Donald V. Watkins
Why Do They Hate Us?
Updated: Sep 11, 2022
By: Donald V. Watkins
© Copyrighted and Published on March 3, 2020
When I was a young boy growing up in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s and 60s, my childhood friends and I would ride our bicycles from Alabama State College's campus to Normandale Mall on the city's Southside. We had to pass through several white middle-class neighborhoods on our way to the Mall. Every time we rode through these neighborhoods, a handful of mean-spirited residents would sic their German Shepherd dogs on us. They would scream, "Get the niggers, get ‘em." Hearing the dogs barking, we peddled as fast as we could to avoid being bitten. Unfortunately, we experienced the same form of racial terror during our return trip home.
After my first experience with this form of vicious racism in the "Heart of Dixie" and "Cradle of the Confederacy," I asked my mother, "Why do they hate us?" Mom, who was the daughter of a well-known Baptist preacher, simply said, "Donald, they don't know how to love us. Nobody has ever shown them the way." With that answer, she gave me a big hug and told me how much she loved me. Her hug made me feel a whole lot better.
As I look back on my life in Alabama, I realize that I have been hated by a lot of white people in the state for my entire life. The only reprieve I experienced from this hatred came when I basked in the warm glow of multiculturalism as a college student at Southern Illinois University. The only significant change since my childhood German Shepherd experiences has been the assigned reasons whites in Alabama have articulated through the years for their deeply rooted racial hatred of me.
From elementary school through my high school graduation in 1966, this hatred spewed from the mouths of segregationists who chanted, "two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate .... Niggers go back to where you came from." I knew from this chant that white parents in Alabama did not want black students in public schools with their children.
From 1966 to 1970, I was able to escape the sweltering heat of overt racial oppression by attending college in Illinois. It was the best four years of my life. My friendship circle looked like the United Nations, and I experienced college during the era of "free love."
After I graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1970, I became one of the "niggers" who desegregated The University of Alabama's law school. This was the longest and loneliest three years of my life. During this period, the Dean of the law school had to write a public letter of apology to my parents and the entire Law School for one of the most painful episodes of racism I have ever experienced (i.e., my exclusion in 1972 as a finalist in the annual Law Day Moot Court Competition solely because of my race).
After I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam in 1973, several state court judges openly referred to me as the "nigger lawyer from Montgomery" during courtroom proceedings for my first three years of law practice. Prior to 1980, only three federal judges in the state -- Sam Pointer (Birmingham), Frank M. Johnson, Jr. (Montgomery), and Virgil Pittman (Mobile) -- called me "Mr. Watkins" in the courtroom. The others did not address me by any name and they openly disrespected me in court. Some federal judges would throw court documents on the floor rather than give them to me in my hand. Many federal and state court judges routinely threatened me with sanctions because I stood tall and fought hard for my clients.
From 1973 to 1998, I was hated by many whites in Alabama because I was successful in: (a) obtaining a full and unconditional pardon from the state of Alabama for Mr. Clarence Norris, the last surviving Scottsboro Boy, (b) helping Attorney Fred Gray secure a multi-million dollar settlement for the surviving members of the infamous "Tuskegee Syphilis Study," (c) desegregating 68 of Alabama's public school systems, (d) desegregating the statewide system of community and technical junior colleges in Alabama, and (e) desegregating Alabama's system of higher education for senior public colleges and universities (in a federal lawsuit that began in 1981 and concluded in 2005). I was also hated because I exposed a fatal police shooting and massive cover-up in what the April 3, 1977 edition of the Washington Post called "Alabama's Watergate." Finally, I was hated during this period because I fought the continued operation of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO program in Alabama that targeted black elected officials, civil rights activists and political dissidents for personal destruction.
In 1999 and 2000, I was hated because I secured the first and only bank charter ever issued by the state of Alabama to a black applicant -- Alamerica Bank in Birmingham. Despite this hatred within the regulatory environment, the bank achieved phenomenal success before bank regulators deliberately tried to sabotage this stable and secure financial institution. The bank withstood a Blitzkrieg effort by state and federal regulators to destroy it and operates successfully today on Birmingham's Southside.
From 2001 to 2003, I was hated by local whites for attempting to integrate the ownership ranks of Major League Baseball by purchasing a professional baseball team. Despite my success in securing $150 million in financing UBS-Paine Webber for this endeavor, local whites trashed me for attempting to acquire a MLB team.
From 2003 to 2005, I was hated for representing controversial HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in a $2.7 billion accounting fraud case in which Scrushy faced an 85-count felony indictment. In 2005, I won an acquittal on all charges -- a record in the annals of American jurisprudence that still stands today. The hatred I experienced in Alabama's white community after Scrushy's acquittal reached a level of intensity and danger that forced me to leave the state for my own safety.
From 2005 to 2019, I experienced hatred from local whites because I quietly developed two successful mainstream international energy businesses. These companies continue to operate today, despite a monumental but unsuccessful effort by Alabama-based COINTELPRO federal prosecutors to destroy them.
Looking back at my life today, I never thought I would have to endure seven decades of racial hatred from whites in Alabama, but I did. The German Shepherds chasing my bicycle as a young child were just the beginning of a lifelong journey along a road that was littered with racial hatred.
Thankfully, there were plenty of white and black individuals of interracial goodwill along this road who knew how to love me. They embraced my humanity; they loved me as a human being; they protected me along this road, to the best of their ability; and they helped me overcome a lot of unbearable racism during my journey.
My mother said these "Good Samaritans" would always be present along life's journey. She encouraged her six children to keep an open mind and heart in order to receive their love. Mom was right. For this, I am eternally grateful.