> i say, "man, i need a break. i need a break." and teddy, he was it.
>> i was told that it was a felony and i could be getting ten years in a federal penitentiary for that cross burning. and it was scary. >> i'm zeroed in. i got my target. teddy kyzar was the least educated, least intelligent one of the group. the other members of the group made fun of him. they lashed him for doing something in violation of one of unit 900's bylaws. >> i was whipped with a leather strap that was five inches wide and about six foot long. it was bringing tears to my eyes. but the more i thought about it, the madder i got. and i got where i couldn't feel it. >> i always showed him respect.
so i don't know if treating him as a person had any effect on his wanting to talk to me or confide in me, but he did. he did. >> and bodman, he said, "if you are telling the truth that you had no knowledge of it before or during, you have nothing to worry about, now do you?" i said, "well, no. you're right." and that's when i started settling down and cooperating with people. the night that michael donald was murdered, we had a card game. at henry a.'s apartment, and we was drinking beer. and about 12:00, i looked up. tiger had a blue jean tight shirt, long sleeve, and he was soaked down in blood.
i said, "i don't know what y'all been doing, but tiger, you soaked down in blood." he looked down at his shirt and saw the blood, so he just ripped it off of himself. i said, "what y'all been doing?" they said they beat up a queer. and they laughed, so i laughed with them. and i said, "well, the next one you do, i want in on it." >> he said, "well, he had blood on him." well, now, that's the first time that had come out, to my knowledge, in the investigation. i found another klansman, so i just ask him, "where'd the blood come from that was on tiger that night?" he said, "oh, he had a nosebleed." and i'm thinking, "sure, he did." >> i didn't know there was anybody murdered 'til the next morning. i never did leave the porch to go to look at the body.
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in 1963 and in 1981, justice means that we hold organizations like the klan, individuals like those murderers, accountable. >> black citizens and other minorities have absolutely no protection, no representation in government. they'd be left to the mercy of local officials. >> all the time the investigation was going on, we was really trying to dedicate ourselves to keep that from ever happening again in mobile, alabama. and the only way we could do that is try to bring about some change, someone to represent the interests of all the people in the city, because before that, we didn't have that at all. >> we get talked at, we get talked about, we are stats, we are stereotypes, we are made a mockery of, we are dismissed. nobody every asked us. nobody ever listens to us. how do we rectify generations of gross, gross injustice? and how do we do that knowing,
that if we right those wrongs, it's going to be better for everyone? >> in 1963, the 16th street baptist church, four little girls were killed, sarah collins was maimed, and continues to suffer 'til this very day. >> i never received any restitution. i didn't receive any counseling going back to school. i was angry for a long time. why would they kill those innocent girls? they didn't even get a chance to live their life. but, these men, they did. they lived a good life. it was just wrong. the men, who took the lives of four little girls, had decades to escape accountability.
>> the investigation was reopened. we indicted blanton and cherry in may of 2000. this verdict today sends a message that the people that bomb and kill our innocent citizens and children, we will never give up. justice delayed does not have to be justice denied. >> those decades cannot be taken back. they cannot be given to those four little girls. >> when we think about michael donald, we have to ask ourselves, how long will it take for his family to get justice? >> thomas figures believed that the klan was responsible for this and that we should pursue it. so the idea was that we would call a grand jury. we would haul every witness that
was relevant in any way, put them under oath, and question them aggressively. >> the reason we needed a federal grand jury is because a state grand jury convenes for a single session. the lifespan of a federal grand jury can run months. so, a federal grand jury convenes in may of 1983. now that we think we know who did it, we'll bring them in. they'll lie. you bring them back. they'll lie again. but sooner or later, if you keep hauling them in, somebody's gonna break. >> i had to go before the grand jury. i didn't have the money for a lawyer, and i knew a public defender wouldn't do all that much. >> they did not get attorneys to
advise them to take the fifth amendment, and so they testified before the grand jury. >> when you're interviewed about a murder before a federal grand jury, you're gonna be uncomfortable. thomas figures was a grinder. in this case, simply tenacious. >> thomas figures was really wanting to have me locked up. they kept pushing that point, pushing that point. >> it makes the pot boil. >> i was saying the same thing over and over and over again. >> they often contradicted one another, and they'd back up and they would acknowledge things they hadn't acknowledged before. >> the klansmen lied. we knew they lied. so we brought them back a second time. >> and then you'd go back to somebody else that said, "well this man just told us this. you better tell us the truth now." and then they'd tell you more. >> and then some of them lied a second time and we brought them
back a third time. >> it was a game, at that point, between the accused and the powers that were trying to convict me or henry or tiger, or teddy or bennie jack. >> and you can just begin to see the evidence start developing, the kind of evidence you would need to have a successful prosecution. >> thomas was a prosecutor. he was dedicated to that, very dedicated to that. but he was also the kind of person that did not bite his tongue. if he thought something was wrong, he would go and say it was wrong. sometimes he ran into some friction. >> thomas could be very abrupt, and he was riding this departmental attorney big time. i mean, big time riding him. and finally, this attorney looked up at thomas. he told thomas, he said, "you know, i could always use a good boot black."
thomas blew up. >> thomas figures is a black prosecutor and a federal officer in the 1980s. he's fighting discrimination from without and discrimination from within. and he has to listen to his colleagues speak to him in condescending ways, including his boss, jeff sessions, who says to him, "you need to watch the way you speak to white people." and he has to secure the trust of law enforcement. and so, thomas figures has to walk a tightrope. >> he wasn't gonna ever give up. they may have thought he was, but he was not ever gonna give up on it. >> i think the culprits became sensitive to the possibility that among them, someone was starting pointing fingers. >> i continued to testify more and more.
it was such a blur, not just from me, but from everyone all around. they felt i was way in over my head. i guess it was a combination of grand juries, other klansmen talking. >> and it was in june of 1983 that tiger knowles cracked. [♪] if you have diabetes, it's important to have confidence in the nutritional drink you choose. try boost glucose control®. it's clinically shown to help manage blood sugar levels
>> in june of '83, tiger knowles appeared before the federal grand jury, and knowles confessed. >> i actually had an attorney and i told him what happened. you would have thought that the devil just passed before his eyes. he completely changed. next thing you know, he's contacted someone with the mobile police department, has me come in and tell the whole story to them. >> he admitted that he had participated, but was light years away from telling the whole truth, and sought a deal.
tiger would assume a demeanor that you don't normally see in a 17-year-old murderer. you might as well have been sitting in this restaurant, having a coke with him, and hearing what he recently did. there was no remorse, there was no contrition. there was no emotion. i thought he was a sociopath. so i said, "i'm not giving him a deal." >> my attorney, you know, instead of trying to help me figure out how to get this over and done with and try to make amends, as much as we could, he pretty much sold me out. >> i think tiger knowles, he thought it was a good thing to do, until he did it.
mr. hayes probably told him "oh, we can do this, and nothing will be done to us." and i think that he convinced him, "if you do this, oh, they'll never find out that you done it." >> so then he went across town to the federal side, was interviewed by agent jim bodman. >> june the 10th, 1983, i get a call at about midnight, and it's from tiger. he wanted to meet me that night. he was going to put me straight. he was tired of me leaning on him. and i said, "okay," with some concern. and we agreed to meet in mobile. i go early, before our agreed time. i ride through the shadows and around through the cars, looking at all these places, trying to
see if i, or we, were being set up. i didn't know what would happen. he'd already killed one person. so i parked back in the shadows where he couldn't necessarily see me. there was a white man with tiger. and i looked at him and it was his attorney, and i know him. i'm thinking, "what is he doing here?" so we start talking and tiger starts saying, "man, i've been before the grand juries. i've had enough of this. you know, get off my back." i said, "tiger, wait a minute. don't start feeding me that same old crap. if that's the best you can do," i said, "i'm gonna go home. i'm gonna go to bed." but i said, "i tell you what. i know what happened. you picked up this young man, you took him out to an area. he was scared to death. he was afraid for his life. he started fighting both of you. you couldn't handle him, and you
proceeded to beat him to the ground, and you killed him. you killed him. tiger, i don't think you meant to do it." and so help me, his response was, "honest, mr. bodman, we didn't mean to do it." and i thought, "gotcha." "okay, where'd you take him in baldwin county?" "mr. bodman, you know." i said, "yes, but you got to tell me." and so he answered that question. i said, "i want to ask you one more question how'd you get him up in the tree? you couldn't get him up there by yourself." and he names henry. henry hays. got him, man. got him. and i said, "i tell you what, i want you to go home. don't run off, don't hide, don't
flee." i said, "because you confessed to me, i can save your life." because in the federal system, the maximum for death resulting was life. and guess what it was in alabama state law? they put your butt in an electric chair. so he saw the light. "monday, we will get together, and we will do everything necessary to take care of you." tiger walks off into the night. if i'm lucky enough, i'll get to heaven i want to ask, "lord, thank you." i'd solved the case. the boss said, "solve the case." i said, "it's solved." >> i'm glad it's all come to light. michael did no wrong.
>> we knew that my brother had died, the klan had killed him. you know, people have come to me and said, "they never found out who killed my sibling, my father, my mother. my brother died and they never found -- y'all are blessed. y'all are truly blessed." and i tell god right then. i say, "thank you, god, because we could be like them, wondering." because every kiss you've shared together... deserves to be celebrated with a gift from kay. ♪ does sinus congestion and pressure make breathing feel impossible especially at night? try vicks sinex. unlike most sinus treatments, it provides instant relief that lasts up to 12 hours.
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19-year-old michael donald's body was found hanging from a tree on herndon avenue on march 21st of 1981. >> today, fbi officials announced the arrest of james "tiger" knowles. mr. knowles plead guilty to a federal civil rights charge. >> the fbi agent, jim bodman, reported the information up their chain of command to the u.s. attorney's office. >> when he was told that he had to cooperate fully to save his life, thomas figures and myself met in one of the court rooms with tiger. he showed up at that point in time. i said, "okay, tiger, tell again exactly what you told me." he starts telling him i don't know all the negotiations that
were involved. i trusted the lawyer, and i ended up getting a plea deal. >> i was the one that said, "no. we're not gonna give this guy a deal." he had confessed! and it was a free, knowing, and intelligent, incriminating statement. >> then the question was what to do about henry hays. he was 26 years old. i thought it was a death penalty case. this will not be tolerated. we can not allow that kind of violent, brutal murder, and a hateful group, we decided -- a decision was reached that it would be tried by the state district attorney, and alabama had a death penalty at that time. i wanted the african-american community to know that the united states attorney's office in mobile, alabama, was not going to back away from tough civil rights cases. >> i know jeff sessions.
i think i know him pretty well. if i had to say the amount of effort he put into this, i would say, by position, his name came up. he was the u.s. attorney. period at the end of that. >> when jeff sessions was nominated to be a federal judge back in the 1980s, the michael donald case was used as a kind of racial shield. >> i am not a racist. i am not insensitive to blacks. i have supported civil rights activity in my state. >> thomas figures testified against his boss, in congress, under oath, that jeff sessions, initially, tried to dissuade him from bringing the case. >> i think thomas said it best in his own words. while it is literally true that jeff sessions did not, i believe he said, "obstruct the investigation," he certainly did
not promote this investigation. >> if the only thing you can point to is that you were the u.s. attorney when michael donald's case was solved, then you don't have much to offer as it relates to working to make sure that all people are treated equal. what we do have is more prosecutions in the first district on crack cocaine convictions, than people getting life without parole, i think, here, than in los angeles. that's where the time was spent. i'm real thankful that thomas figures was there. >> i try to do the right thing all the time, every day, every decision i make. i've been unfairly accused involving the michael donald
case. unfairly accused of not supporting this case, which is not true. i mean, we advanced it well. and so i just would say, i don't -- well, i tell the truth and somebody else can write the history. >> we would try henry in state court for capital murder. but bennie hays, the number two man, would attempt to protect his son. >> bennie hays came to my mom and daddy's house, looking for me. and there's only one reason why he would come looking for me is to shut my mouth, to keep me from talking.
someone has taken a young man, hung him in a tree. who would do something this hideous? >> michael donald was an innocent, good samaritan, not a thug. >> the crime scene was in the same block where this group of klan lived. what better place to start? >> the mobile police department just didn't want to believe that mobile would still have klan in it, but they did. >> we felt the cops and klan were working hand-in-hand. ain't gonna
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