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March  21, 2011

Civil rights activist to recount experiences

Morris Dees, a lawyer who has led cases against the KKK, neo-Nazis and domestic terrorist groups since the late 1960s, will discuss his experiences at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 31, in Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island.

His lecture, "Whose America?" will be part of Augustana's second annual White Privilege Summit, a community event designed to spur discussion about race, privilege, inequality, and social justice. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Morris Dees was born and reared on a farm in Alabama. After graduating from the University of Alabama, he began a nationwide direct-mail order sales company that specialized in book publishing. He later returned to school for his law degree and opened an office in Montgomery. Although he was critical of the racial prejudice he saw around him, he was not actively involved in the civil rights movement at the time.

This changed one night in 1967. Snowed-in at a Cincinnati airport, Dees had time to do some unexpected soul-searching. By the time he reached his destination in Chicago, he had decided to dedicate his life to fighting for social justice.

"I had made up my mind. I would sell the company as soon as possible and specialize in civil rights law," Dees recalled. "All the things in my life that had brought me to this point, all the pulls and tugs of my conscience, found a singular peace."

Soon after, Dees and his law partner founded the Southern Poverty Law Center. Through the center, Dees has led a series of historical cases against the KKK, neo-Nazis and other hate groups in the United States. He has most recently focused his attention on anti-government militias,  the subject of his most recent book, Gathering Storm: America's Militia Threat.

Dees has won more than 25 honorary awards for his activism, including the National Education Association's "Friend of Education" award in 2001. He also is the subject of a television movie and is portrayed in the feature film Ghosts of Mississippi.

Dees' lecture is sponsored by Augustana's Office of Student Activities in conjunction with the White Privilege Summit, a program brought by the college's Multicultural Programming Board, Office of Student Activities and Diversity Initiatives Committee. The White Privilege Summit is a day-long event intended to spark conversations about race. A schedule of events is available at www.augustana.edu/whiteprivilege.

Sam Schlouch
Senior Communication Director
(309) 794-7833
samschlouch@augustana.edu