Civil Rights Attorney Morris Dees Headlining Two-day Coastal Bend Social Forum Featuring Several Panel Speakers Covering Multiple Issues

Article by: Mike Bratten

In the wake of recent race-related violence in Charlottesville, Va., and other parts of the country, Del Mar College (DMC) is hosting Morris Dees, famed civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), during the sixth biennial Coastal Bend Social Forum scheduled Sept. 15-16. 

“I want people to realize there is no one person or idea to solve our problems,” Dees said. “It takes a joint effort by people of different cultures, views and beliefs. Like the hurricane and flooding that hit Texas, everybody is setting aside their differences from the last (presidential) election and rolling up their sleeves and working together.”

Dees will present “With Justice for All in a Changing America,” at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, in Richardson Performance Hall, East Campus at Baldwin and Ayers. Admission is free. Questions? Call 698-1629 or email 

“Mr. Dees is a legend in the legal community, so asking him to speak at the forum was a natural,” said Dr. Teresa Klein, DMC associate professor of psychology and forum organizer. “His work is an inspiration, and we need to celebrate his type of heroism. We encourage everyone who attends the forum to take what they learn and turn it into action to change their community and their world.”

Among other topics, Dees' speech will touch on the much-publicized 1980s civil rights case of the Vietnamese refugee fishermen in Houston. Dees represented the fishermen and their families in federal court – and won – after they were harassed and threatened with violence by the Ku Klux Klan and other groups if they didn’t leave Galveston Bay.

“People wanted to run them out of the bay. They hated them,” Dees said. “Since then, they have left fishing and gone on to start many businesses and are doing so well. It’s a good story to focus on because they’re immigrants and fine people.”

The son of Alabama cotton farmers, Dees graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1960 and co-founded the SPLC in 1971. As a result of his work litigating against groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations, often at great danger to himself, families of those who have been torn apart by violence and hatred have received compensation and justice.

Actor Wayne Rogers portrayed Dees in the 1996 feature film, “Ghosts of Mississippi,” about the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers. 

Dees has received numerous awards for his work, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolence Peace Prize in April 2016 from The King Center in Atlanta, the National Education Association President’s Award for Human and Civil Rights in July 2016 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017.

Dees has authored three books: “A Lawyer’s Journey,” his autobiography, “Hate on Trial” and “Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat.”

The Coastal Bend Social Forum continues Saturday, Sept. 16, with engaging panel discussions and notable speakers from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Wolfe Recital Hall, East Campus at Ayers and Kosar. 

Sessions are free and include:

* “Progressive Changes in the Nueces County District Attorney’s Office” by Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez and Melissa Madrigal, chief of administration;

* “Abuses by Police and Rights of the People” by Chris Gale, attorney, Gale Group;

* “Workers’ Rights Under the Law” by Martha Owen, attorney, Deats, Durst & Owen, P.L.L.C.;

* “The Reality of Environmental Injustice” by Kelly Haragan, director of Environmental Law Clinic, University of Texas School of Law; Errol Summerlin, retired attorney, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid; and Rev. Adam Carrington, Brooks AME Worship Center; 

* “Crimmigration: Struggles in the U.S. Borderlands” by Justin Tullius, associate executive director, Refugee & Immigrant Center for Education & Legal Services (RAICES) – San Antonio; and Olivia Lopez, adjunct professor, Del Mar College;

* “Portside Books, Then and Now: Building Self-Organized Spaces in the Coastal Bend” by Matt Tedrow, journalism teacher, King High School; and Jenny Espino, community organizer;

* “Free Speech, the First Amendment, and the Alt-Right” by Matt Tedrow, journalism teacher, King High School;

* “The Decriminalization of Marijuana” by Kyle Hoelscher, president, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) – Corpus Christi;

* “LGBTQ and the ACLU” by Caroline Duble, local engagement specialist, American Civil Liberties Union.

The event concludes with the Art for Social Justice Show from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at The Exchange, 224 N. Mesquite.

Sponsors of the Coastal Bend Social Forum are the Center for Progressive Studies and Culture, Inc.; the Del Mar College Department of Social Sciences; Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi’s Office of the President; and Texas A&M University–Kingsville’s Department of Social Work.

IN THE PHOTO: Legal legend and civil rights attorney Morris Dees is the featured keynote speaker during the 2017 Coastal Bend Social Forum. 

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