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Posted on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

Keynote speaker Morris Dees discusses social injustices in lecture honoring MLK Day

By Kody Klein


Morris Dees discussed a broad range of social injustices as the keynote speaker for Monday morning for a memorial lecture honoring Martin Luther King Day at Hill Auditorium.

Melanie Maxwell I

Morris Dees used the opportunity as the keynote speaker at a University of Michigan memorial lecture honoring Martin Luther King Day to beckon his audience to continue the fight for equal rights that King gave his life to.

Dees is an acclaimed civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He's developed a reputation litigating against organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.

During the speech, which took place Monday morning at Hill Auditorium, Dees cautioned his listeners that the election of President Barack Obama was not the book-end to the narrative of the American struggle for civil rights.

"Dr. King, if he was here today, he would tell you that the march for justice continues, and we all have a front row seat," he said to the audience. "There's so many places that we can dip in and we can take part and we can make a difference."

Dees discussed a broad range of social injustices that SPLCenter, is working to correct, including LGBT rights and unequal access to quality healthcare and education.

Two issues that Dees said he considered paramount were redesigning American society to provide equal opportunities to all members of its increasingly diverse population as well as balancing the nation's widening wealth gap.

Retelling the tale of the Biblical prophet Amos, a tale that King referenced as well, Dees said, "Unless you're fair to all of your people and give all of your people an equal opportunity, you're not going to keep what you have. It's going to be taken away from you."

Through historical musings and anecdotes of his experiences as a civil rights activist, Dees elaborated on these points, integrating all fronts of the civil rights struggle into a unified frontier of social progression. Moreover, he did so in a way that imagined aloud everything he thought America always should have been and still can be.

"The perspective that he has about the future is very telling and he has a lot of foresight based on his work, his experience," Vonnie McLoyd, professor of psychology at U-M.

Some audience members also noted that his experience showed through as well.

"Because the work he's done with domestic terrorist groups, he brings great credibility to both his comments about his previous work and also his perspectives about the future," said Cheryl Munday, professor at University of Detroit Mercy.

Dees closed his speech with lyrics from a classic Americana song by Woodie Guthrie.

"A lot of people haven't heard this rhyme from his song, 'This Land Is Your Land,' because it's rarely repeated," he said.

"'There was a great high wall there that tried to stop me, a big sign there that tried to stop me. It said private property, bot on there other side it didn't say nothing. That side was made for you and me.'"


Richard Keefe

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

It's refreshing to see that Mr. Dees has finally made it to Michigan to honor Dr. King. In 2009, a black civil rights group in Muskegon invited Mr. Dees to be the keynote speaker for their MLK celebration but Mr. Dees never made the gig. Mr. Dees accepted the invitation and Muskegon Community Solidarity built an entire celebration around Mr. Dees' presentation. Sadly, when the small civil rights group could not raise Mr. Dees' $10,000 "honorarium" speaking fee, Mr. Dees backed out and the entire celebration was cancelled. Morris Dees, the "civil rights icon" who made his first million dollars back in 1964 couldn't even throw this group a freebie in honor of Dr. King. No dough? No Mo. Fortunately the University of Michigan has deeper pockets. It's not like they had anything else to spend the ten grand on, such as salaries or scholarships.

Superior Twp voter

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

The Southern Poverty Law Center IS an extremism group. Period.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 1:59 a.m.

I missed the part where he discussed the reverse discrimination (aka affirmative action) so prevalent today where race matters more than qualifications. The pendulum has crossed the middle and going to extremes in reverse. Equal should be equal. Period.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 9:57 p.m.

Martin Luther King was talking about equal justice for all no matter what their race, creed, ethnic origin, sexuality, gender, or political persuasion. He was not talking about creating special superior rights and privileges for certain groups because of their political connections nor was he talking about the doctrine of racism to advance left-wing political interests and policies. I am tired and sick of left-wing groups calling people who are opposed to their agenda racist and extremists. Calling someone a racist or an extremist who disagrees with you is a despicable personal attack not very different from using the N-word to degrade and marginialize people. The Southern Poverty Law Center is quilty of this left-wing racism baiting when it tries to silence and delegtimize opponents of amnesty for Illegal Immigrants

Top Cat

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 7:51 p.m.

Perhaps Mr. Dees can lead us all on the process of "balancing the nation's widening wealth gap" by giving up half of his assets.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 7:25 p.m.

"Unless you're fair to all of your people and give all of your people an equal opportunity, you're not going to keep what you have. It's going to be taken away from you." Equal opportunity does not mean equal does if you live in a nation that believes in communism..............where is this guy from? Unequal access to quality health care would be like the cadillac plans the government employees and the governing elite get off of the backs of the rest of us while we get a second tier of those same things......I'm starting to understand


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 7:23 p.m.

SPLC slanders conservatives and libertarians to drum up donations. They're just another group of useless professional activists. If you think that the government should actually obey its constitutional restraints you're a scary extremist in their view.

Dog Guy

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

Hey, it's a living.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 2:46 p.m.

You will get some negative response to this comment, but it's the first thing that popped into my head as well. As long as people like Mr. Dees keep telling us there is a problem, he has a job.