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John D’Esposito Teaching American History 2009-2010 Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Presentation on theme: "John D’Esposito Teaching American History 2009-2010 Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center."— Presentation transcript:

1 John D’Esposito Teaching American History Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center

2 The Early Years Morris Dees was born in rural Alabama in His father was an overseer on a cotton plantation; all the others who worked with him were Blacks who were descendants of slaves. Everyone on the plantation was dirt poor. Conditions had not changed much from the times of slavery.

3 Dees- The Early Years Morris’ father was a devout Baptist and got along well with the Black farmers. Morris’ father was a devout Baptist and got along well with the Black farmers. His father went into farming on his own, on rented property, financed by the processor. His father went into farming on his own, on rented property, financed by the processor.

4 Dees-The Early Years Dees’ father had to keep moving from farm to farm His uncles were Klan members; 1 owned a general store with a “colored price” and a “white price” His father told him to become a lawyer, not a farmer

5 Morris Goes to College Dees still wanted to be a farmer, but went to the all-white University of Alabama While he was there, he and a partner came up with a plan to sell birthday cakes to students’ parents for delivery to the student. He made a small fortune and found that he was a genius in direct mail sales

6 Dees Becomes an Attorney While in college and law school, Dees remains active in party politics and religious life He starts a small law firm in Montgomery, Alabama with a partner

7 1961- A Turning Point Dees successfully represents Claude Henley, who was accused of assaulting a reporter during a race riot in Montgomery The race riot dealt with the Freedom Riders, who were trying to desegregate bus terminals Afterwards, two Freedom Riders asked him, “How can you represent people like that?”

8 Dees is challenged by his peers After the September,1963 bombing of the Birmingham, Alabama Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where 4 young Black girls were murdered, Dees got up in his Baptist Church and asked the congregation to pray for the girls and their church. Most of the congregation refused.

9 Back to Direct Mail Dees became disillusioned, and went back to direct mail, selling millions of cookbooks that could be customized fundraisers for school and community groups Dees became disillusioned, and went back to direct mail, selling millions of cookbooks that could be customized fundraisers for school and community groups

10 Dees Finds a New Partner Dees was asked to defend State Senator Mac McFarley, who was accused of soliciting a bribe. Dees liked the case because “Mac” was an underdog. His partner on this case was Joe Levin, Jr., who previously had specialized in debt collections

11 The SPLC is Born The partners decide to take on civil rights cases The partners decide to take on civil rights cases They decide to take on cases where they can sue for damages, and use those to represent others on a pro bono basis They decide to take on cases where they can sue for damages, and use those to represent others on a pro bono basis

12 The Civil Rights Cases Begin They sue and integrate the local YMCA They sue and integrate the local YMCA They sue the US Army on behalf of a female soldier given different pay and benefits….. They sue the US Army on behalf of a female soldier given different pay and benefits…..

13 The SPLC Changes Tort Law Dees and Levin decide to sue hate crime organizations’ main office and leaders for the actions of local members Dees and Levin decide to sue hate crime organizations’ main office and leaders for the actions of local members They sue for so much money to destroy the organization They sue for so much money to destroy the organization

14 Donald v. United Klans of America Klansmen murder and lynch 19 year old Michael Donald (1981) SPLC sues the national Klan organization, wins $7 million and bankrupts the national Klan

15 Keenan v. Aryan Nations Security officers at Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations Compound in Idaho mistake a car backfire for gunshots; they chase and shoot at the plaintiff’s car. Security officers at Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations Compound in Idaho mistake a car backfire for gunshots; they chase and shoot at the plaintiff’s car. The 6.3 million verdict destroys the group financially, and they lose the core of their homeland The 6.3 million verdict destroys the group financially, and they lose the core of their homeland

16 Brown v. Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Klansmen run amok and attacked peaceful marchers in Decatur, Alabama in 1979 Case settled in Klan agreed to make restitution and to take a course on race relations and do community service

17 Berhanu v. Metzger White supremacist Tom Metzger worked up violent Skinheads who then murdered an Ethiopian student, Mulugeta Seraw White supremacist Tom Metzger worked up violent Skinheads who then murdered an Ethiopian student, Mulugeta Seraw SPLC sued Metzger’s group, White Aryan Resistance, and seized all his assets SPLC sued Metzger’s group, White Aryan Resistance, and seized all his assets

18 Other SPLC Activities They do trainings for police about hate crimes They do trainings for police about hate crimes They started Klanwatch (now Intelligence Report) to keep track of extremists They started Klanwatch (now Intelligence Report) to keep track of extremists They offer the Teaching Tolerance school curriculum They offer the Teaching Tolerance school curriculum


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