Biography: lawyer
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Confrontation and Promises
By now, 1960, the Civil Rights Movement was kicking in full gear. Martin Luther's King Jr's center of operations was actually located in the Montgomery. Morris didn't pay attention. When, on May 4, 1961 the 'freedom riders' tested the supreme court's decision on outlawing segregation on buses, Morris didn't notice. Morris heard about it but didn't hear about nor realize the violence occurring. The Freedom Riders were beaten by mobs of more than a thousand angry whites. The police were there but paid no attention. During this time, a man named Claude Henley was charged with assaulting a television reporter during the riot. It was a criminal case, but Morris took the case anyway. He was just interested in making money to get Dees and Fuller into heavy business. There was a federal suit against Henley which also named Bobby Shelton as a defendant in the case. Bobby Shelton was the leader of the United Klans of America. Dees took the case for five thousand dollars. Morris Dees sat at the defense table with the leader of the Klan. When the case was over, two black freedom riders approached Morris Dees. They said: "How can you represent people like that? Don't you think black people have rights?" (84-85) Morris Dees replied: "Yes, I do. I agree with you a hundred percent."

Morris had never been challenged or approached by a black person like that before. Thoughts raced through his mind as he sorted out what had just happened.

"To make some money, I was taking a case that just happened to be tied up with the Freedom Riders. My God, it wasn't that I was interested in the Klan! I was interested in making five thousand dollars representing a neighbor and keeping him out of trouble.

But looking in the face of my accuser, I felt the anger of a black person for the first time. He saw me as an enemy representing the Klan, just as years later Louis Beam and his compatriots would see me as an enemy opposing the Klan. Here I was feeling that I was friends with blacks, remembering that I had spoken up for Emmett Till and Autherine Lucy, and all of a sudden this young man was doubting me. I vowed them and there that nobody would never again doubt where I stood. It took me a couple of years to make good on that promise." (85)


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