Durr Lecture Series


Patricia Sullivan and Morris Dees

Transforming the Political Face of Civil Rights

April 18, 2004
7:30 p.m.
Irma B. Moore Hall Auditorium



Allen Hess

Welcome by AUM

Chancellor Guin Nance

Welcome by the Durr Family

Ann Durr Lyon

The Durr Lectures Essay Award

William Honey

Introduction of Morris Dees:
Co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Allen Hess

Morris Dees


Introduction of Patricia Sullivan:
Editor ofFreedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr

William Honey

Patricia Sullivan


Questions and Answers


Closing Remarks

Allen Hess

Morris Dees

Morris Dees was born in 1936 in Shorter, Ala. The son of a cotton farmer, he was very active in agriculture during high school and was named the Star Farmer of Alabama in 1955 by the Alabama Future Farmers of America. Dees attended undergraduate school at the University of Alabama, where he founded a nationwide direct mail sales company that specialized in book publishing. After graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1960, he opened a law office in Montgomery and continued his business. The direct mail publishing business, Fuller & Dees Marketing Group, grew to be one of the largest publishing companies in the South. In 1969, Dees sold the company to Times Mirror, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times.
During the civil rights movement, Dees became active aiding minorities in court. In 1968, he filed suit to integrate the all-white Montgomery YMCA. Along with Joseph J. Levin Jr., he founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971. The center has engaged in civil rights lawsuits throughout the country. In 1980, the center founded Klanwatch in response to a resurgence in organized racist activity. The project monitors hate groups and develops legal strategies for protecting citizens from violence-prone groups.
To help educate young people about the civil rights movement, Dees developed the idea for the Civil Rights Memorial. Designed by Maya Lin, the memorial bears the names of 40 men, women and children who lost their lives during the civil rights movement. Dees has received numerous honors and awards in conjunction with his work at the center as chief trial counsel. The center’s education project, Teaching Tolerance, has provided tolerance material to more than 600,000 educators, and its series of videos to more than 75,000 schools throughout the nation. The first video won an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary. Dees’ autobiography, A Season for Justice, was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi was published by Villard Books. His latest book, Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat, published by Harper Collins, exposes the danger posed by today’s domestic terrorist groups.

Dr. Patricia Sullivan

Dr. Patricia Sullivan writes and lectures on race, politics and the civil rights struggles in 20th-century America. She is associate professor of history and African-American studies at the University of South Carolina and a fellow of Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute. Dr. Sullivan has taught history at the University of Virginia and Harvard University. Since 1995 she, along with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Waldo E. Martin, has co-directed the annual National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for College and University Faculty at Harvard on “Teaching the History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, 1865 to 1965.” Sullivan earned her Ph.D. in history in 1983 from Emory University.
As a graduate student seeking information on the New Deal era campaign for voting rights in the South, Sullivan first met Virginia Durr. It was 1978 and Virginia was living at Pea Level in Wetumpka, Ala. Clifford Durr had died three years earlier. From this research came the book Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era, published in 1996. The book traces the rise and fall of a loose alliance of blacks and whites, individuals and organizations that came together to offer a radical alternative to southern conservative politics. From this alliance rose the NAACP and the nationwide campaign to abolish the poll tax and register new voters throughout the South in the hopes of electing liberals to Congress who would secure the New Deal’s social and economic reforms.
Friends Angus Cameron, Studs Terkel and Jessica Mitford encouraged Virginia to write her autobiography. The idea appealed to her, but she never quite got around to it. Besides, she told Mitford, “My life is in my letters.” Later Virginia would suggest that Sullivan edit her letters. Thus Sullivan’s next book,Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters From the Civil Rights Years, was published in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of Virginia’s birth. Virginia’s letters offer a window onto a society in turmoil, chronicling the events that transformed the South and the nation. She wrote hundreds of letters—humorous, sharp and observant—to her friends up north, among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Hugo Black and C. Vann Woodward. Virginia wrote from the front lines of the sit-ins, freedom rides and student protests. Her letters add a distinctive glimpse into the day-to-day battles for racial injustice at a pivotal moment in American history.
Sullivan’s other works include Civil Rights in the United Statesand a two-volume encyclopedia, co-edited with Waldo E. Martin. Sullivan currently is writing a history of the NAACP.