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Famed Civil Rights Attorney Speaks at Bridge Builders Breakfast

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Author: Timothy C. Ervin

Release Date: Sep 21, 2012

Civil rights attorney Morris Dees spoke to the audience at ASU's Bridge Builders Breakfast about a variety of issues including immigration, diversity and the importance of voting.

The importance of building bridges was emphasized by nationally known civil rights attorney, Morris Dees at the Alabama State University Center for Leadership and Public Policy’s Bridge Builders Breakfast.

The breakfast was held Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7:30 a.m. at the RSA Activity Center.

Dees is the co-founder and chief counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He spoke about his childhood, several cases that influenced his life and how building bridges is a necessity for America’s future.

“I think the problem we have in America is fear,” Dees said. “Fear of diversity. In 1948 17% of the people in the United States were people of color; Today its 37%.  And by the year 2040 the number will be about 51%.  And that’s frightening for people in this nation.”

Dees said the life blood of America is its diversity. He said the nation is great because of diversity, not in spite of it; and the laws that are passed should reflect that.

“Today, when we pass laws in our legislature against Latinos, it’s really sad,” he said.  “Because when my people came here from Ireland, they said that we didn’t speak English; they said that we were taking American jobs.  Now doesn’t that sound familiar?”

Despite what he sees as flaws in America’s  political  landscape, Dees said strides are being made close to home and across the nation.
“I have a lot of pride in our county and our state,” said Dees. “We have a lot of things to overcome.  I just believe that we can all work together hand in hand.”

Cedric Varner, president of CTV Communications was really encouraged by Dees’ speech.  He said he attends the breakfast sessions on a regular basis and thinks they are informative, educational and community oriented.

“I really enjoy these sessions,” Varner said. “They are a good way to connect with people that you normally don’t get a chance to.  You are able to build relationships, build bridges and learn something at the same time.” 

Before founding the SPLC in 1971, Dees had a successful legal career and owned a direct sales and book publishing company that he launched 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.

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. 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.

Previous Bridge Builders Breakfast speakers have included prominent Montgomery trial lawyer and former Alabama Lt. Governor, Jere Beasley; Alabama Governor Robert Bentley; former speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives and director of the Alabama Development Office, Seth Hammett; former U.S. Congressman Bobby Bright; former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington; and RSA director David Bronner.

For more information, contact ASU’s Center for Leadership and Public Policy at 334- 229-6019.

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