- NAME: Morris Dees
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Entrepreneur, Lawyer, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: December 16, 1936 (Age: 77)
- EDUCATION: University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Law School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Shorter, Alabama
- Full Name: Morris Seligman Dees Jr.
- Nickname: Bubba
- AKA: Morris Dees
- AKA: Morris Seligman Dees
- ZODIAC SIGN: Sagittarius
Best Known For
Civil rights lawyer Morris Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, which addresses cases of racial discrimination and combats the power of hate groups.
Medgar Evers – Legacy (1:50)
Medgar Evers – Assassination (3:10)
Children’s Crusade of 1963 (4:12)
In 1971, Morris Dees worked with fellow attorney Joseph J. Levin Jr. to found the Southern Poverty Law Center. The not-for-profit agency was formed to "combat hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation."
In 1954, Medgar Evers became the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. As a civil rights leader, he fought to end the racial injustice he experienced growing up in the South.
As an NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers became a target for those who opposed racial equality and desegregation. On June 12, 1963 at 12:40 a.m., Evers was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
From May 2 to May 5, 1963, thousands of children left their schools in Birmingham, Alabama, to march for civil rights. Police officers responded by using water cannons and dogs to attack and then arrest the children.
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Attorney Morris Dees was born on December 16, 1936, in Shorter, Alabama. In 1971, Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC gained attention for its innovative tactics against hate groups, such as filing civil suits claiming damages for the violence incited by these groups. After the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald, the SPLC helped his mother receive a $7 million judgment.
"I had made up my mind. I would sell the company as soon as possible and specialize in civil rights law. All the things in my life that had brought me to this point, all the pulls and tugs of my conscience, found a singular peace."
"Just sitting with black friends of my daddy's, I began to feel their hurt, and I took it personal. I'm not a crusader. I don't represent causes. I represent people who have been hurt."
"I decided to help people. I'd already made enough money."
"There's still a lot of work ahead."
Civil rights lawyer Morris Dees was born Morris Seligman Dees Jr. on December 16, 1936, in Shorter, Alabama. He was the oldest of five children. Dees's parents were tenant farmers who also operated a cotton gin.
Dees was a resourceful child. At a young age, he started earning money by buying, rearing and selling pigs. As a teen, he sold scraps from his parents' cotton gin as mulch. Dees managed to accumulate approximately $5,000 in savings by the time he graduated from high school.
At his parents' urging, Dees enrolled at the University of Alabama, where he would obtain both his undergraduate and law degrees. While at school, Dees witnessed an African-American classmate, Autherine Lucy, being verbally and physically harassed by crowds of white people—including members of such hate groups as the Ku Klux Klan. The scene revolted Dees, and would resonate with him in the years to come.
While he was still in school, Dees teamed up with a friend, Millard Fuller, to start a direct-mail business. When Dees graduated from law school in 1960, he and Fuller formed their own law practice in Montgomery, Alabama. They also grew their business, Fuller and Dees Marketing, to include a multimillion-dollar publishing venture. Dees bought out Fuller's share of the business in 1965.
Stuck at an airport one night, Dees happened to read Clarence Darrow's autobiography, a book that would change the direction of his career. In his own autobiography, A Season for Justice (1991), Dees explained: "I had made up my mind. I would sell the company as soon as possible and specialize in civil rights law. All the things in my life that had brought me to this point, all the pulls and tugs of my conscience, found a singular peace."
After deciding to refocus his career, Dees handled cases such as filing a suit to integrate Montgomery's YMCA. In 1969, he sold his company for several million dollars, which gave him more time to defend others' civil rights.
In 1971, Dees worked with fellow attorney Joseph J. Levin Jr. and civil rights activist Julian Bond to found the Southern Poverty Law Center. Based in Montgomery, the not-for-profit agency was formed to "combat hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation."
While at the SPLC, Dees worked on a strategy of filing civil suits against hate groups, claiming damages for the violence incited by these groups. One high-profile case where he applied this strategy was the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald, a crime committed by three Klan members. With the assistance of Dees and the SPLC, Donald's mother was awarded a $7 million settlement from the United Klans of America, bankrupting the group.
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"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." Stated by legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., these words represent a basic human philosophy to which black history's greatest leaders have passionately subscribed. Learn more about the world's most revered civil rights activists, known for their fight against social injustices and lasting impact on the lives of black citizens, including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
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