SF State News {University Communications}

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Civil rights champion to keynote Commencement

April 16, 2009 -- With the courtroom as his battleground, civil rights lawyer Morris Dees has fought for justice and equality for all people. He will receive an honorary degree at this year's Commencement and will also be the keynote speaker.

Photograph of Morris Dees, civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Morris Dees, civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights law firm internationally known for its legal victories against hate groups. As the Center's chief trial counsel, Dees has won landmark cases such as a $7 million verdict against the United Klans of America in 1987, which held Klansmen accountable for the lynching of an African-American man and financially crippled America's largest Ku Klux Klan organization.

"Morris Dees has innovatively used his legal training to fight racism and restore justice," President Robert A. Corrigan said . "His remarkable career reminds our graduates how we can apply our education and talents to change the social fabric of our communities."

Born and raised in Alabama, Dees witnessed the racial inequality that was woven into the social fabric of the segregated South. In the late 1960s, he sold his successful publishing business to return to practicing law. Dees opened a small law office in Montgomery, Ala., and in the face of significant public opposition, pursued controversial civil rights cases and co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971.

Dees is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama Law School. His remarkable legal career has earned him awards from the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.

"In the U.S. today there is still a 'them and us' mentality," Dees said. "But we are more sensitive to deprivation and inclusion than we were 40 years ago. The march for justice continues but it now has an expanded focus that includes race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and the biggest divides in our country - - class and economic inequality."

Dees will receive a Doctor of Laws from the California State University at SF State's 108th Commencement on May 23. The CSU awards honorary degrees to individuals who have contributed greatly to their professions and society, and who have demonstrated outstanding service to the CSU, the campuses, the state of California, the United States or humanity at large.

Dees joins a distinguished list of SF State honorary degree recipients that includes Bridge School founder Pegi Young, singer Neil Young, South Africa President Nelson Mandela, Bay Area philanthropist Richard N. Goldman, actor Danny Glover, artist and teacher Ruth Asawa, Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

For more information about SF State's 2009 Commencement, visit the SF State Commencement Web site.

-- University Communications


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