October 30, 2007

SIUC to host Southern Poverty Law Center's Dees

by Pete Rosenbery


Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Morris Dees, the Alabama attorney who has spent more than 35 years battling hate groups throughout the nation, will bring his message to Southern Illinois University Carbondale next week.

A co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dees will discuss "With Justice For All," at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 6, in the Student Center Ballroom D. He is presenting the Bill and Molly Norwood Fellowship Lecture for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Door open at 6 p.m., and admission is free. Because of enhanced security measures, backpacks and other similar items — excluding women's purses — will not be allowed. Metal detectors will also be in use. Organizers encourage early arrival.


Media Availability

Reporters and photographers are welcome to attend a media availability with Morris Dees at 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 6, at Stone Center on the Carbondale campus. Security measures will be in place, and members of the media — including photographers and camera crews — will need to show a government-issued photo ID. Reporters, photographers and news crews must arrive by 2 p.m.


Institute Director Mike Lawrence said, "Morris Dees has been a fearless, persistent, irrepressible and amazingly innovative battler against the scourges of racism, hatred, intolerance and injustice that debase and demean us. We are delighted that this crusader against the worst in our midst has agreed to help honor Bill and Molly Norwood, who are glittering examples of our very best."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dees' lecture will address how "our commitment to justice for all will determine our nation's success in the next century as America becomes more diverse and economic disparity widens."

Dees will also talk about how and why he became an attorney, founded the SPLC, and touch on some of the center's more prominent cases. He is also expected to discuss some of the organization's latest cases, touch on hate crime, and discuss the need to teach tolerance, love and respect for one another, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Already a law school graduate and successful book publisher and businessman in the late 1960's, Dees became active in the civil rights movement. In 1971, he founded the non-profit Southern Poverty Law Center with his law partner, Joseph J. Levin, Jr., and civil rights activist Julian Bond. Information on the Southern Poverty Law Center is available at http://www.splcenter.org/index.jsp

The organization's civil rights lawsuits and fights ranged from the integration of the Alabama State Troopers, to court victories and significant monetary civil verdicts over the Aryan Nations, the California-based White Aryan Resistance, and the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for the arson of an African-American church in South Carolina.

In response to a resurgence in organized racist activity, the SPLC in 1980 began the Intelligence Project, which "monitors hate groups and develops legal strategies for protecting citizens from violence-prone groups," according to Dees' biography. Information on the Intelligence Project is available at http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intpro.jsp

The SPLC's newest litigation focuses on immigrant civil rights. But in addition to fighting hate groups, the organization also focuses on Teaching Tolerance, a program started in 1991, which includes distributing tolerance magazines and education kits.

Dees earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama School of Commerce and Business in 1958; he earned his law degree in 1960 from the University of Alabama School of Law. His numerous honors include the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in 1987; Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Award from the National Education Association in 1990; the NEA's Friend of Education Award in 2001; and the Morris Dees Justice Award, established in 2006 by the University of Alabama School of Law and the New York law firm, Skadden, Arps. The award is presented annually to a lawyer devoted to public service.

Dee is the recipient of 17 honorary degrees from universities and colleges dating back to 1990.

This is not the first time that Dees is speaking on campus. In 1998, he delivered the Hiram H. Lesar Distinguished Lecture at the SIU School of Law.

This is the second Norwood fellowship lecture. The emphasis of the lecture series is on bringing in prominent speakers in the area of public policy and diversity in society. An anonymous friend initially created the $20,000 endowment – honoring the Norwoods. The endowment has more than tripled since its inception.

Bill Norwood earned a bachelor's degree from SIUC in 1959, was the University's first African-American quarterback and is a member of the Saluki Hall of Fame. He served in the U.S. Air Force until 1965 and then began a 31-year career with United Airlines, becoming the company's first African-American pilot and the first to achieve the rank of captain. He is a former member of the SIU Board of Trustees. Norwood and his family have established scholarships for SIUC students.

Molly Norwood is a 1961 SIUC graduate. She has served on numerous commissions and boards, including the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, and the Illinois Community College Board. She is a former trustee and chair of William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, and a former elementary school teacher.