Southern Poverty Law Center
Morris Dees was born in 1936 at Shorter, Alabama, the son of cotton farmers. As a young boy he worked the fields with blacks, witnessing first-hand social and economic depravation and Jim Crow treatment at its worse.
While at the University of Alabama Law School, he met Millard Fuller. The two formed a highly successful publishing company during their time in law school. After graduation, they moved the business to Montgomery, Alabama. Fuller left the company in 1965 and later founded Habitat for Humanity. Mr. Dees continued the business and also began taking controversial civil rights cases.
Mr. Dees sold his publishing company to a major national firm in 1970 and formed the Southern Poverty Law Center. Early Center cases included integrating the Alabama State Troopers and desegregating the Montgomery YMCA. The Center, funded by donations from over 300,000 citizens across the nation, quickly grew into one of America’s most successful and innovative public interest law firms.
Mr. Dees has received numerous awards in conjunction with his work. The U.S. Jaycees chose him as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of America for his early business success. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice named him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1987. In 2009, he was inducted into the Trial Lawyers’ Hall of Fame by the American Trial Lawyers’ Association. The American Bar Association honored him in 2012 with the ABA Medal, their highest honor and The American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) honored him with their Courageous Advocacy Award in 2015.