During the 1970’s and 1980’s
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
It was intriguing to see how
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
was struggling to find a government connection that would allow the lawsuit to
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
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. Montgomery
During the action efforts were made to discredit
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
brought about integration in its facilities by court order.
In 1981 a Texas Klan sought to drive Vietnamese fishers from
Threats of harm were followed by a burned fishing boat and aggressive
patrolling on the bay by armed Klansmen and sympathizers. Galveston Bay
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.
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
government. United States
What was striking in this case and others recounted by
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
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.
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