SPLC founder to speak at Troy symposium

Published 3:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2017

Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will speak March 22 during Troy University’s annual journalism symposium.

The public is invited to the event at 10 a.m. in the ballroom of the Trojan Center on the university’s Troy Campus. Admission is free.

Dees’ topic will be “With Justice for All in a Changing America.” The social media hashtag will be #TroyJustice.

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Dees was born in 1936 at Shorter, Alabama, the son of cotton farmers. He is white, but he worked in the fields with African Americans, witnessing deprivation and Jim Crow treatment.

He met Millard Fuller while at the University of Alabama law school, and they formed a publishing company, which they moved to Montgomery after graduation. Fuller left the company in 1965 and later founded Habitat for Humanity, which helps people build affordable housing. Dees continued the publishing business and practiced law, taking civil rights cases.

In 1967, Dees represented Gary Dickey, an editor of Troy State College’s student newspaper, the Tropolitan. Dickey had been expelled in a dispute about an editorial and was seeking reinstatement. Citing constitutional issues of free expression, U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled in Dickey’s favor.

In 1970, along with Julian Bond and Joseph Levin, Dees formed the Southern Poverty Law Center, a public interest law firm in Montgomery funded by donations. Its early cases included integrating the Alabama state troopers and the Montgomery YMCA.

The center monitors hate groups and develops legal strategies for protecting people. A movie on NBC, “Line of Fire,” described Dees’ fight against the Ku Klux Klan, including a $7 million judgment on behalf of the mother of a black man who was lynched in Mobile. Other multimillion-dollar verdicts against hate groups followed.

The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project provides videos and other teaching materials to schools. The center has won two Oscars for its tolerance education films and has received five Oscar nominations.

Dees has written three books: “A Lawyer’s Journey” (his autobiography), “Hate on Trial” and “Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat.”

He has received 17 honorary degrees, as well as awards from lawyers’ and human rights organizations. The American Bar Association gave him its ABA Medal in 2012, and the National Trial Lawyers Association gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolence Peace Prize in April 2016 from The King Center and the National Education Association President’s Award for Human and Civil Rights in July 2016.    

“We invited Morris Dees to campus because of his history of fighting for the rights of all individuals, including journalists,” said Steve Stewart, assistant professor of journalism and faculty adviser to the Tropolitan.

The March 22 event is the university’s M. Stanton Evans Symposium on Money, Politics and the Media, named for a Troy faculty member who was a national columnist, commentator, book author and editor of the Indianapolis News. Stan Evans held the university’s Buchanan Chair of Journalism from 1980 until his death in 2015.

More information is available from Stewart at sstewart71298@troy.edu or 334-672-3192.