About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More on Morris Dees and A Lawyer's Journey

Morris Dees, in his autobiography, A Lawyer’s Journey written with Steve Fiffer, discusses several of his causes and cases. A few cases changed his comfortable life from a businessman acting as lawyer on an occasional matter to a committed counsel for the poor and downtrodden. Later he writes about the events that defined the early years of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s Dees did more than any other person or agency to effectively destroy the Ku Klux Klan which had revived itself in several southern states during economic tough times.

It was intriguing to see how Dees used the instruments of the law to challenge and limit the actions. Dees answered intimidation and violence with court actions.

A pivotal case in Dees life was his action to integrate the Montgomery YMCA in 1969. It was a very unpopular lawsuit among the white citizens of the city.

The suit was on behalf of a pair of boys denied access to the YMCA summer camp program. While clearly the YMCA practised segregation Dees was struggling to find a government connection that would allow the lawsuit to succeed.

As with all good lawyers he went through all the documents provided and found a true smoking gun of a document. When the City of Montgomery was previously sued to integrate swimming pools it made a secret agreement to close its pools and have the YMCA operate public swimming pools in the city.

During the action efforts were made to discredit Dees by searching for unsavoury or improper conduct by him in his legal practice.

The YMCA sought to deflect the lawsuit by allowing the applications for camp of a few boys.

The efforts of the YMCA were unsuccessful and Dees brought about integration in its facilities by court order.

In 1981 a Texas Klan sought to drive Vietnamese fishers from Galveston Bay. Threats of harm were followed by a burned fishing boat and aggressive patrolling on the bay by armed Klansmen and sympathizers.

Dees filed suit seeking an injunction against the Klan and its leaders to stop them from interfering in the rights of the Vietnamese Fisherman Association to fish upon the bay.

Opposing Dees was Louis Beam, a man whose appearance invited caricature. (See the photo appearing in the book on the left of this post.) Were he not such a dedicated white supremacist leading a well armed group of Klan members he would have received little attention.

Dees further sought to emasculate Beams organization by adding to the relief sought from the court an order that would prohibit Beam from conducting guerrilla operations in Texas using a state statute that prohibited private paramilitary training. Such an order would prevent Beam from continuing to conduct military style camps.

When the injunction was granted by the federal court the Klan backed down from breaching the order which would have brought them into conflict with the United States government.

What was striking in this case and others recounted by Dees was how often those believers in white supremacy would shy away from acknowledging their beliefs and actions in court. Instead of proudly proclaiming them there would be evidence of wilful forgetfulness or failing memories. They could not bear to speak in open court of what they had done.

Early in his career Dees learned quickly that public interest cases need media attention. Dees has a flair for publicity and his skill has served his clients well.

The Southern Poverty Center continues to take on cases and causes in the 21st Century. Their website sets out their present activities.

The book is well written, as I would expect from a man who has been telling the stories of clients to courts for over four decades. Dees has the knack of explaining court cases clearly while leavening the telling with colourful, often humorous, anecdotes. I am going to look for more of his books.


  1. Bill - What a fascinating and important story! This is one of the reasons I have so much admiration for Dees. He has a strong sense of social justice and he's a highly skilled lawyer. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I hope you have a chance to read Dees. He is an excellent writer.

  3. Dees is a good guy and his Southern Poverty Law Center stands up for social progress and people who need his assistance.

    I'd give a lot of credit to the organizers and participants in the Civil Rights Movement and to everyone, including the two people who wanted to swim in the pool, who put themselves in harm's way to move along social progress. They were all brave, and so is everyone who today stands up to bigotry.

  4. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. We all hope we will do the right thing when we are faced with injustice. Morris acted to do right.

    I agree it takes courage to take on the Establishment.