Morris Dees is a legendary civil rights activist and the co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that maintains a pool of lawyers who specialize in lawsuits involving civil rights violations and racially motivated crimes.
Dees, along with Julian Bond and Joseph Levin, formed the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1970 and it quickly grew into one of America’s most successful and innovative public interest law firms. In 1981, when Klan members lynched a black man in Mobile, Alabama, the Center launched an historic lawsuit. They sued the Klan for inciting violence and won a $7 million precedent-setting judgment. Other victories against hate groups include a $6 million judgment that bankrupted the Aryan Nations, a $12.5 million jury verdict against the California-based White Aryan Resistance for the death of a black student, and a $26 million verdict against the Carolina Klan for burning black churches.
For his efforts, Dees’ life has been repeatedly threatened, and his offices burned. More than 30 men have been imprisoned for plots to harm Dees or destroy Center property.
In 1990, the Center founded “Teaching Tolerance.” More than 80,000 schools use the project’s free videos and teaching materials, and 400,000+ teachers receive the award winning Teaching Tolerance magazine. The Center has won two Oscars for its tolerance education films.
Dees has received numerous awards in conjunction with his work. The U.S. Jaycees chose him as one of Ten Outstanding Young Men of America for his early business success. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice named him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1987. In 2009, he was inducted into the Trial Lawyer’s Hall of Fame. The American Bar Association honored him in 2012 with their highest honor, the ABA Medal. Other awards include the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association, and The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice.
A graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, Dees is the author of three books, A Lawyer’s Journey, his autobiography, Hate on Trial, and Gathering Storm. He and his wife live in Montgomery, Alabama
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