When it comes to the resurgence of white supremacy, longtime civil rights attorney Morris Dees prefers to take the long view.
“We have these ups and downs,” said Dees. “We’ve come through this stuff before.”
Dees, 80, has taken hate groups to court for decades as co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
On Sept. 14, he’ll be in Charlotte to help the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy – formerly Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont – celebrate 50 years of providing legal services for the poor.
Dees will speak at a reception for the center at the Mecklenburg County courthouse.
Dees has challenged the Klan and similar groups. The SPLC is tracking more than 1,600 extremist groups across the country, including 31 in North Carolina. That includes at least three in Charlotte.
Dees and his center have been criticized by some for stoking fears and exaggerating threats. An article about him in the conservative Weekly Standard was headlined, “King of Fearmongers.”
But last month’s violence in Charlottesville that started with a protest by white nationalists sparked new concern over activities of neo-Nazi and white supremacist hate groups.
Dees said while such groups can flare into the headlines, hatred doesn’t necessarily last. For example, Vietnamese refugees, once reviled, have become accepted in communities in which they’ve resettled. He sees the same thing today.
“Look at Houston,” he told the Observer. “All of a sudden we have a 1,000-year flood that floods everybody equally. It gives people an opportunity to say, ‘You’ve got that baby in your arms and you’re walking through water waste-deep, I’ve got to help you’.”
Dees, who worked for the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, is no fan of President Donald Trump, who, he said, “hasn’t done anything but cause trouble.”
He’s coming to Charlotte to urge people to support the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.
“The most important thing is to change the hearts and minds of the American people to realize they’re sons and daughters of this great nation,” Dees said. “Our birthright is social and economic justice and we’re gonna get there. And it’s not always gonna be easy.”