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Texas State University
Texas State University

Morris Dees

Co-Founder and Chief Council, Southern Poverty Law Center
Tuesday, March 19, 2002

In 1967, lawyer Morris Dees had achieved extraordinary business and financial success with his book publishing company, when he turned his career and his life in a new direction. The son of an Alabama farmer, he had witnessed firsthand the painful consequences of prejudice and racial injustice.

Dees began taking controversial cases that were highly unpopular in the white community. As he continued to pursue equal opportunities for minorities and the poor, Dees and his law partner, Joseph J. Levin Jr., saw the need for a nonprofit organization dedicated to seeking justice. In 1971, the two lawyers founded the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Dees has received numerous awards in conjunction with his work at the Center. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice named him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1987, and he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association in 1990. The University of Alabama gave Dees its Humanitarian Award in 1993.

Dees was chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. He devoted his time to suing hate groups, developing ideas for Teaching Tolerance, the Center's education project, and mapping new directions for the Center. 


—Adapted from the original event program distributed at Morris Dees' LBJ Distinguished Lecture

“As we move into this next century, this new millennium, we find many wonderful things about our nation. Many things, that I think President Johnson could be rightly proud that he and his administration played a great part in. Because of him signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act a Southern president who stepped forward and did what other would not do, millions of Americans in this country exercise the right to vote and we have the largest percentage of African American and Hispanic office holders in the history of this country today.”

“Despite the good things in this country, though, there’s an ill wind blowing across this nation. There’s a battle going on. And that’s a battle over who’s version of this nation will prevail. Will it be that of Rosa Parks and Dr. King and John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and other great heroes and heroines of democracy? Or will it be the darker side of bias and prejudice and hatred and intolerance?”