Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center
Morris Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971 following a successful business and law career. He started a direct mail sales company specializing in book publishing while still a student at the University of Alabama, where he also obtained a law degree.
After launching a law practice in Montgomery in 1960, he won a series of groundbreaking civil rights cases that helped integrate government and public institutions. He also served as finance director for former President Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 and for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972.
Known for his innovative lawsuits that crippled some of America’s most notorious white supremacist hate groups, he has received more than 20 honorary degrees and numerous awards. Those include Trial Lawyer of the Year from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association and The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice.
He was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal in 2006. In addition, the University of Alabama Law School and the New York law firm Skadden, Arps jointly created the annual Morris Dees Justice Award to honor a lawyer devoted to public service work. Dees has written three books: A Season For Justice, his autobiography; Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi; and Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat. In 1991, NBC aired a made-for-TV movie called “Line of Fire” about Dees and his landmark legal victories against the Ku Klux Klan.