University of Rochester

EVENT: Civil Rights Lawyer Morris Dees to Speak at University

December 30, 2002

Morris Dees, a civil rights attorney famous for his legal victories against white supremacist groups, will deliver the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Address at the University of Rochester.

His talk, " Responding to Hate: Voices of Hope and Tolerance," will be presented at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in Strong Auditorium on the River Campus. Having taken on domestic terrorists for two decades, Dees also promotes a message of hope and tolerance in the wake of the September 11 tragedy to stem hate crimes against those who resemble the terrorists. His talk is free and open to the public.

The son of an Alabama farmer, Dees graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law and opened a law practice in Montgomery in 1960. In 1967, he began taking controversial cases, including a suit to integrate the all-white Montgomery YMCA. In 1971, he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that specializes in lawsuits involving civil rights violations, domestic terrorists, and racially motivated crimes.

Dees and the center have launched several historic and successful lawsuits against hate groups. After the lynching of an African-American man in Alabama by Ku Klux Klan members in 1981, the Center sued the Klan for inciting violence and won a $7 million judgment. In 1990, Dees won a $12.5 million verdict for the family of an Ethiopian murdered by Skinheads, a white hate group, in Oregon. In 1998, he obtained a $37.8 million verdict against the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for the burning of the Macedonia Baptist Church in South Carolina. In 2000, he won a $6.3 million award for a woman and her son who were shot at by Aryan Nation guards.

In addition to taking on hate groups as chief trial counsel for the center, Dees also works on promoting diversity and developing ideas for the center's education project, "Teaching Tolerance." He also pushed for the creation of the Civil Rights Memorial, a monument engraved with the names of the people who died in the movement and key events of the period, that is found at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Dees has received numerous awards for his work. He was named Trial Lawyer of the Year by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice and received the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association and the Young Lawyers Distinguished Service Award from the American Bar Association. The University of Alabama gave Dees its Humanitarian Award in 1993.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Address was instituted at the University of Rochester to promote issues of diversity, freedom, civil rights, and social justice. The event is sponsored by the College Diversity Roundtable and the Office of the President. For more information, call (585) 275-0651.