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TLNPG inductee Morris Dees standng in front of graffiti

Collection of Southern Poverty Law Center Montgomery, Alabama. Portrait on canvas.

Morris Dees

Morris Dees, the founder and executive director of the Southern Poverty Law Center is, as Coretta Scott King observed, "one of the most dedicated and effective civil rights lawyers in U.S. history . . . ."

Dees the son of a south Alabama farmer, graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1960. Even though he opened a law office in Montgomery, Alabama, Dees and his partner grew a successful publishing and marketing company which was ultimately sold to the Times Mirror company.    

Dees whose father often evidenced fair and equal treatment to black sharecroppers on his land, used the funds generated by the sale of  his business to found the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971. His partner in the publishing business, Millard Fuller, ultimately founded Habitat for Humanity.    

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery,Alabama, has long fought for civil rights and against racist and nationalist groups.


Dees sued the Ku Klux Klan in 1981, securing a $7 million judgment for the mother of a black lynching victim in Alabama. Many say the payment of the judgment bankrupted the United Klan's of America and resulted in its national headquarters being sold to help satisfy the judgment. 


The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed legal claims attacking segregation, white supremacist groups, barriers for equality for women, vulnerable children, the LGBT community and the disabled. Under Dees' leadership, the Center has filed cases seeking protection for migrant workers and immigrants, cases attacking the abuse of prisoners, cases seeking to reform juvenile justice practices and more.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a staff of more than 100 lawyers and advocates. Today's work focuses on litigation in childrens' rights, economic justice, immigrant justice, LGBT rights and criminal justice reform.

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