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Civil rights icon Morris Dees to speak at Penn State Law

Pioneering civil rights attorney and founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center Morris Dees will speak on “Equal Justice for All” at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law on Tuesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. The talk is open to the public and will take place in the Greg Sutliff Auditorium of the Lewis Katz Building.

The son of an Alabama farmer, Dees achieved remarkable success as a lawyer and publisher in the 1960s. In 1967, Dees decided to change course in his life and devote himself to helping others. In his autobiography, A Season for Justice, he says, “I was ready to take that step, to speak out for my black friends who were still 'disenfranchised' even after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Little had changed in the South. Whites held the power and had no intention of voluntarily sharing it.”

After selling his company, Dees began taking on highly controversial civil rights cases across Alabama and the South, including, in 1969, filing suit to integrate the Montgomery YMCA. In 1971, he and his law partner Joseph J. Levin Jr. founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil rights activist Julian Bond was the center’s first president.

The Southern Poverty Law Center works to educate the public about tolerance while its legal team fights discrimination and hate groups. The center’s Intelligence Project tracks and monitors hate groups and provides updates to law enforcement and the public. Its Teaching Tolerance program is one of the world’s most comprehensive resources for anti-bias information and education.

“The work of Morris Dees demonstrates the type of impact an individual within the legal profession can have on society,” said Professor Michael Foreman, director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Penn State Law. “Our students are really able to see the concrete effects legal work can have on people’s lives.”

Dees is a best-selling author and has won numerous awards including, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association, the Young Lawyers Distinguished Service Award from the American Bar Association, and the Roger Baldwin Award from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The presentation will also be connected via live audio-video to Room 116 in Lewis Katz Hall in Carlisle.

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