He was the second black student to graduate from Ole Miss in the 60s. He got his start as a student in the Jackson Movement led by Medgar Evers. Jerry Mitchell reports:
“Cleve was one of the student leaders,” [Leslie] McLemore said. “The movement gave Cleve the foundation for what he did later in life.”
He followed in the footsteps of his father, Cleveland Donald Sr., who although injured in World War II, helped to form a civil rights organization called the American Veterans Committee.
The younger Donald was among the young protesters that Jackson police put in the city garbage trucks and hauled to the stockyard buildings at the state fairgrounds in 1963.
After Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963, Cleveland Donald made a vow to his family, his brother recalled. “He said, ‘They can have my life because I am not going to let this deter me from changing things in Mississippi.’ ”
He attended classes under the protection of federal marshals. Later asked how he reacted to those hostile to him, he was quoted as replying, “I was called to love them.”
After graduating from Ole Miss, he obtained degrees from Harvard University and Cornell University. He helped establish the first black studies program at Ole Miss and served as vice chancellor at the University of Massachusetts and chief administrator at the University of Connecticut at Waterbury.