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United Klans of America was the largest [1] Ku Klux Klan organization in the United States. Led by Robert Shelton, the UKA peaked in popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s, [2] and was the most violent Klan organization of its time. [3] Its headquarters were the Anglo-Saxon Club outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama.[4] They were linked to the murder of teenager Michael Donald, [1] the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young girls, [5] and the murder of Viola Liuzzo in 1965. [6]. In addition to Robert Shelton, some of the UKA’s most well known members include Thomas Blanton, Jr., Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Cash, Robert Chambliss, Bennie Hays, Henry Hays, and James Knowles. Robert Shelton died at the age of 73 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from a heart attack in 2003. [6]


During the African American Civil Rights Movement in the United States South, members of the United States Klan [3] and the KKK joined forces in 1960 [2] to suppress change. In July [3] of 1961, Robert Shelton, the son of a member of the KKK, [6] went to Alabama after his discharge from the military, [3] specifically the Air Force, [6] and became the dominant figure, or the Imperial Wizard, of the UKA after Shelton's "Alabama Knights" merged with "Invisible Empire, United Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of America, Inc.",[7] Georgia Knights, and Carolina Units. [6] Eventually the UKA peaked with active members and sympathetic support, and reached numbers from around 26,000 to 33,000 throughout the South in 1965, making it the largest Klan faction in the world.[7] The organization disseminated its messages through a newsletter known as The Fiery Cross, which was printed in Swartz, Louisiana. [2] However, membership began to slip once the group was linked to criminal activity, and after Shelton served a one-year term in prison for contempt of the United States Congress in 1969. [5] In the early decade of the 1970s, UKA membership dropped from tens of thousands to somewhere between 3500 and 4000, [3] but that did not keep violent acts from continuing. By the 1980s, membership dropped to somewhere around 900. [5]

The Sixteenth Street Bombing

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Alabama was a place for many people involved in the Civil Rights Movement to meet up with each other. [8] On a Sunday in September of 1963, a bomb exploded in the church, killing four young girls. Eleven-year-old Denise McNair, fourteen-year-old Carole Robertson, fourteen-year-old Cynthia Wesley, and fourteen-year-old Addie Mae Collins were killed in the blast, and more than twenty others were injured. [9] Addie Mae Collin’s sister lost one of her eyes in the bombing. [8] Witnesses said they saw a white man put a box underneath the Church steps after getting out of his Chevrolet car. The police arrested Robert Chambliss, a member of the UKA, after he was identified by a witness, charged him with murder, in addition to "…possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit." The trial took place in October, but Chambliss was not convicted of murder. He did receive a fine of one hundred dollars and six months in jail for possession of the dynamite. He was tried again when Bill Baxley, the attorney general of Alabama, realized that much of the evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had against Chambliss was not used in his original trial. [9] It was not until 1977 that he was convicted with the murder of the four girls, [8] and he received life in prison at seventy-three years old, [9] where he eventually died. Chambliss never confessed to the bombing. [8] On May 16, 2000, the remaining indictments were handed to suspects, and the court found that UKA members Robert Edward Chambliss, Thomas Blanton, and Bobby Frank Cherry were the ones who planted 19 sticks of dynamite in the bombing of the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. [10] In 2001, Thomas Blanton Jr. was sentenced to life in prison following his trial where he was charged with murder. The next year, in 2002, Bobby Frank Cherry also was tried for murder and he, too, received life in prison. [8]

The murder of Viola Liuzzo

In 1965, 39-year-old Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from the North, decided to go help support racial equality in the South. She drove down to Alabama and assisted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in driving civil rights marchers back and forth, from Montgomery, Alabama to Selma, Alabama, where the marches were taking place. On March 25, 1965, as she was making her last trip to Montgomery with nineteen-year-old African American Leroy Moton to go pick up the marchers, four members of the UKA saw Liuzzo sitting at a red light with Leroy in the car with her. They followed her in their car, eventually driving up beside her, and shot at the car. Leroy survived the shots after pretending to be dead, but Liuzzo did not make it. Collie Wilkins, William Orville Eaton, Eugene Thomas, and Gary Thomas Rowe were taken into custody the next day. Wilkins, Eaton, and Thomas each received ten-year prison sentences, while Rowe turned out to be an undercover agent for the FBI [11]

The lynching of Michael Donald

The trial of a black man in Alabama in 1981 was the reason for the lynching of Michael Donald, a nineteen year old African-American, on March 21st. After Josephus Andersonan, a black man in Mobile, Alabama, was charged with the murder of a white police officer, UKA member Bennie Hays blamed the jury when they failed to convict Andersonan. Hays claimed that it was because there were African-American jury members. Hays’ opinion was that he should be allowed to kill a black man since Andersonan killed a white man with no consequence. On March 21st, the son of Bennie Hays, Henry Hays, and another member of the UKA, James Knowles, decided to take action and went driving around to find a black man to kill. They found Michael Donald walking along the street and made him get into their car. [9] After kidnapping him, they drove out to a bordering county, where Hays and Knowles hung him from a tree. [9][6]

During the investigation, the police concluded that the murder had to do with drugs, but Donald’s mother, Beulah Mae Donald, knowing that her son was not involved with drugs, decided to take action. She eventually talked to Jesse Jackson, but it was Thomas Figures who ended up helping out. Figures was Mobile's U.S. Attorney, and he contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to take on the case. Knowles quickly confessed to the lynching. [9] In 1983, [9] James Knowles of the UKA's Klavern 900 in Mobile, was convicted for 1981 for the murder of Michael Donald.[7] His conviction resulted in life in prison. [9] At trial Knowles said he and Henry Hays killed Donald "in order to show Klan strength in Alabama."[7]

In 1987, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) brought a civil case on behalf of the victim's family against the United Klans of America for being responsible in the lynching of Donald.[12] Unable to come up the $7 million dollars awarded by the jury, the UKA were forced to turn over its national headquarters to Donald's mother who then sold it. [13] This lawsuit resulted in the bankruptcy of the UKA, along with its official split in 1987. [2]

During the civil trial Knowles said he was "carrying out the orders" of Bennie Jack Hays, Henry Hays's father, and a long time Shelton lieutenant.[7] The trial ended with a guilty verdict, and Knowles, charged with “…violating Donald’s civil rights…”, received a sentence for life in prison. [9] Hays was charged a few months later with the murder of Donald, he was found guilty, and sentenced to death. Hays was finally executed in June of 1997. More than eighty years had passed since a white man had been executed, “…for a crime against an African American…”. [9]

Other activity

In the spring of 1979, twenty UKA members were indicted in Birmingham, Alabama for violent racial episodes in Talladega County, Alabama. Three members plead guilty, while ten others were found guilty. [7] One of the violent racial episodes included, “…firing into the homes of officers of the NAACP.” [6]

In 1998, a complaint was filed against Roy E. Frankhouser, Grand Dragon of the UKA in Pennsylvania. Frankhouser had been harassing Bonnie Jouhari, who was a white woman that worked at the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council in the state of Pennsylvania. Her job was helping out people who had been targeted and discriminated against. Frankhouser threatened her and her daughter, Pilar D. Horton, [14] and after many unsuccessful attempts to have a lawsuit brought against Frankhouser, [15] the SPLC decided to represent Jouhari. [14] The case ended with Frankhouser having to complete community service, making a public apology to Jouhari and her daughter, and completing a certain amount of hours in “sensitivity training”. [14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Arthur Gerringer. Terrorism: From One Millennium to the Next. iuniverse, inc, 2002. pages 221-222
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Abby Ferber. White Man Falling: Race, Gender, and White Supremacy. Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. page 176
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Ted Robert Gurr. Violence in America: The History of Crime. Sage, 2004. pages 142-143
  4. "Lawsuits prove to be a big gun in anti-Klan arsenal," The Boston Globe, June 17, 1993
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Stephen Atkins. The Encyclopedia of Modern American Extremists and Extremist Groups. Greenwood Press, 2002. page 302
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 William Wines. Ethics, Law, and Business. Routledge, 2005. page 158
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 "Emergence of the UKA". Anti-Defamation League. 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-18. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "16th Street Baptist Church Bombing: Forty Years Later, Birmingham Still Struggles with Violent Past". Retrieved 20 October 2008. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 "Effects of the Ku Klux Klan". Retrieved 15 October 2008. 
  10. "The Ku Klux Klan Legacy of Hate: United Klans of America". Anti-Defamation League. 2000. Retrieved 2007-09-18. 
  11. "Viola Gregg Liuzzo". Encyclopedia of Alabama. 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2008. 
  12. "Donald v. United Klans of America". Southern Poverty Law Center. 1988. Retrieved 2007-09-18. 
  13. Morris Dees and Steve Fiffer. Hate on Trial: The Case Against America's Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi. Villard Books, 1993. page 11
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Jouhari/Horton v. United Klans of America/Frankhouser". Southern Poverty Law Center. 1998. Retrieved 15 October 2008. 
  15. David Bernstein. You Can't Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws. Cato Institute, 2003. page 74

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