Civil Rights

Civil Rights Activist Morris Dees Receives ABA Medal

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ABAnow video of Morris Dees receiving the ABA Medal.

Updated: Civil rights activist Morris Dees was awarded the ABA Medal, the association’s highest honor, during a meeting of the ABA House of Delegates on Tuesday.

Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, was honored for his efforts to ensure that all people, including the most vulnerable members of society, reserve access to justice. The center is famous for its successful civil lawsuits against white supremacist groups.

“I’m sure you can imagine how lonely the existence of a civil rights lawyer in the Deep South was back in the 1960s and ’70s,” Dees said after the House welcomed him with a standing ovation. “And to be recognized by an organization that I consider to be the glue that holds our whole legal system together in America, the American Bar Association, to be embraced by you, erases all that loneliness and tough fights that I’ve been through with help of so many people.”

In accepting the honor, Dees, sometimes emotional, recounted memorable cases and clients over the years, from death penalty defendants to battles to recover damages from hate groups. And he shared an especially moving story about a moment in court when he witnessed a mother’s capacity to forgive.

Dees said he had many people to thank for the successes at the Southern Poverty Law Center, including 157 lawyers who offered pro bono help, some of them in the room at the House meeting.

As he closed his remarks, he referred to the fatal shooting of six worshippers at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee on Sunday. Dees said that as he thinks about the Sikhs who were killed, “I think about the continued hate and racism and injustice and anger in this country.” He said he’s glad the SPLC’s Intelligence Project was tracking the alleged shooter, Wade Michael Page, who was killed during a shootout with police. Page is believed to have been associated with the white supremacist movement.

With the recent events in mind, Dees said, “I give thanks to a group like this, for your commitment to the rule of law.”

“I know that you will not be satisfied. In the words of the prophet Amos and the words that Dr. Martin Luther King used in Washington, D.C., that you will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Also see:

ABA Journal: “A Crusader’s Reward: Morris Dees to Receive 2012 ABA Medal”

Public Radio International: “Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked Sikh temple shooter for more than a decade”

Last updated at 5 p.m. Tuesday to include video of the presentation and add more detail.

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