Several years ago, civil rights lawyer Morris Dees, Jr. developed
an innovative legal strategy that sought to achieve what some legal
scholars would have thought impossible: the leadership of racist
organizations would be held accountable for the violent consequences
of their activities. In 1987, he used the strategy in a $7 million
wrongful death suit against the United Klans of America, charging
that its message of racial hatred and violence inspired two Klan
members to lynch a young, Mobile, Alabama black man. Dees won, and
the local Klan was bankrupted.
In 1990, Dees won a $12.5 million suit against Thomas Metzger,
the leader of White Aryan Resistance, and his son. The Metzgers'
philosophy of racial hatred prompted two shinheads to beat a young
Ethiopian immigrant to death the year before, in Portland, Oregon.
As part of the judgment, the court seized the elder Metzger's house
and all of his possissions.
Perhaps almost as remarkable as Dees' courtroom successes is the
fact that he does not fit the "Privileged Eastern Kid Who Graduates
From Ivy League Law School and Makes Trouble For Rednecks' Mold".
Nor is he black.
Dees was born in Shorter, Alabama, the son of a farmer and cotton
gin operator (indeed, Dees' boyhood nickname was "Bubba" and he
still lives on a farm). He attended undergraduate school at the
University of Alabama, where he founded a nationwide direct mail
sales company that specialized in book publishing. After graduation
from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1960, he opened a
law office in Montgomery and continued his mail order business -
which eventually became a $15 million publishing company before he
During the civil rights movement, Dees became active in aiding
minorities in court. In 1967, he filed suit to stop construction of
a white university in an Alabama city that already had a
predominantly black state college. In 1968, he filed suit to
integrate the all white Montgomery YMCA. In 1970, with Joseph J.
Levin, Jr. and Julian Bond, he founded the Southern Poverty Law
Center, in Montgomery. In 1980, the Center founded Klanwatch, a
project which monitors hate groups and develops legal strategies
such as those with which Dees brought the United Klans of America
and White Aryan Nation to their knees.
To help educate young people about the civil rights movement,
Dees developed the idea for The Civil Rights Memorial, in
Montgomery. The Memorial bears the names of 40 men, women, and
children who died during the civil rights movement. Trial Lawyers
for Public Justice named him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1987, and
the National Education Association gave him the Martin Luther King,
Jr. Memorial Award in 1990. His autobiography, A Season For Justice,
was published by MacMillan in the spring of 1991. Dees is now Chief
Trial Counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center and, in addition
to suing violent white supremacist groups, he is developing ideas
for the new Civil Rights Education Project.
Note: The above information on Mr. Morris Dees
was taken from "Profile," a publication of the American Program
Bureau, Inc., 36 Crafts Street, Newton MA.02158. Permission to
reprint this information was granted by Bob Davis, Vice President of