“Today, there are people in this country receiving no justice and no opportunity,” said Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dees spoke Wednesday about SPLC’s commitment to social and legal “justice for all in a changing America” at Troy University’s M. Stanton Evans Symposium on Money, Politics and the Media.
“It didn’t end with the death of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Dees said.
In his speech to students, faculty and visitors, Dees spoke about a variety of issues that concern the SPLC, including LGBT rights, mass incarceration, the prospective repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and immigration.
He said President Donald Trump’s criticism of the media threatens the freedom of the press.
“I have to urge each of you, especially journalism students, to realize the big piece of this pie that you have,” Dees said. “To have an elected official in this country condemn the press is almost like demagoguery, because that’s what demagogues do: tear down the press.”
He said events may be tumultuous for a time, but it won’t last.
“Short-term politics will not survive the long-term push for justice,” Dees said.
He told stories about the history of social injustice in the South, describing some of his experiences, such as winning a case for Vietnamese immigrants against the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
He described the continued effort of the SPLC to identify and eliminate hate groups. He said, without giving many details, that soon the organization will file a lawsuit against the largest internet hate group in America, whose leader is a “hardcore” far-right leader who has been “trouncing” a Jewish family in a small town.
Dees was invited to speak by Steve Stewart, assistant professor of journalism.
“We want to explore issues and hear from people who are making a difference,” Stewart said. “Both lawyers and journalists seek the truth. They support freedom of expression and human rights.”
In his introduction, Stewart noted that Dees represented Gary Dickey, a former TROY student, in a federal court case in 1967.
Dickey — an editor of the student newspaper, the Tropolitan — sued after then-Troy State College censored an editorial he wrote and expelled him. The court ordered him reinstated as a student, and the court affirmed the rights of student journalists to express themselves.
Susan Sarapin, assistant professor of journalism and communication, said the case gives students at public universities freedom of speech. “They don’t have to censor themselves,” she said.
“He’s been a hero of mine for a long time,” she said about Morris Dees. “Here’s a man of courage. Here’s a man with a spine who does what he believes to be in the best interest of the people. He’s doing the greater good, and I’m proud to have met him and heard him speak to Troy students.”
The annual symposium is named for Stan Evans, a TROY faculty member who was a national columnist, commentator, book author and editor of the Indianapolis News. Evans held the university’s Buchanan Chair of Journalism from 1980 until his death in 2015.