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Thirteen Loops

Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America

B. J. Hollars

Publication Year: 2011

Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America recounts the story of three innocent victims, all of whom suffered violent deaths through no fault of their own: Vaudine Maddox in 1933 in Tuscaloosa, Sergeant Gene Ballard in 1979 in Birmingham, and Michael Donald in 1981 in Mobile.
The death of Vaudine Maddox--and the lynchings that followed--serves as a cautionary tale about the violence that occurred in the same region nearly fifty-years later, highlighting the cowardice, ignorance, and happenstance that sustained a culture of racial intolerance far into the future.
Nearly half a century later, after a black bank robber was acquitted for the murder of police Sergeant Gene Ballard, two Klansmen took it upon themselves to exact revenge on an innocent victim--nineteen-year-old African American Michael Donald.  Donald's murder--deemed the last lynching in America--reignited the race debate in America and culminated in a courtroom drama in which the United Klans of America were at long last put on trial. 
While tracing the relationships among these murders, B. J. Hollars's research led him deep into the heart of Alabama’s racial, political, and legal landscapes.  A work of literary journalism, Thirteen Loops  draws upon rarely examined primary sources, court documents, newspaper reports, and first-hand accounts in an effort to unravel the twisted tale of a pair of interconnected murders that forever altered United States' race relations.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

This book would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of various journalists, archivists, interviewees, and advisors. Thank you to the wonderful reporting set forth in the...

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Introduction: Braiding the Rope

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pp. 1-10

The hangman’s knot is not a difficult knot to learn. First, make a U-shaped bight, then a second bight, then an N-shape. Next, take the working end around the bight until it turns back in on itself. Work away from the noose, wrapping the desired number of loops...

Part I: Tying the Knot

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pp. 11-68

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First Loop: A Pail of Flour - Tuscaloosa, June–August 1933

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pp. 13-29

Vaudine Maddox walked with a pail of flour. The early morning sun crept through the trees as the twenty-one-year-old white girl shuffled along the clay road in Big Sandy, twelve miles outside of Tuscaloosa. Situated an hour south of Birmingham...

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Third Loop: A Motel Swimming Pool - Birmingham, November 29, 1979

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pp. 30-48

Despite speculation that the three Tuscaloosa deputies not only had prior knowledge of the mob but actively took part in the murders, they were not convicted of any wrongdoing. Deputy R. M. Pate, in particular, had a reputation for being...

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Second Loop: A Challenge - Tuscaloosa, August–October 1933

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pp. 49-54

November 29, 1979, was an unseasonably cold day in Birmingham, Alabama. A high of thirty- eight degrees left the city shivering; men and women walking hastily down the sidewalks, burrowing their hands in their pockets...

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Fourth Loop: A Flower in the Forest - Birmingham, November 29–December 4, 1979

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pp. 55-68

In the days following Sergeant Gene Ballard’s death, the Birmingham Police Department honored his memory by displaying black armbands and patches on their uniforms. On Tuesday, December 4, Police Chief Myers sent an interoffice...

Part II: The Last Lynching

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pp. 69-129

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Fifth Loop: A Pack of Cigarettes - Mobile, March 20–21, 1981

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pp. 71-81

For Michael Donald, the morning of Friday, March 20, 1981, started out just like any other. Since December 1979—just a little over a week after Sergeant Gene Ballard was murdered—Michael had been working the night shift as a stuffer...

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Sixth Loop: A Domestic Disturbance - Mobile, March 20–21, 1981

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pp. 82-95

In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 21, 1981, the police were called to Herndon Avenue, though not for Michael Donald. At around 2:00 a.m., twenty-three-year-old Ralph Hayes was involved in a domestic disturbance with his girlfriend...

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Seventh Loop: A Beating in Baldwin County - Mobile, March 17, 1981

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pp. 96-101

On Tuesday, March 17, just four days before Michael Donald’s death, Kenneth Jones, a white male identified as a homosexual, got off from work and picked up a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s on the corner of Washington and Government...

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Eighth Loop: A Klavern in the Woods - Mobile, March 18–21, 1981

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pp. 102-121

On March 18, 1981—as Michael Donald clocked in at the Mobile Register for the last time—United Klans of America (UKA) Klavern Unit 900 met at Grand Titan Bennie Jack Hays’s residence on Gunn Road in Theodore, Alabama, just a few miles...

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Ninth Loop: A Cross, a Dummy, a Phone Call - Mobile, March 21, 1981

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pp. 122-129

At a little after midnight, Klansmen Frank Cox and Teddy Kyzar drove to the Mobile County Courthouse and lit a burning cross on the courthouse lawn as a so-called diversionary tactic. Yet burning a cross on the courthouse...

Part III: Untangling

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pp. 131-209

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Tenth Loop: A Confession - Mobile, June 1983–February 1987

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pp. 133-144

On Thursday, June 16, 1983, twenty- eight- year- old Henry Hays peered out the window of the Hudson Service Station, where he worked, and watched federal authorities step from their cars bearing handcuffs. Miles away...

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Eleventh Loop: A Verdict - Mobile, February 1987

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pp. 145-167

By February 1987, the civil trial was in full swing. Morris Dees entered the Mobile courtroom, offering his opening statement to the jury, explaining the case in its simplest terms. “This case started, actually, in Birmingham, Alabama. A murder...

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Twelfth Loop: A Date with Yellow Mama - Holman Correctional Facility, February 1984–June 6, 1997

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pp. 168-184

Henry Hays was put to death for a dollar. He was originally indicted for “committing murder with a rope in the course of a kidnapping,” yet prosecutors realized that “murder-kidnapping was not a capital offense at the...

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Thirteenth Loop: A Retelling - Mobile, Present Day

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pp. 185-200

If we examine any situation closely enough, there’s always some new clue worth uncovering. But history makes it too easy to search for clues in the aftermath, reading yesterday’s newspapers in search of the tea leaves of...

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Conclusion: The Rope Unraveled

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pp. 201-209

It is impossible to view the world the same after knowing Michael Donald. For the past year and a half I’ve returned to his city, his streets, in an attempt to better understand him. Parked my car in front of the Springhill Recreation Center just to listen..

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Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 211-222

This account was based on various sources, relying heavily on newspaper reports, interviews, archival resources, and FBI files to re- create the scenes herein. I have made every effort to depict the story as accurately as possible...


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pp. 223-237


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pp. 239-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385828
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317539

Page Count: 249
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Maddox, Vaudine, d. 1933.
  • Tuscaloosa (Ala.) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Racism -- Alabama -- History -- 20th century.
  • Alabama -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Ballard, Gene, d. 1979.
  • Donald, Michael, 1961-1981.
  • Birmingham (Ala.) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Violence -- Alabama -- History -- 20th century.
  • Lynching -- Alabama -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mobile (Ala.) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
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